When my husband asks me what I want for supper, the following usually comes to mind in any particular order: Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Korean. I prefer to patronize restaurants that are committed to sustainable practices, freshness, good service, and big-time flavor, which is why dishes like the Phá»Ÿ soup at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro and the Som Tum papaya salad at Sen Yai Sen Lek are always contenders.
Finding a Korean restaurant with a similar commitment to fresh, local foods has been more of a challenge for me, so when I read that the folks at Sole Café cook naturally and shop at local farmers’ markets for their produce, I was hopeful. And had to try it out.
Shortly after arriving and ordering your meal at Sole Café, five small plates of seasoned vegetables (namul) are placed at your table, including a nutty bean sprout salad with sesame oil (kongnamul), crunchy shredded potatoes (gamja bokkeum, I think), spicy pickled cucumbers (oi-sobagi), sweet, sour, and slightly chewy lotus root (yeon-gn), and spicy fermented napa cabbage (kimchi). As your entrees arrive, you can mix and match flavors using the namul plates.
As for entrees, their kimchi jjigae is good—a hot and steamy bowl of stew made with their house-made kimchi, tender onions, and meat or tofu. The thin, tangy, spicy, red pepper broth is balanced by a side of white rice which helps cool and recalibrate your palette after every three bites or so.
Their bibimbap (not to be confused with dolsot bibimbap, which is served in a hot stone pot) is a bowl full of sautéed and seasoned vegetables (namul), sliced meat or tofu, and a nicely fried egg—plus rice on the side. Bibimbap literally means “mixed meal,” so while it looks better with all the components separated, it tastes best when mixed all together with the accompanying sweet pepper sauce.
Sole Café is surrounded by a few other Korean restaurants in the Midway neighborhood of St Paul. Street parking is easy, and reservations aren’t necessary. Sole Café could use a pick-me-up in the ambiance department (the television is obtrusive), but I focused on my food and my husband’s conversation, and the atmosphere was less distracting. The service is friendly and humorous. On our recent visit, my husband commented on our server, “She’s kind of like the Korean mother I never had.”
Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.
684 Snelling Ave. N.
Saint Paul, MN 55104