While I’m certainly no expert or aficionado regarding Korean cuisine, over the last few years I’ve really developed a taste for the country’s more popular offerings — particularly bulgogi and bibimbap. My wife and I semi-frequently visit Charim in St. Matthews and/or Sarang in the Highlands satisfy our Korean fix, both of which being more-than-worthy options in their own right — one as a pricier spot with full service and alcohol, the other being a quicker, more convenient take with a much more affordable menu. Naturally, I was excited when a friend told me about a third option in Louisville: Lee’s Korean Restaurant.
Despite using GPS and having general knowledge of the area’s geography, this place was tough to locate. After a bit of head-swiveling and turning the car around, we found Lee’s inside an office building. Be aware that there’s virtually no signage other than a florescent OPEN sign, so don’t expect any landmarks to sway your eyeballs toward the restaurant.
The moment we opened the door, the delicious scent of Korean cuisine was a quick indicator that we not only were in the right place, but that we made the right decision in coming here in the first place.
Like we’ve become accustomed to at other Korean spots, we were quickly served a collection of small appetizers consisting of bean sprouts, sweet peanuts, cucumbers, etc. I’m not sure where this template originates from, but it’s always a nice start, despite being a bit of a strange juxtaposition of different small plates.
For starters, we chose the boiled won tons which were packed with juicy beef, Napa cabbage and green and white onions. I’m not sure I’ve had a more succulent won ton, with each bit so rich and full of flavor. Be aware that despite what you might get at other places (4 or 6 won tons), this plate was full tallying a total of 10 won tons. Don’t worry, we ate every last one of them.
Next up, I chose my go-to Korean dish: Chicken Bulgogi. What exactly is bulgogi? It’s Korea’s variation of barbeque sauce separating itself with it’s level of spicy heat and general stickiness. Because I’m a masochist and prefer my food’s spiciness to be off the charts, I asked for the hottest bulgogi they could stand to make. They didn’t let me down as I began to sweat profusely after the third or fourth bite — just the way I like it.
The chicken itself, which was served aside a bowl of perfectly cooked white rice was incredibly tender, and I didn’t mean to make this meal a competition with other Korean spots, but I couldn’t help myself from comparing every bite to what other spots in town are doing with their own bulgogi renditions, but after just a few bites it was evident that Lee’s version is hands down the undisputed Korean BBQ champion.
Finally, I dove into their bimimbap which was made up of white rice topped with tender pork, assorted vegetables, topped with a fried egg, all served in a large bowl. Looking for something a bit cooler and refreshing, we decided against the hot stone version. While this choice was very satisfying, I think I still prefer the sizzling hot version. Having said that, we definitely made the right choice in this go-around as I don’t think we needed any more heat after the bulgogi.
As I said before, I’m not trying to make this a competition of “which place should you go for the best Korean cuisine”. I’m not an expert, and hardly an authority on the matter. What I can say with ease is that Lee’s Korean Restaurant provided me with my most satisfyingly memorable Korean meal I’ve ever had in Louisville. The service was quaint but very pleasant and attentive, the food was amazing, and the price was right (less than $50 for all the food plus a few tall beers). I strongly recommend this place and will most definitely be back. Its unassuming, awkward location and lack of self promotion make Lee’s a genuine diamond in the rough.