By Emily Laskin
It can be hard to find solid meals after 9 p.m. in the East Bay, not to mention quality nibbles if you’ve already been out on the town. Some of the areas best for late-night dinner, post-drink snacking, or just holing up for the evening and having a party, are the numerous soju bangs, or Korean pubs named for the liquor. The establishments on this list run the gamut from raucous dives to quiet and cozy restaurants with a hidden speciality in Korean fried chicken (KFC) and cheese corn — soju bang standbys. We’ve got so much Korean food in the East Bay, though, we’re sure we’ve missed a few. Tell us about your favorites in the comments.
Dan Sung Sa, Pill Hill
Locally and affectionately known as the “Porno Palace,” Dan Sung Sa is actually a restaurant and dive bar in one, with cozy booths and walls lined with fairly innocent (read: not pornographic) movie posters. Inside you’ll find soju, beer and an impressive selection of Korean street and snack food, as well as some more traditional restaurant dishes. If you turn up late at night with the munchies, or you just want some snacks with your booze, look into the “Soju Bites” section of the menu. Corn cheese and Korean tacos are favorites with the post-drinking crowd. The menu gets pretty adventurous for full sit-down meals too, so the Porno Palace is also a fun place to eat more, er, soberly. Dan Sung Sa is at 2775 Telegraph Ave. (at 28th Street), Oakland.
Oriental BBQ Chicken Town, North Oakland
Looking for fried chicken? Look no further. Oriental BBQ Chicken Town’s Gan Jang Chicken — crisp, deep-fried, mostly boneless chicken strips in garlic and soy sauce — are this writer’s favorite anywhere in town. On the menu are also a dozen other fried, grilled, sauced, and spicy chicken options, plus some delicious appetizers and non-chicken dishes and the requisite soju cocktails and OB and Hite beers. OB Town’s a pretty tame scene compared to some of the area’s other soju bangs, and it stops serving alchohol after 10 p.m., so it’s a good first stop for the uninitiated. (It does stay open until 1 a.m. on weekends.) Many a delicious meal has been had here after other restaurants in the area are closed. Oriental BBQ Chicken Town is at 6101 Telegraph Ave. (at 61st Street), Oakland.
Tin & Pig (formerly Kang Tong Degi), Temescal
This month, the brand new Korean gastropub Tin & Pig has taken over the drinking and snacking establishment that was Kang Tong Degi, a hidden gem near the flashier restaurants Dan Sung Sa and Gogi Time. Hot pot is the big crowd-pleaser here, as it was at Kang Tong Degi. The house specialty is called “military stew” — a noodle soup in a spicy broth with a little bit of everything thrown in. Cozy semi-private booths that you can occupy for a long session of eating and soju cocktail drinking add to Tin & Pig’s underground feel. Tin & Pig is at 3702 Telegraph Ave. (at 37th Street), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram.
Gogi Time, Pill Hill
Wear washable clothes to Gogi Time — this place is seriously smoky inside. There are a few well-loved all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue joints in the East Bay that all work basically the same way: Pay a flat rate per person and order your fill of different meats, seafood and vegetables to cook on the grill inlaid into each table. Ohgane on Broadway and Jong Ga on Grand Avenue are similar in concept, but this writer loves Gogi Time’s party atmosphere and winning combination of barbecue and hot pot. Like many spots on this list, Gogi Time is best experienced in big groups. With enough people, you can grill a fairly stunning array of meats and seafood and mix-and-match hotpot broths and ingredients. These all-you-can-eat barbeque spots can be a bargain if you turn up hungry, but beware — you’ll be charged extra for meats you order but don’t eat. Gogi Time is at 2600 Telegraph Ave. (at 26th Street), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook and Twitter.
Gangnam Tofu, El Cerrito
Gangnam Tofu isn’t technically a soju bang, but it makes this list because of its seriously excellent fried chicken. Yelpers rave about the Gangnam Chicken, which is battered, fried and drenched in a special sauce. A generous banchan spread and extremely friendly service also help to set this spot apart from the more drinking-oriented Korean establishments. Lovers of KFC who live further north will be pleased that this newcomer is more convenient than the clusters of Korean restaurants on Telegraph, and Gangnam should also be a hit among the less alcohol-oriented among us. Gangnam Tofu is at 11740 San Pablo Ave. (between Knott and Wall avenues), El Cerrito.
Blind Tiger, Pill Hill
There’s a lot going on at Blind Tiger. Even walking in is a bit of a trip — diners must venture down a long set of stairs and into the cavernous underground restaurant right below Gogi Time. Once you’re in, you’ll find a huge space with a bar, multiple seating areas, and three giant projectors. When we were there it was playing Inception, but we hear it’s also a great place to watch Warriors games. On the menu is an eclectic array of small plates, raw bar selections and cocktails. Dishes range from adventurous — grilled duck hearts! — to pretty standard bar fare like chicken wings in hoisin-heavy “tiger sauce.” But while the concept could seem scattered, Blind Tiger instead just feels accommodating. Blind Tiger is at 2600 Telegraph Ave. (at 26th Street), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.