Sae Jong Kwan was a mainstay of Korean barbecue in Aurora for more than a decade; when Jason Sheehan first reviewed it ten years ago, he remarked on its bright vibrancy and its crowds, and he especially loved the restaurant's oxtail soup. By the time I got to it four years later, it was considerably darker — paper covered its windows — but it still served good barbecue and excellent bibim naengmyun, or cold buckwheat noodles. That restaurant is no more, though. A few months ago, the address was quietly turned over to new owners, who gave the space a much-needed refresh and renamed it Shin Myung Gwan.
With a fresh coat of paint and a few Ikea chandeliers, Shin Myung Gwan is bright once again, and its rooms are full of chattering families and friends sharing feasts. Buckwheat noodles are gone from the menu now, but barbecue remains a staple: inlaid grills cook up the usual suspects, like short ribs and bulgogi, plus off cuts like pork neck and cow's tongue. Combo sets let you sample a variety of those offerings, and, as a bonus, they come with a stone bowl of spicy kimchi stew, a veggie pancake and even a free bottle of beer.
Make sure you season your grill with the half onion provided before you start in on the meat; once the grill is hot, just swipe the onion across the surface. Note, too, that you can ask your server for a clean grill plate if yours is too encrusted with bits of meat after a few rounds of cooking.
There's plenty of other food to explore here, too, and you should spend some time perusing the hot pots, which dot most tables; the stews are filled with everything from spicy chicken to tripe, from black goat to seafood. We're fans of the octopus and bulgogi hot pot, built on a light, clear and deeply savory broth seasoned with green onions.
Start your meal with some fried dumplings or a kimchi pancake, and don't miss the peppery and slightly sweet stir-fried rice cake, which you might also know as tteokbokki. The version here, supplemented by thin slices of fish cake, is spicier than other renditions in the neighborhood, and it comes floating with a brick of ramen noodles, which melt into the broth as it bubbles. The menu says this dish is for two people, and it doesn't lie — though the same could be said for just about any dish on the restaurant's menu. It's incredibly easy to over-order here.
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Shin Myung Gwan also distributes a generous selection of banchan, or side dishes. Our twelve supplemental dishes included a couple of more unusual snacks, like fermented tofu and rolled omelets, plus excellent kimchi and several varieties of spicy pickles.