With the treasure trove of amazing Asian restaurants along Spring Mountain Road, it’s easy to simply head to “Chinatown” when you’re in the mood for Asian cuisine. But there are pockets of good Asian food in other parts of town. I’m particularly partial to the Commercial Center on East Sahara, which is home to Lotus of Siam, Namaste and a few others. Add E-Jo Korean Restaurant, across the street, to the neighborhood’s list of quality Asian joints. The simple, unassuming restaurant can be a little difficult to spot, since the sign is primarily in Korean, with the English name in small print. Just look for the windows decorated with Christmas lights on top and stained glass on the bottom.
For a lot of people, Korean restaurants mean cook-it-yourself barbecue. That’s not what you’ll find at E-Jo. Nor will you find the Asian hipster vibe of a place like the westside’s Soyo. E-Jo is a mom-and-pop operation, with simple, traditional food. The décor consists primarily of ads for various Korean beverages sporting sexy models, and posters of menu items.
The two-page menu features only 19 dishes. On the left you’ll find an assortment of soups ($10-$35) that include everything from simple brisket to knee bone, oxtail, tripe and tongue. My waitress, a doting older woman who seemed extremely concerned that my wife and I might feel out of place as the only Caucasians in the dining room, tried to gently guide me away from those selections, toward the next page. There, we found what she clearly presumed would be more western-friendly dishes, such as bulgogi ($16), cold buckwheat noodles ($10), spicy pork or chicken ($16) and barbecue beef ribs ($25). From the bar, the restaurant offers both the distilled Korean spirit soju and “rice wine,” although the menu doesn’t specify the brand of either.
We began with an order of mung bean pancakes (two for $8). In Korean, these are referred to as bindaetteok, but like everything else offered, E-Jo uses the English translation on the menu. While they’re traditionally peasant fare, these tasty fried treats shouldn’t be overlooked. Our two large portions showed up at the table piping hot, but not too crispy — just how I like them. Along with them came our complimentary side dishes, a plate of whole mild chili peppers with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce, and two bowls of kimchi, one cabbage and one white carrot. The latter arrived with a pair of scissors, and our server patiently demonstrated that they should be used for cutting up larger pieces of the fibrous vegetable to make them more manageable with chopsticks (which, by the way, are kept in a small plastic box on your table, alongside spoons for the soup). While I love kimchi, my wife isn’t a fan. But we both enjoyed these fairly mild versions.
For my entrée, I had an order of beef brisket soup ($10). It was a large helping of broth packed with thin slices of tender beef and angel-hair-thin pasta. The broth itself was extremely bland. But that’s how it’s intended. Guests add salt, chili paste and scallions to taste.
My wife attempted to order spicy chicken ($16) for her entrée. When the waitress read it back to her, however, she mistakenly stated spicy pork ($16), and we corrected her. So the woman was mortified when she arrived at our table with the pork, and immediately realized she’d screwed up. We assured her it wasn’t a problem and, after tasting some, were pleased with the result. We couldn’t have been happier with the large portion of tender meat in a rich, well-spiced red sauce.
E-Jo is a quaint little restaurant that serves good food at reasonable prices. Sure, the menu is limited. But if you’re on the east side looking for solid Korean cuisine, it’s nice to know you don’t have to head to Chinatown to find it.
E-Jo Korean Restaurant 700 E. Sahara Ave., 796-1004. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.