Korean BBQ House – Edmonton, AB


Korean BBQ House
6111 – 28 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta
780-461-5509‎

As I started writing this post, I noticed that fellow Edmonton blogger ‘eating is the hard part’ was also through this restaurant recently (and quite possibly the same day, a few hours apart).  While he took the adventurous route, we stuck with the better known classics.  Our dinner started with the same trio of banchan: savoury sprouts, sweet daikon, and spicy kimchi — all good.

I have a secret obsession with Pajon, a.k.a. Puchingae.  Shokutsu probably has haunting memories of me dragging him through the streets of Seoul into the wee hours of the night, in my desperate hunt for a quality vendor (with only hours before my flight out).  The hunt in Seoul was a success, but this local option was fairly basic – with green onion, squid, egg and a vinegar based dipping sauce.  It is an acceptable base representation, but sadly not great.

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Ddoo Gau Bee – Burnaby, BC


Ddoo Gau Bee
203-4501 North Road
Burnaby, BC
(604) 422-0500

Slowly but surely, I’m making the rounds of the various Korean restaurants in this geographic area that borders Burnaby and Coquitlam.

Mexican Chicken Hof
Wang Ga Ma
Insadong
House of Tofu Soup

A few more to check out and I’ve done an initial look-see in some of them yet explored, but meanwhile here is one of my most recent visits…

Debating between Ddoo Gau Bee and another Korean restaurant in the same building complex, after looking inside both and finding this one busier, we elected to dine-in here.  Seated at a booth along one of the far walls, I noticed that there were several combinations and set meals available.  But we selected some choices from the extensive menu booklet instead.

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Bada E-Yagi Korean Restaurant – Burnaby, BC


Bada E-Yagi Korean Restaurant
6408 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 432-9342

This stretch of Kingsway has several Korean restaurants in relatively close proximity.  Bada E-Yagi is one of them.  The ample parking lot right next door perhaps aids in drawing visitors to come inside.  I’d also remembered seeing it when I was in the area last year visiting Posh…

Arriving for an early afternoon weekday lunch, the place had a few other customers, a mix of both Korean speakers and non.  Immediately inside the front door, I noticed a large refrigeration unit, presumably they also sell food items to customers who are interested.  I neglected to take a real close look inside, so cannot comment on just what things they were selling.

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Seoul Dookbegi [Re-visited] – Vancouver, BC


Seoul Dookbaegi [ Re-visited]
#1031, 1033 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 879 1515

Seoul Dookbaegi on Urbanspoon

Previously I had mentioned on an earlier visit to this restaurant that I wanted to explore the Soondubu on the menu, after hearing that it was their house specialty.  As a few months had passed since then, I felt it was time to go sample this dish at Seoul Dookbegi.

This visit coincided with a much busier night, with many of the tables in the central part of the restaurant occupied, so we were seated in a booth near the entrance.  I noticed there was some interesting Korean script plastered on the wall in front of me, and the bowl of flavored salt (for Seolleongtang) was already on the table.

From this vantage point, I could see more clearly the framed pictures with descriptions of dishes available on the menu.  Seeing great images of food just wets my appetite all the more while I am checking out the menu or waiting for my food to be delivered to my table.

The banchan was exactly the same five dish combination that we had seen previously.  The steamed broccoli being the unique thing I remember from this set, as well the kimchi was really good again.

And finally the Soondubu.  Immediately after it was brought to my table, I noticed the strong scent of sesame oil.  For those who have ever cooked with it know, a little goes a long way.  So sensing so much of it had me worried.  A quick stir of the top layer did reveal a shimmery level that confirmed my guess that they had been a little generous when pouring this on top.

Stirring the pot some more, I was pleased to find a plentiful amount of soft tofu – a key element of this dish.  Although I had asked for the seafood variant, there was a distinct lack of many pieces of shrimp, clams, squid, etc. Thus the flavor hadn’t really been incorporated into the soup, unlike what you get at Insadong.  As much as they may think highly of their version, I’m afraid Seoul Dookgegi’s doesn’t cut it 100%, and thus Insadong remains the Soondubu champ in the GVA for me.

Seoul Dookbaegi on Urbanspoon

Seoul House Royal – Vancouver, BC


Seoul House Royal
1215 W. Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 738 8285

Seoul House Royal Korean on Urbanspoon

Are there places in your hometown that you’ve passed by countless times, so many that its impossible to mentally tally, but have never had a real chance to check out for whatever reason.  For me, as I traverse across West Broadway on an almost daily basis, it was the Seoul House Royal, until recently.

As our hardcore readers may note, Korean cuisine gets heavy rotation on Foodosophy.  I can honesty go for the wide assortment of staples dishes in such restaurants on a regular basis.  From steaming hot pots filled with spicy stews, to bowls of noodles or rice topped with various ingredients, simple grilled fish and rice combinations or do-it-yourself  barbecue, its easy to say that I really enjoy my Korean food.

To begin, I hadn’t heard a lot of positives when it came to this restaurant.  Perhaps it was the location, along a busy stretch of road and the inconveniences that go along with it – but I discovered they did have customer parking in an enclosed lot directly behind.  Others have told me that the food hasn’t lived up to their expectations for some reason or another.  Had it been around too long and gotten complacent, despite the fact that competition in the Korean restaurant genre is really heating up and there are many strong contenders in the Greater Vancouver Area now?  Change in management that hadn’t made the necessary changes that had driven some customers away?  Or were the rumors just simply that, and everything was fine and dandy?  Frankly, these were all hearsay to me, so as always, I knew I had to check it out for myself.

A big bright menu booklet showed that here, as in other Korean places I am slowly discovering around town, Seoul House Royal is melding their offerings with both Japanese and Korean flavors.  But I knew I was here for one thing and one thing only – the Korean-style barbecue.  So the decision was made to get two orders of the premium beef short ribs.  Those red rolls of marinated carpets of beef always look so tantalizing when brought to the table, and here was no exception.   With the grill hot and ready on standby, the cooking began as did the flow of saliva from the ducts in my mouth.

My decision to not partake in my favorite beverage when eating barbecue – beer – perhaps played a factor in my lowered enjoyment of my meal as the night wore on and cut after cut of sliced beef was deposited into my belly, along with a heavy dose of cabbage kimchi, sprouts, daikon, cucumbers and potatoes… all coming from the fresh banchan.  Not to mention the envelopes of lettuce, filled with sliced garlic and spicy kochujan that served as the most popular vessel for the barbecued beef as I ate.  Beer & barbecue… its a habit I’ve picked up from many Korean barbecue meals in Seoul and Tokyo over the years, and I realize that having car to drive home can be a detriment to having a fully enjoyable meal.  Who knew?

In my opinion, and a humble one in that, Seoul Royal House served its main purpose for me on this night.  A relaxed, well paced meal of flavorful meat, with attentive service from a pair of waitresses who were not overly pushed by a large customer base that night, who brought out refills of the banchan and fresh grills for the barbecue.  With its convenience location for me in Fairview, and a large selection of tables to choose from, I am registering this place as a place to note when I have the craving for barbecue again knowing that space will not be a factor in getting a table without a wait.

Seoul House Royal Korean on Urbanspoon

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant – Las Vegas, NV


Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant
3765 South Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 891 8403

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Along The Strip, you can still find a proper non-hotel affiliated, family-run, ethnic restaurant… if you look carefully. One of them can be found in a building recessed behind a small mall housing some shops selling tacky Vegas trinkets, beside the MGM Grand and across the street from the Monte Carlo. Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant is not visible from the street, and if it were not for the large digital signage that flashed Korean Hangul that I saw while driving by on the first day of my recent stay, I would not have know there was a restaurant back there. I noted it in my memory and revisited the area on foot the following day.

Once inside, I asked the waitress why the “II” was noted in their name; she remarked that they have their first establishment in Los Angeles, and this is their second venture. Being the entertainment city that it is, I immediately noticed that some of the handwritten autographs tacked to a wall near the front cashier were for some of the biggest names in Korean entertainment, such as one from the actor Jang Dong-Kun. A far cry from the B-list actors and singers you see on the same autograph boards in Vancouver’s Korean restaurants.

Seated in a comfortable booth that could easily seat six people, we ordered from the menu a pair of dishes. Yes, I decided to continue my hunt for my most favorite edition of Soondubu outside of South Korea. At Ginseng, their creation was surprisingly good. I’d say I would rate it up there with my current favorite (from Insadong in Coquitlam, BC), with its depth of seafood flavor in the rich spicy broth, and plenty of delicious soft tofu adding that delicate texture to the mix. The only factor that would take them down a notch in the rankings would be the volume of various seafood bits inside, Insadong has a slight edge here.

The Yukejang (spicy beef soup) comprised of a watery and slightly sour but mainly spicy broth that included shredded beef, tang myun (clear noodles) and an assortment of vegetables such as gosari namul (bracken fiddleheads), and green onions was as expected. A relatively straightforward dish, that is less fiery in comparison to the Soondubu, begins to taste overly “beefy” if eaten to the very last drop. For me, this begins to be a turnoff towards the end of the meal, as the meatiness of the dish just lingers on my taste buds. No complaints though on how it was prepared, as there was nothing out of the ordinary from versions of this that I’ve tasted in Seoul.

Should you ever find yourself on Las Vegas Blvd., looking for a reprieve from all the casino buffets, and having a craving for barbecue meat Korean-style, Ginseng is your place as well. The table of tourists next to us were cooking up a flaming storm and the aromas were very enticing. Meat on a grill though, how could you go wrong? I am aware of other Korean restaurants off the Strip, but I have not visited any of them. Perhaps I’ll save that for another trip…

Ginseng II Korean BBQ Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dae Jang Geum – Calgary, AB


Dae Jang Geum
1324 10 Ave. S.W.
Calgary, AB
(403) 228-1120

Foodosopher: If you look at how ethnic foods are introduced to a market, you’ll see a similar kind of cycle. The first few restaurants usually provide the “Cole’s Notes” version of the cuisine – a very general, “best of the best” overview. As a cuisine gets more popular, more and more of these restaurants start to follow. The diner gets a bit more sophisticated, and starts to expect better quality from their meals. Often times, this is as far as a cuisine gets – the next phase, which brings specialized restaurants that serve one specific kind of cuisine (Japanese and sushi, ramen, izakaya, tempura bar, for example), requires a certain amount of demand and sophistication before being able to support specialized restaurants. While it is exciting that specialized Japanese cuisine is starting to take hold, Korean food in Calgary seems forever doomed to be a big melting pot of dishes. From pajeon, to BBQ, to soondubu, most restaurants carry all diverse types of korean cuisine. So in order to fairly assess Korean food in Calgary, we focus on a couple aspects – quality, and value.

Shokutsu: The all-encompassing format that prevails in many ethnic restaurants in North America, as noted above by Foodosopher, has its pros and cons.  Without the wide variety, the base introduction for many customers would never be achieved.  As their tastes and interest progress, I’ve found from working in actual restaurant kitchen environments that regular customers tend to find what they like and continue to eat their favorite dish, time and time again – despite the array of other menu choices they could branch out to if they so desired.  In the absence of specialized, one-type restaurants, I suppose this predictable ordering by those regular customers of a restaurant (which are so essential to its operational well-being), does become a quasi-specialized restaurant for them, in that they only get what they really want, every single time they dine there.  When it comes to Korean cuisine, from what I can discern in this day and age, this is quite limited to either barbecue or hot pots, as the only two singular dishes that are able to stand alone on an entire menu and potentially be the only item a bold enough restaurant could serve and specialize in.  Whether we’ll see more of these, remains to be seen.

Foodosopher: Dae Jang Geum is a relatively new entry to the restaurant scene in Calgary. Named after a Korean television show, it’s general claim to fame is as the restaurant that is “next to the Korean+Japanese grocery store”. Occupying the corner space of a small strip mall, it is quite easy to miss.  A small frontage actually conceals a very large restaurant on the inside – this place can hold a LOT of people.

The decor is dated – which i find surprising considering the restaurant itself is only a few years old. Struggle as i might, I am unable to remember what restaurant preceded Dae Jang Geum. If i had to guess, i’d say a Korean Denny’s. My biggest complaint with the restaurant itself is the layout – everything is structured into private booths, with entrances that point away from each other. This in itself is fine, except with the high backed banquettes, it is impossible for a server to notice you . This would be fine, if servers actually checked on you once in a while. In a couple visits, service has been atrociously slow. And extremely poor in terms of remembering to bring out all the dishes that have been ordered. If you go, don’t be in a rush – you have no idea when you’ll be able to leave.

Shokutsu: For some reason, in contrast to Foodosopher, the seclusion and relative sense of privacy the booths provide, was a welcome change for me whenever I ate here.  Perhaps its just a Western’s mindset and the fact that it is in stark contrast to the dominant, open seating (no walls) set up of most casual restaurants in South Korea (and even those Korean restaurants in North America), but I find this somehow refreshing.  Though it does probably have a negative impact on visibility with the wait staff – I’ve also experienced the service issue described earlier – but perhaps its also the prevailing style of Korean restaurants where once you are served, don’t expect much brown-nosing and chatter from the waiters.  This is the case when I’ve been with Korean speakers and not – there has rarely been a pronounced difference in attitude – so no bias here.

As someone who’s very familiar with the area where Dae Jang Geum is located and a frequent shopper of that next door grocery for some Asian ingredients I enjoy, I was always drawn by the overwhelming, amazing scent of barbecuing meat that would escape from the vents on the side of the building, cascading into the parkade.  As well, I do believe that the owners have positioned themselves well with the tourism industry as well as the local Korean community, as I’ve often seen huge tour buses stopping there and letting out loads of visitors to dine inside after a day out in the nearby Rockies.  [Note: Ginseng in Edmonton had the same cozy relationship with the major Korean tour companies, and this phenomena was seen a few times there as well].  And on weekends, inside I’d see groups from the local Korean community, mostly packs of men who appeared to be in golf attire (following a round, what’s better than a nice cold beer and Kalbi?) and families out together for a meal.

Foodosopher: Shortly after ordering, a great selection of Banchan are brought out. They are reasonably  fresh, though the Kim Chi lacked the complexity of flavour i like. It had a bit of heat, and that was about it. The beansprouts were fairly limp and disappointing too, but the the pickled daikon, my favorite, was excellent. Banchan I had finished were replenished throughout the meal – a definite plus in my books, even though the quality was only average.

On this day, i had ordered Sundubu Jigae – tofu stew served with rice. Sundubu is one of those dishes that is very comforting – silky tofu, with the rich pepper sauce (gochujang), vegetables, seafood, and my favorite part- a raw egg cracked over top. Unfortunately, this version of sundubu is lacking in several components. It’s not very rich, not very comforting, and there was no egg. The flavour was decent, but overall, it was fairly disappotining.

In other visits, I have had the opportunity to try other dishes – the most memorable for me being the Pajeon and the Kalbi/Galbi. The Pajeon was good, nice and firm egg and fragrant toppings, and reasonably priced. The meat was good too, but lacking in that sweet-smoky flavour – a result of a poor marinade job. However, the biggest problem is an order of Galbi, rings in at a ridiculous $42.95. Compared to a $13.95 price at Bow Bulgogi, this is highway robbery.

Shokutsu: My comments here are not from the same visit as Foodosopher, however I can comment that the Kimchi Jigae that I have had here was very disappointing in terms of flavor.  There was no depth to it at all, which harkens back to the likelihood that the kimchi being used is not that great, the banchan can confirm this too, I never enjoyed it.  [As an aside, the kimchi next door at the grocery is also nothing to write home about, even the home made stuff that is sold there.  For this, I would always get it at this tiny little Korean grocery store located in the area just east of Centre St. S and somewhere between 12 Ave ~ 15 Ave SE.  The Korean grandmother who makes it there in shop run by her grandson, makes an excellent flavorful cabbage kimchi as well as fresh Korean mochi].  The barbecue was good as well (though expensive) as well as the seafood Pajeon (very delicious and great portion size).  Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised by how well they do the Mul Naengmyeon in the summer – its such a hard dish to get right, especially the soup.  Based on this dish alone, I suspect they have someone in the kitchen who has some skills, just perhaps not translating through to all the other dishes available.

Foodosopher: My overall opinion of this place is to give it a pass. If you are selective, and looking for some very specific, more obscure Korean dishes, then you can probably get in and out for a reasonable sum. The more obscure Korean dishes are actually quite good, and fairly reasonably priced. However, if you’re looking for a general Korean experience, which typically includes BBQ, both price and service make me cringe. As Shokutsu has pointed out, the quality is decent, but for me, the value is rock bottom. You’d do much better to eat at Hangkang, or Bow Bulgogi, where they have both quality and value.

Dae Jang Geum on Urbanspoon

Pojang Macha – Vancouver, BC


Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, Pojang Macha emerged from site of what I had assumed was simply a makeover of the previous tenant – a decent Korean restaurant specializing in soondubu – that I had eaten in from time to time over the past year.  Peeking inside one day during the construction lull (a sign outside said “re-opening in September”), I saw drapes of orange plastic tarps everywhere and assumed things were underway for a flashy new setup.  To my utter surprise, on a return visit this month after the doors were re-opened, I discovered that this bright drapery had not been torn down and was in fact the intended motif!

The inside of the restaurant was literally covered with the colorful tarps along every single wall.  The entrance even had a tarp covering that was partially peeled back, to suggest it was perhaps still under construction, but again, this was part of the intended design.  Scattered around were some upturned and painted drum cans, that had been converted to tables with large steel circular plates attached on top.  Around them were stubby blue plastic stools.  In the center of everything were two long wooden tables, that had a pair of stainless steel tubs placed inside, with some narrow skewer sticks that were visibly floating on top.

After getting over my initial bewilderment, I finally realized what was going on.

In Korean, a pojang macha could be described as a street side vendor/cart/stall.  You can spot these all over the major streets, especially in the high traffic areas around bus and train transportation hubs, as well as in residential neighborhoods.  Most look like little kiosks, with the same one-side opening you find on sandwich trucks that patrol the lunch hour of many industrial areas of major North American cities, that offer up sandwiches and hot drinks to mostly blue collar workers.  The pojang macha in Korea take it a step further in the winter months, by putting up sheets of plastic (sometimes clear, sometimes colored), surrounding the cart/stall, creating a warm bubble that keeps out the cold wind and captures the hearty smells of food that are prepared inside.

In essence, the folks here had re-created this, but inside an actual building structure.

I could sense a real determination to stick to this unique theme here, as there was even a creative play on the menus.  Instead of using regular sheets of paper in a booklet, the menu items were hand written in a dark marker onto what almost appeared to be like car hubcaps – some round circular aluminum discs, with everything only in Korean script.  Along one wall were also some narrow sheets of paper with handwritten items – again all in Korean.  Fortunately, I was with someone who could read it all and explain it to me.  [I later noticed when a pair of large Caucasian males, dressed up in full on biker gear and looking totally out of place, walked in and comfortably sat down at one of the large common tables, that they had received menus in English).

Even the banchan (side dishes) came out in a never before seen fashion – on a segmented aluminum plate, much like you’d find in a military mess hall.  The hot brick of tofu dressed in a watery, spicy sauce was my favorite of this lot.  Some salted edamame, sticks of celery and carrots, a vinegar dressed seaweed, and some sweetly flavored potato cubes completed the offering.

The bossam dish – a plate of nice, thick slices of boiled pork belly, served with a side mixture that was comprised of kimchi, scallions, red peppers, and little dried shrimp, was our main dish.  Now this really reminded me of the small plate dishes that are popular in drinking establishments in Korea, called anju.  The instant envelope created by wrapping a piece of the pork along with the spicy toppings inside a leave of cabbage was a hit at our table.  I wish I had been in the mood to drink some soju, as this would have gone down very well together.

Lastly, we decided to sample a bowl of the korean odeng (cut up, and flat pieces made of a cooked mixture of fish paste and flour), including some udon noodles.  The combination of the chewy ingredients in the odeng and udon, and the flavorful broth made for a heartwarming finish to our meal.

Once you get over the initial surprise of the decor, and if you are have even a remote familiarity to the street versions in South Korea, I am sure this place will bring a smile to your face.  At least, tip your hat to the owners for boldly going in this direction, and bringing this piece of Korea to Vancouver’s dining scene.  I am sure there will be some who don’t get it and I could see why that would happen.  I hope this small article can serve in a small way to explain to any unsuspecting visitors, about this concept of bringing street food inside.  On the evening that I visited, there was a group of older Korean gentlemen who seemed to be relishing in this transformation of street culture from their homeland, to pairs of young couples who seemed to be there for the food and conversation, as well as the a fore mentioned bikers.

Example of an outdoor pojang macha in Seoul

Example of an outdoor pojang macha in Seoul

After recently dining in a place that had invested heavily in the design and was somewhat lacking with the food, it was a refreshing change to see quite the opposite come through at Pojang Macha.  I guess it just goes to show that there is always that balance with restaurants, between the importance of the food being served, as well as the place its being served in.  At times, the finest ingredients and creations from the kitchen meld well with creatively designed spaces, and other times not.  Most often, there is an imbalance between the two.  In this case, I think I will always side with preferring solid food over beautiful architecture or interior design.  How about you?

Pojang Macha
595 E Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 569-0852
Hours: Seven days a week, 5pm to midnight

Pojang Macha on Urbanspoon

House of Tofu Soup – Burnaby, BC


[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]

(Pukchangdong) House of Tofu Soup
4563 North Road
Burnaby, BC
Tel: 604-420-5254
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11am-9:30pm; Sun, closed

When a place puts in its name, one dish that its supposed to specialize in and do very well, I tend to have high expectations.  After all, if its in the name, they better have game.  Unfortunately, the House of Tofu Soup did not live up to what I was hoping for in terms of their soondubu (Korean Soft Tofu Stew) and I came away quite disappointed.

The House of Tofu Soup is off to the side of North Road heading south coming off the Lougheed Highway, and its quite easy to miss the turnoff into the space as the building is recessed a bit from the road.  The letdown was probably amplified by the small but near-full parking lot outside the establishment, which raised my hopes thinking that if it was busy then that was a good sign.  Opening the front door and scanning inside, the place was fairly busy and even after my dining companion and me were seated, a couple more groups of people came in.  I was sort of expecting more traditional floor-style seating, but it was just tables in the main space, and some more off to the side that were partitioned off by a barrier.  I’d say about 90% of the people there were Korean/speaking Korean, and was a mix of young groups of friends, older women, as well as some families.

As those familar with Korean cuisine know, after placing your order an assortment of free and refillable side dishes (banchan) are brought to your table.  Again, this was a letdown and was our second hint that things were not up to snuff.  The cabagge kimchi was not flavorful and was lacking real taste and heat, the sweet potato/onion was again lacking flavor, and the vinegar-flavored seaweed was stringy but lacking the chewy texture that I prefer.

Thinking that the soondubu alone would not fill us up (or rather me who was in a much more hungier state having skipped lunch), we decided to order an appetizer of fried mandoo (dumplings).  As a filler, I could accept that it was just a frozen product that was deep fried and perhaps in too hot an oil bath, and the insides were just passable on taste.  My usual dining companion cringes when I order things like this, and this was one occasion that I knew they were right.

The mixed soondubu that I chose had both meat and seafood ingredients, along with an ample amount of soft tofu.  This last characteristic was the dish’s lone positive, as more often than not, many places will skimp out on the quality and quantity of tofu.  The other ingredients though, aside from the decent sized shrimp, were few and far between as I scrambled to dig out a few slices of beef, some tiny clams, bits of green onion and that was about it, from the bottom of the bowl.  As a result, none of the all important seafood flavor had incorporated itself into the broth, and now I realized why they had been generous with the tofu, perhaps an attempt to cover up the lack of a deep flavor in the soup?  With both of us unable to stomach even a half of the bowls, we had them dumped into containers to-go, and at home I tried to invigorate the flavor component of the broth by adding some clams and extra prawns, which helped a little, but probably at too late a stage in the cooking process to rectify the weakly flavored broth that I had to begin with for this reclamation project.

I hate to disparage a place based on one meal, but I am afraid if that meal is what is being advertised as the house special, then it better come fully locked and loaded.  Unfortunately, the soondubu at the House of Tofu Soup is as they say in the ad game, a complete bait-and-switch.

House of Tofu Soup on Urbanspoon