Written by Rob McGovern
In order to keep it fair and cover as much of the city as possible, I have tried several restaurants that were previously unknown to me, and I have been back to a few that I know very well. I have included restaurants based on a few factors, but the main factors were quality-slash-taste and value for money. Customer service and authenticity have entered into my thinking, but overall taste and value have taken priority. Finally, there are plenty of places that serve a very palatable bibimbap in Jeonju, as you would expect, but the places I have chosen are where you are guaranteed to get a good bowl of the good stuff.
Starting with Gogung 고궁 is a safe bet. In fact, in terms of bibimbap it is the safest. Gogung is THE place in Jeonju to eat bibimbap. Served in the most traditional manner I have come across, the bibimbap is delicious and is served with all the care and ambiance that you would expect in Jeonju’s most famous mixed rice restaurant. The restaurant is easily the most famous in the city and was founded in 1996 as the successor to Han-Kuk-Kwan, a restaurant which was itself founded in 1966. Gogung has been so successful that in 1999 the company opened another restaurant in Seoul’s Myeong-dong neighbourhood and has since opened other branches. According to the Visit Korea website the main ingredients of the dish are even imported directly from Jeonju. For more bumpf info visit their website www.gogung.co.kr
In terms of fame and taste follows closely on the heels of Gogung. Endorsed by the city, Gajok Hwegwan 가족 회관 is very conveniently located in the heart of the downtown area near the city’s hanok village, making it a very popular place with tourists. The bibimbap here is very nice and the side dishes are plentiful. Whether the taste is as good as Gogung will come down to the subtitles of your taste buds, but the difference is negligible. However, the difference in service isn’t. While Gajok Hwegwan can probably seat 100 hundred people it is smaller and certainly more cramped (it is a single level restaurant located above a 1,000 won shop) than the 2 floored Gogung (which also includes a small Bibimbap museum.) Having to cram all those hungry tourists and locals into a smaller space means that sometimes service takes a step back in favour of efficiency which sadly does nothing for the ambiance and experience. Yet you can watch the whole assembly process as the kitchen is an open plan, just don’t stand in the same place too long or you might get shoved out of the way by the fearsome ajummas who run the place. http://www.jeonjubibimbap.com
After 2 very good but slightly grandiose and ever so slightly pricey places we go to Myeong Seong Ok 명성옥, a small restaurant in Ajungli that although part of a chain is located in amongst apartment blocks far from the wandering eyes of tourists. Frequented by taxi drivers (a sure sign of authenticity and quality) and locals Myeong Seong Ok has a simple menu but most appropriately for this place they serve both bibimbap and dolsot bibimbap. 6,000 won is all you pay for a delicious bibimbap but the beauty of this place is in the side dishes. Ever changing but always delicious, their kimchi is particularly good and also forms the basis of their utterly unbeatable kimchi jjim. There is another branch near Lotte department store but I haven’t tried it. It is also a 24 hour establishment so when you start thinking food after a few drinks Myeong Seong Ok provides a cheap, delicious and healthy alternative to fried chicken or pizza on the way home! cityfood.co.kr/h2/myungsung
Seong Mi Dang 성미당 came out quite near the top when I asked several Korean friends where they thought the best bibimbap restaurant in Jeonju was. Located less than a minute from the better known Gajok Hwegwan, Seong Mi Dang is equally as good as its more famous cousin. Less well known doesn’t always mean inferior quality, however, but it usually means smaller crowds, and, indeed on my visit, there were only 4 or 5 other people there, all Korean and, judging from their attire, they were locals on a break from work, which speaks volumes. The dish itself was superb, fresh and healthy tasting but with a moreish quality which makes Seong Mi Dang a great place. www.sungmidang.com
There are two restaurants, also in the Ajungli area of the city, that provide good value, which is an important factor if you are going to be a regular consumer. Traditional Jeonju bibimbap takes a lot of work. There is the sagol soup that the rice is cooked in. The ingredients are cooked individually and assembled on top with care and attention, and the whole dish is presented in a traditional brass bowl, which goes someway to explaining the cost, somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 won in Gogung , Seong Mi Dang and Gajok Hwegwan. Yang Poon Jip 양푼 집 and Kim Woo Dong 김우동 are 2 places that provide cheap and cheerful bowls of mixed rice. Yang Poon means “big bowl” in Korean. True to its name, this place serves a hearty bowl of rice with plenty of vegetables and lots of side dishes, which include a generous doenjang jjigae. Similarly, Kim Woo Dong serves their bibimbap using heukmi bap 흑미밥, which means “black rice” but actually dyes the rice a very pleasing purple colour. Both places have one thing in common with all the other restaurants mentioned here. They use fresh local ingredients and this, it is said, makes all the difference. I regularly walk past both of these restaurants and see trucks outside with bunches of garlic, onions, spring onions and other ingredients, still with that morning’s earth on. These places may not be unique to Jeonju, but these are the places where you can eat great food prepared by expert hands from fresh, local ingredients. If that isn’t special I don’t know what is.
Last and by no means least a special mention.
Jeonju bibim samgak kimbap (전주비빔 삼각 김밥) is not only my favourite samgak kimbap but probably my favourite fast food. It is cheap and delicious and provides a nice diversion from the traditional kimbap where the plain rice is wrapped around a splodge of filling. The rice is pre-mixed and so every bite is veritable party in the mouth, spicy and delicious and beats normal kimbap hands down.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To help make this list more complete, Paul Ajosshi has one more great bibimbap restaurant for you.
대한민국 서울특별시 중구 충무로2가 12-14
대한민국 전라북도 전주시 덕진구 덕진동2가 168-9
대한민국 전라북도 전주시 완산구 중앙동3가 80
대한민국 전라북도 전주시 덕진구 인후동1가 889-1
대한민국 전라북도 전주시 완산구 중앙동3가 31-2
대한민국 전라북도 전주시 완산구 서신동
South Korea Jeollabuk-do Jeonju-si Deokjin-gu Ua 2(i)-dong 1097-6
대한민국 전라북도 전주시 덕진구 인후동1가 890-3