Giwa Korean Restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: A Review

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Giwa Delivers on Its Promise of Simple Good Korean Food

This popular Philly lunch spot is a great choice for a hearty and healthy meal, to eat in or to go.

Giwa, a restaurant located in a small storefront on Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Sansom Street, follows their motto of “Simple Good Korean Food” with every dish they serve. Extremely popular as a business lunch spot, Giwa provides the Center City section of Philadelphia with an excellent selection of well-prepared Korean staples such as Bibimbop, Bulgogi, and Galbi. While not exactly inexpensive, the quality of the food and its freshness makes Giwa well worth the price for a fast lunch or casual dinner in the area.

Giwa Restaurant in Philadelphia, PA.

Giwa Restaurant in Philadelphia, PA.

Giwa is located on a busy stretch of Sansom Street, not far from Rittenhouse Square. It is easy to miss its small storefront, crowded in between the Happy Rooster Bar and the new Philadelphia Chutney Company. But don’t pass by Giwa’s bright red awning, where inside you will find a basic but inviting space to enjoy your meal – or wait for it to be prepared to go. The kitchen at Giwa takes up most of the restaurant’s space, although there are a few wooden tables in the front, a counter along the back wall and one that wraps around half of the kitchen. The space can fill up very quickly during busy lunch hours, so come early or after 1:30pm if you wish to enjoy a more leisurely meal.

Ban chan and other treats at the counter of Giwa.

Ban chan and other treats at the counter of Giwa.

Giwa’s menu covers all of the most popular Korean dishes known to American diners. Appetizers, meant to be shared by 2-4 people or make a meal for one, include a Seafood or Kimchi Pancake ($9.95 or $8.95) and also Jap Chae, a Korean-style vermicelli noodle dish with beef and mixed vegetables ($9.25). A traditional Soon Du Bu, or spicy soft tofu stew, is available with seafood, beef, pork, or vegetarian ($9.95), as is the Bibimbap, prepared either cold or hot in a sizzling stone bowl ($9.25 for basic vegetarian to $14.25 for the Dol Sot Bibimbop with Broiled Eel). Traditional meat dishes include Bulgogi, marinated rib eye beef, chicken or pork ($10.95 – $11.25) and Galbi, marinated prime beef short ribs ($14.95). Multi-grain rice can be substituted for white rice in most dishes for an extra charge of $1, and all meals are served with two small traditional Korean side dishes such as Kimchi, simmered beans, or marinated cucumber. At lunch time, seven specials are offered, which are lower-priced versions of several of their dishes.

Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap at Giwa.

Dol Sot Bibimbop at Giwa.

Clearly the most popular dish on Giwa’s menu, and arguably the best, is the Dol Sot Bibimbop. Served in a sizzling hot stone bowl, this combination of rice, vegetables and meat or tofu is perhaps the best version of Bibimbop available in the Philadelphia area. The vegetables are a tasty mixture of bean sprouts, carrot, mushrooms and salad greens, always fresh and delicious. As one eats, the rice sizzles, crackles and continues to cook, forming a delicious crispy “crust” along the bottom of the bowl that is the most enjoyable part of the meal to savor. You can mix in as much of Giwa’s Korean Hot Pepper Sauce as you can stand, or keep it mild and less spicy.

Galbi at Giwa.

Galbi at Giwa.

Spice lovers should try their delicious Galbi, although I found it a bit intense for my stomach which can be very sensitive to the garlic. The Soft Tofu Stew is very good, served bubbling hot in a stone bowl. It’s one of my favorite lunches in the wintertime, although I wish Giwa served it as it traditionally comes with a raw egg, to be cracked and cooked in the bubbling pot while you eat.

Soft Tofu Stew at Giwa.

Soft Tofu Stew at Giwa.

Giwa is a “Bring-Your-Own” establishment, encouraging diners to bring their own wine or beer in the evenings (lunch service is too hectic to sit and savor a meal over a bottle of wine). Water, soda and green tea is available, however. Giwa offers special boxed meals to go for business luncheons and meetings as well as party trays of their newest specialty, Korean-style tacos with kinchi and spicy meat fillings.

Overall, Giwa’s food is quite satisfying and delicious, although price-wise it is a bit expensive for what is basically lunch-counter or to-go service. For close to or the the same price, other Korean restaurants in the area such as Miran offer more of a full restaurant experience, including a full array of Korean banchan/side dishes with your meal, instead of just two. That said, Giwa is still a great choice for fresh and well-prepared Korean food in Center City, Philadelphia. The Bibimbap alone is worth the trip, and many other dishes are sure to satisfy as well.

This review was originally posted at the Yahoo Contributors Network on November 15, 2010.

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