There aren’t many types of cuisine available in the Portland area that I haven’t tried, but I hadn’t fully immersed myself in Korean food until recently. Fortunately, I found Yobo, opened about 18 months ago but seemingly overlooked. That might be because it’s right around the corner from Empire, sitting on Forest Ave. on a walking turn off of Congress St. that not many people take before eating.
The lettering on the front window had the words “Yobo Wine & Chow”, and upon entering and following the instructions to shut the inside door behind us and seat ourselves, we took a look at the wine list, which I now expected to be ample. It was, with a number of offerings of both glasses and bottles from a variety of countries. Also available were four local beers and a Japanese option. I passed on a drink, but my wife went with a glass of the Steininger Gruner Kamptal ($11) from Austria.
Because I’m not overly familiar with Korean food, I looked at the menu with a particularly open mind and discerning eye. I was happy to see recurring themes of kimchi and gochujang, both of which I undoubtedly need more of in my life. The menu was divided into small and medium dishes with wine pairing suggestions. Beef, pork, chicken, and tofu were all available and while the menu clearly kept to the theme, I felt there was a strong selection of plates without being overwhelming.
I ordered the Spicy Fried Tteok Bokki – rice cake, kimchi, gochujang, bacon crumbs ($9) and KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) – boneless spicy local chicken ($12). I also added a side of the Banchan (Korean Veggies) ($5). She went with the Fried Tofu in Ginger, Scallion, Soy Dressing – peanuts, sesame, greens ($11) and doubled my KFC.
My rice cakes were more like sticks – think short mozzarella sticks. They were covered in gochujang and kimchi, topped with bacon and sesame seeds, and garnished for an attractive presentation. My impression of the first bite was that they were particularly chewy, but the kimchi and gochujang added a tolerable heat and bold flavor.
While I enjoyed the addition of bacon crumbs to my dish, they weren’t even necessary. The Tteok Bokki was so tremendously flavorful, that I could have lived without the pork. That’s not a complaint, I just felt that the dish was so wonderfully seasoned, it could have stopped earlier and been every bit as good. With its texture, spice, and sizable portion, I was pleasantly surprised at the outset of my meal.
Her fried tofu dish reminded me of a scallion pancake, though maybe a bit thicker. The accompanying dressing was similar to a lighter dumpling sauce – both sweet and salty. With floating sesame seeds and scallions, it had perfect balance. It was an item I would order for myself next time and would be perfect for the vegans in your life.
Chicken is the meat I order most commonly, and I’m always up for a new preparation of it. The crispy, breaded KFC was piled high on my plate with beautiful aromas emanating from it. The boneless bird was covered in plenty of gochujang and I was thoroughly smitten. The meaty pieces had a little sweet flavor as an aside to the predominant taste of the chili paste which continued to light up my taste buds in the best possible way. The dish was an absolute standout and my wife agreed.
I ate my veggies last as a sort of bizarro dessert. There were six offerings – fish cakes, daikon, perilla leaves, spinach, pickles, and black beans. While each had a different preparation, I found three particularly tasty, enjoying the spicy daikon and housemade pickles, and especially the candied black beans which did taste like little candies indeed. The fish cakes were strange to me, though I think it was mostly because I was eating vegetables and the fish threw me. I found the leaves and spinach mostly neutral, but noted that the spinach seemed pleasantly fresh even though the taste was mild.
Had I been hungry, I would have been delighted to order more. The food was outstanding, and I can hardly wait to return. I couldn’t help but notice that it was slow the entire time we were there, but it’s a mistake not giving yourself the opportunity to try Yobo. If you like spicy, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Fear not however, as the spice, while obviously present and strong, stops short of painful in favor of good, old fashioned flavor…and lots of it. Yobo will make your bellies full and your taste buds sing.
23 Forest Ave.
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