Choi’s Oriental Market, located on South Patterson Avenue, is Santa Barbara’s only Korean restaurant. When I came back to Santa Barbara after it was announced that in-person instruction would be resuming, I really craved a more diverse selection of Asian cuisine, especially Korean food. But, the only Korean restaurant I could find was Kimchi Korean BBQ. I craved a greater variety of Korean food and, for months, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a more expansive Korean restaurant. That is until one of my roommates mentioned Choi’s Oriental Market.
While Choi’s Oriental Market is primarily an Asian grocery store, this hidden gem of Santa Barbara is also a Korean restaurant, serving traditional Korean food like kimchi-jjigae and bibimbap.
My friends and I started our trip by buying drinks in the grocery store. I got an Evergreen Coconut Milk Drink while my two roommates got Ramune and Jarritos. We then ordered our food at the front desk. I ordered jajangmyeon, a Korean noodle dish topped with diced pork, onions, a slice of cucumber and black bean sauce. My roommates ordered kimchi-jjigae, a kimchi-based stew and naengmyeon, a cold noodle dish.
The food at Choi’s Oriental Market is what makes this place truly special. This was my first time trying jajangmyeon and it was delicious — easily one of my favorite noodle dishes ever! The noodles were perfectly chewy and the sauce provided a very delicious complement to the noodles. The diced pork and onions added an extra layer of flavor, crispness and crunchiness.
In Korean cuisine, an array of side dishes called banchan is included with each dish you order. Generally, most dishes come with a side of kimchi. For my noodle dish, I got a side of pickled radishes called danmuji while my friends got a side of spicy cucumbers and kimchi. The side dishes were a refreshing palate cleanser and provided a delicious crunchiness to our dishes.
Naengmyeon was a combination of perfectly chewy noodles and cold broth, making it a great dish to have on a hot day. The kimchi-jjigae was delicious — the broth had a nice balance of savouriness and smoothness, and the tofu added great texture.
The Evergreen Coconut Milk Drink was delicious all on its own. The coconut milk was smooth, creamy and full of coconut goodness and flavor while having some chewy coconut pieces inside the milk that provided a nice, textural contrast. I also felt like it provided a nice complement to my jajangmyeon noodle dish. Before ordering food, I highly recommend and encourage ordering a drink to go with your meal.
However, the food is not the only unique feature of Choi’s Oriental Market. As you can guess from the name, the place is a market itself where you can buy Asian and Korean ingredients that you can’t find in a typical grocery store. That in itself got me so excited to try out Choi’s Oriental Market. They had all of my favorite Korean items: soju, buldak noodles, kimchi, etc. I got so excited that I even ended up buying over $100 worth of Korean and Asian ingredients!
Choi’s Oriental Market is certainly the place to grab Korean food, so don’t miss out!
A version of this article appeared on p. 11 of the May 12, 2022 version of the Daily Nexus