More than 15 years of preparing sushi at upscale locales have imbued chef Soon Park with a deep regard for this culinary tradition. Still, he isn't afraid to push his creations into the oven once and a while—his signature Dragon Breath roll sprinkles bread crumbs and garlic over shrimp tempura, which bakes in the kitchen before spicy mayo, chili sauce, and chili tobiko provide a finishing garnish. A simultaneous devotion to ritual and experimentation has enabled Chef Soon to complement these inventive rolls with sushi mainstays, such as Japanese-imported red snapper nigiri and fresh tuna sashimi. Whether he's dreaming up a new entree or wrapping a California roll, his mission remains the same: give each ingredient its due time in the spotlight. Rather than mask flavors with soy sauce or chopsticks made from cinnamon sticks, Chef Soon carefully balances each taste and texture within a given dish. Tender eel precedes crisp bites of lobster tempura on the Golden Lobster roll, which also surprises palates with the tang of spicy mayo and unagi sauces. The Octo nigiri, meanwhile, contrasts spicy salmon with spicy octopus, and a filo-wrapped ahi appetizer deep-fries tuna, cream cheese, and avocado into a flaky shell.
Tanaka spent his childhood in both Japan and Korea, allowing him to master each style of cooking before making his way to the United States. While here, he sharpened his chef-owner skills at a restaurant in New Mexico before bringing his breadth of culinary knowledge to Lisle’s own Tanaka Sushi. Tanaka’s hands are as agile as the local paper snowflake maker as he slices tuna, eel, avocados, pickled radishes, and green bell peppers for his sushi rolls. His intimate, cafeteria-style eatery also warms bellies with Korean staples, such as spicy kimchi soup and bibimbap—a mishmash of vegetables, egg, and spicy squid served in a hot stone bowl.
The bench-style seating at Yeowoosai—which translates to “Let’s talk about love at this place”—encourages bar-goers to snuggle up to share drinks and plates of Korean fare calibrated to feed two to four people. Since 1996, owner Stella has crafted each batch of the yellow sauce that accompanies the house favorite, popcorn chicken, from a recipe she keeps under lock and key. Other popular dishes include classic galbi (marinated beef ribs) and bibimbap (mixed rice and vegetables). Guests can sip one of eight hand-crafted original cocktails and after 10 p.m. K-pop videos pump from eight flat-screen televisions, lending the red room an upbeat air.
At Solga Restaurant, guests finish barbecuing their short ribs, pork belly, and brisket in tableside charcoal pots, as chronicled in a feature by the Chicago Reader. But chefs do their fair share, too. They sear Atlantic king salmon and octopus atop the kitchen's grills and they heap steamed white rice into warm stoneware bowls before topping it with vegetables and dollops of red-chili paste. For noodle dishes, the chefs stir handmade wheat flour noodles into steaming or refreshingly cool broths.
Mio Bento’s storefront windows stretch from floor to ceiling, treating passersby to an unobstructed view of the Japanese restaurant’s casual yet elegant dining room. Lights affixed to a lofted ceiling shine on scarlet walls and plated arrangements of seaweed-wrapped sushi and creamy wasabi. As eyes take in the refined surroundings, chopsticks spar for fried shrimp tempura, udon noodles, and specialty sushi hand rolled by chefs. Green tea and vanilla ice cream stand out on the dessert menu, which also features traditional Japanese mochi and ocean-fresh swedish fish.
A soft glow emanates from the tables of Woo Chon Restaurant, but it’s not of the romantic variety. Instead, it comes from tabletop grills, which diners pile with fresh meats and vegetables to concoct galbi’s Korean-style pork ribs or bulgogi’s thin slices of marinated beef. Hot stone bowls cradle orders of seafood bibimbop, joining shrimp, scallops, and shellfish over a bed of sizzling rice, and hot pots hold orders of octopus or beef intestines in a spicy broth.