On a cold, dark Monday evening, frenzied throngs of people spilled out onto a sidewalk in Bellevue. You'd be forgiven for thinking that you were witnessing the queue for a hot new club, but you’d be wrong: It was the first Washington location of the Korean restaurant Daeho Kalbijjim and Beef Soup, which soft opened last Friday.
According to Daeho's website, its owners opened a restaurant called Kangnam in Incheon, South Korea, in 1957 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1991. In 2019, they opened the first Daeho Kalbijjim and Beef Soup location in San Francisco’s Japantown. Despite the pandemic, it quickly became wildly popular, drawing long lines and inspiring countless Instagrams of its signature kalbijjim made with prime-grade beef and a tempting pile of melted cheese. Since then, the business has expanded with five more locations, including one in Las Vegas.
Word of the craze—and those photogenic cheese pulls—have clearly spread to Seattle: Despite arriving shortly after opening and immediately entering our name on the waitlist, my party of three waited nearly two hours to be seated. When we were finally summoned back to the restaurant with a text, we placed our order with a harried server and waited a few more minutes.
The space was sleek and modern, with videos of the featured dishes playing on a flat-screen TV and a giant green toad (the mascot of the ubiquitous Korean soju brand Jinro) perched on a shelf.
Once we were finally seated, our table was already set with the steaming bowl of seolleongtang (Korean ox bone soup) we’d ordered, along with a generous array of banchan—cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi, pickled jalapeños and onions, chives tossed in gochujang, and a creamy kelp noodle salad, which had a very satisfying popping sensation. The seolleongtang features melt-in-your-mouth brisket and a tangle of silky glass noodles in a milky white beef bone broth. As is traditional, you season it yourself to taste at the table with salt and pepper. It was a soothing, savory dish, ideal for a wintry evening.
But all of this was merely a precursor to the pageantry that was to come. The kalbijjim arrived, provoking audible gasps from the table, and we suddenly remembered why we’d willingly subjected ourselves to the ordeal of driving to Bellevue and waiting an ungodly length of time for dinner.
The server set down a mountain of meat in a bubbling cauldron on our table, topped with what looked to be an entire bag of shredded mozzarella. Then he proceeded to whisk a blowtorch over the whole affair for several seconds, transforming the cheese into melty, toasted ribbons before our eyes. It’s a brilliant bit of dinner theater—more than once, we saw diners oohing and aahing as they whipped out their phones to record the spectacle, and for good reason.
The stew itself contained tender fall-off-the-bone braised beef short ribs as well as chewy, toothsome rice cakes and chunks of potatoes, carrots, and onions, all of which were swimming in a sticky, spicy-sweet sauce. The effect was that of a pot roast from heaven, a deliriously delicious confluence of flavors and textures.
Daeho claims on its website that kalbijjim was a dish once reserved for the members of the Joseon Dynasty from the 1300s-1700s. Today, it’s often served in Korea for special occasions, including holidays, birthdays, and wedding celebrations.
Of course, this royal-worthy repast doesn't come cheap—a single order of the braised short ribs, which generously feeds three to four, will set you back $81. Also, after a while, the sauce became cloyingly syrup-sweet, even to my sugar-desensitized palate. Still, that didn’t stop us from shoveling scoop after scoop of the kalbijjim over mounds of steamed white rice with radish kimchi and chives, long past the point of satiation.
Was it worth the hype? Your mileage may vary, but I’d say so—it was a truly special meal, the likes of which I can confidently say I’ve never experienced before. If you’re up for braving the cutthroat waitlist, my best advice is to round up a group of people you love (who you don’t mind seeing you with sticky sauce smeared all over your face and hands) and go for an occasion like a birthday or just a particularly cold winter day. You’ll leave overly stuffed in a cloud of gluttonous bliss. Oh, and don't forget to add the rice cakes.