Han Kang's galbi is reason to return

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A one-mile strip of Havana out in Aurora can pretty much cure any craving you might have for Korean food, so after making the sad discovery that Sae Jong Kwan, one of my favorite restaurants in Denver for bibim naeng myun, was (at least) temporarily closed, I was consoled by the fact that I didn't have to travel far to find a place that might fill the void.

After some consideration, I landed at Han Kang, a Korean barbecue joint that's been around for more than a decade in a shared parking lot with a 7-Eleven. A hostess tried to seat my friends and me in the main dining room -- which was empty and had a funny smell lingering in the air -- before we insisted on a table that would allow us to barbecue, following her through a swinging door and up onto a tented platform where several parties were gathered around meat sizzling on grills.

We asked for the bibim naeng myun, and it was nothing special. The nest of angel hair-like, stretchy buckwheat noodles was bathed a sauce that was savory and sweet and topped with crisp cucumber plus thin strips of beef. That was all fine, but it lacked the kick that makes me adore the dish so much.

The galbi was reason to return, though. In addition to the traditional beef short ribs, Han Kang lets you substitute pork ribs, and my group split the difference, asking for an order of each. Our server returned soon with a bucket of coals, a grate and a platter of thin slices of meat, which she cut into smaller, bite-size pieces.

We grilled the chunks until they sizzled, then made fast work of them. The marinade had given the bits a kick of ginger, a hit of garlic, the ambrosial characteristic of honey and the satisfying saltiness of soy sauce. It was exemplary galbi, and the bean curd paste and hot chile sauce were both excellent accoutrements, adding earthy fire to our succulent chunks of meat. But no lettuce leaves to wrap the meat with garlic cloves (which we actually did receive)? Weird.

Still, there's a definite return trip in my future -- but I'm still on the lookout for replacement noodles.

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