Montgomery, Alabama, has so few restaurants that rise to the level of the “ethnic cuisine” that an experienced world traveler might be accustomed. To anyone who has lived in New York, LA, or even Austin or Atlanta, it can seem pretty bleak to come to Montgomery, where there are plenty of BBQ joints and church potlucks, but not so many Thai and Indian joints (and zero, for example, Ethiopians). For the seasoned gourmand with global sensibilities, moving to Montgomery can be a bit of a (lack of) culture shock.
But for some reason, Montgomery has several VERY authentic Korean restaurants. The scuttlebutt on that is that they exist to cater to the large(ish) Korean population that moved here due to Alabama’s automobile manufacturing push.
Although we neither work for, nor own a Hyundai, we do like good Korean food. I have been to Shillah, one of the Korean joints. I’ll include a review of that place eventually. But this is a review of Arirang, a place in a strip mall that advertises itself as Korean BBQ. As vegetarians, we were skeptical of what we’d have to eat, but also not so ideological (nor inexperienced) to be grossed out by items like “entrails,” “beef blood” and “ox tail” on the menu.
Despite a full parking lot, the place was mysteriously pretty empty. There did appear to be a few folks over in the private dining room, but we were shocked at the lack of a crowd during prime dinner hours. As noted, the menu had numerous “exotic” items designed to cater to the Korean palate. Sea toad was a prominently featured item.
We settled on some veggie noodles and a tofu soup. I was hoping the tofu soup would be made of the same spicy red base that I had sampled at Shillah. In fact, it was similar, but not nearly as spicy. And, to our dismay, this “veggie tofu soup” in fact had chunks of beef floating in it.
Still, the decor was pretty nice — big sturdy tables, nice generic “Asian” theme. The waitress was super nice, letting us know when we tried to order some kind of spicy fish item that she absolutely did not recommend it. The veggie noodles were the best item: clear rice noodles with some mushroom and eggplant and a few other veggies mixed in.
The price was fairly reasonable. We came in somewhere around $30 for the both of us, which was two entrees and two drinks (southern-style iced tea). The portions were smaller than at Shillah, but reasonable. We even had enough of the noodles to take home (where they were as good, if not better, the next day as leftovers for lunch).
All in all, it’s probably not fair for me to say that I liked Shillah better because I haven’t written a review of that place for Lost in Montgomery yet. Still, suffice it to say that Arirang is a solid place. It’s nicer than it might otherwise be, simply because there is such a dearth of good international cuisine in Montgomery. It’d obviously be a lot better if we ate meat and it’s quite unfortunate that it is likely to struggle to attract incurious non-Korean customers due to the fascinating array of menu items.
I give it 5 and a half Samsungs out of 7.