Hero Korean Steak House- Columbia SC

Hero Korean Steak House & Sushi is a korean bbq restaurant (and sushi place, but I would recommend NOT going here for the sushi) that I think is the best in the Columbia area. (A quick note: if you aren't familiar with korean bbq, there is more info on it below). Hero is definitely better than the other two Korean restaurants that I know of in Columbia: a bit better than DJ House, and much better than O-Bok. It is one of the more personally satisfying restaurant finds for me in Columbia because it is pretty difficult in general to find a korean bbq restaurant that offers charcoal to grill with - back in my hometown of Los Angeles, even with the highest concentration of korean restaurants in the United States, it is incredibly difficult to find (only one place, the best korean bbq restaurant I've ever been to, Soot Bull Jip, offers it), and in Orange County, they have outlawed its use completely. To be honest, I really was not expecting to find a place like this over here in the South, especially in a smaller town like Columbia, but in general, I've been continually (and happily) surprised by the breadth and range of foods you can find around here =).

Hero offers a lot of other Korean foods (including bibimbap), but the standout food, which I think all meat eaters in this world should try at least once, is their charcoal korean bbq. At Hero, you can order their korean bbq two ways: where they cook it for you, and where you cook it over a charcoal grill yourself (more on this below). To order the charcoal grill option at Hero, you have to order two plates of korean bbq meats (which comes out to about $45 and provides more than enough cooked meat to feed at least 4-5 hungry people). The charcoal grill option is so much better than the option where they cook it for you (when they cook the meats for you, I think it turns out kind of greasy, less juicy, and not even close to tasting as good as the option where you cook it over a charcoal grill yourself) that I would recommend against ordering the option where they cook it for you.

For those of you who aren't very familiar with korean bbq, here is korean bbq 101, part 1: there are a whole bunch of different meats you can order (beef, pork, chicken, even seafood), that are marinated in a base of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, onions, and green onions. Some of the marinated meats are spicier than others (as a general guide, the marinated pork and chicken dishes have a spicier marinade that they use). Above is a photo of two of my favorite uncooked meats right before they are about to go on the grill: the top plate is filled with kalbi, slices of marinated beef ribs, and the bottom plate is bulgolgi, thin slices of beef ribeye sirloin.

Korean bbq 101, part 2: Cook the meats over a metal grill. At other places, the fire you cook the meat over is gas, but at Hero, they place a whole bunch of hot charcoals under the metal grill, which gives the meat a nice, smoky flavor. When you cook korean bbq meats over a grill, you can control the doneness of the meats, and in general, the meats come out much juicier. The grill gets hot enough and the meat slices are thin enough that you can cook a piece of meat in a very short time (probably about a minute to a minute and half each side). After you cook the meat, you can eat it plain, or dip it in a flavored soy sauce they provide.

Lastly, although it is not pictured, a lot of korean bbq places offer a basket with pieces of green leaf lettuce to wrap the meats in; you can wrap the meat, along with some rice, in the lettuce and eat it all together.

Korean bbq 101, part 3: With all korean bbq (whether you cook it yourself or they cook it for you), the restaurant will offer a whole bunch of side dishes with the meats for you to eat. The type of dishes vary from restaurant to restaurant, but you will generally always have a large amount of dishes to try. Although I've eaten a lot of Korean bbq in my life thus far, I still can't name all the dishes here, but I will give it a try: Starting at the 3 o'clock position going counter-clockwise: potato salad, kimchee (a spicy pickled napa cabbage), sliced cucumber, radish kimchee (a personal favorite), bean sprouts, two dishes in a row that I can't identify, another different type of kimchee, sliced egg cooked in soy sauce, tofu, sliced daikon radish, and thick sliced spicy cucumber.

The side dishes here at Hero aren't the best I've ever tasted in terms of flavor or freshness, but they are decent and they definitely offer a decent and fairly representative variety of dishes.
This last photo is a horrible one, I will admit - it is the tattered remains of a seafood pajeon. Pajeon is a type of korean crepe/pancake (it is neither as thin as a crepe or as thick as a pancake, somewhere in between) made out of flour and eggs, and pan fried with various ingredients. The seafood pajeon served at Hero has green onion, squid, and other seafood. IMHO, this is one of the best pajeons I have tasted anywhere so far (including the korean bbq restaurants I've tried in California), which is saying a lot. The texture is great - crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and the flavor is savory and delicious. Definitely another must-try if you go to Hero and are feeling adventurous!

Hero Korean Steak HSE & Sushi on Urbanspoon

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