Urijip Restaurant - Where Korean Dining is a Family Tradition
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
(June 2005 Update: Urijip has moved to the former Y Kusina location behind Mark's Motors below Buddie's Billiards and next to Delisle Beauty Supply)
Urijip Restaurant, located off of Marine Corps Drive in Tamuning next to Josie's Tavern and across from Dhonson's Jewelers, is probably Guam's oldest Korean restaurant. Like so many small establishments serving Asian cuisine, Urijip Restaurant is a family-owned eatery that has been satisfying customers with Korean fare since 1977. Urijip translated to English means "our home" and it seems fitting for this unpretentious and homey place.
Urijip is not a fancy restaurant. In fact, many people will probably think twice about eating here since it doesn't have the bright lights and fancy furniture they're used to seeing in the more tourist-oriented Korean restaurants on island. No, Urijip Restaurant is run by the Chang family who have made their name and earned their reputation on the quality of their food, not on the atmosphere, which could best be described as "worn", but in this case, "worn" means comfortable and familiar, much like an old book or a favorite pair of shoes. The cover of Urijip's menu has a picture of a traditional Korean home in the country, with kimchi pots outside. The menu cover personifies the homey ambiance of Urijip, which has photos of the Chang's grandkids posted on a refrigerator door, and a china cabinet with golf trophies and a framed picture of the elder Changs posing at Banzai Cliff in Saipan. These items and other memorabilia collected over the years by the Changs are located behind a bar near a TV that's tuned to the Korean channel. The Chang family's legacy of cooking continues with their son's restaurant, Flamingo, located in Anigua.
Urijip's menu is fairly straightforward, with photos of the 26 featured menu items with Korean, English, and Japanese translations below each. Since I was alone, I ordered only my favorite Korean dish, Kalbi ($18), the marinated and grilled beef rib. The first thing the server brings is either a pitcher of water or of bolri-cha (a refreshing barley tea). The tea is served to Koreans, while the water is served to non-Koreans, unless you specifically request the tea which you should as it is quite delicious. There are other beverages including beer, Jinro, iced tea, and soft drinks available. The panchan or side dishes of kimchis, marinated radishes, pickled cabbage, seaweed) were set before me, soon followed by the sizzling platter of Kalbi. It was a sizable portion and Mrs. Chang cut the strip loin off the bone into bite-size pieces. A small pot of white rice accompanied this, and I was left to eat.
The Kalbi was quite tasty, and the combination of kimchis with the seasoned beef and rice embodied my Korean cuisine fantasy. One of the vegetables served was pickled bok choy, which was a first for me. I did return for a second visit, and they had an even larger panchan selection that included dried anchovies and spicy bean sprouts. Apparently this selection varies with what's available. Both times though, the Kalbi was excellent, and the meal completely filling.
Urijip has a main dining area and a more private dining room that is elevated and matted, requiring you to remove your shoes. There were other diners there who had ordered the Fresh Tenderloin that they self-cooked on portable grills along with vegetables. Other diners ordered menu items that were cooked in the kitchen, which includes popular soups like the Hangover Soup, Peppery Beef Soup, and Beef Stock Soup (each $10) or Minced Raw Beef ($14), Seasoned Crab ($14), Grilled Sliced Pork ($14), Buckwheat Noodles with Hot Sauce ($11), Bulgogi ($14.50), Soybean Paste Stew ($10), Tripe Hot Pot (casserole - $14), or Pan Fried Octopus with Vegetables ($15).
Urijip's hours are from 10am-10pm Monday through Saturday and Noon-10pm on Sundays (they close the 1st Sunday of each month) and the menu is the same for dinner as it is for lunch. The only difference is that they offer daily lunch specials, such as a Kalbi for $9, however it is a smaller portion size than the regular dinner size. The service on both visits seemed strained, partially because some staff didn't show up. Once you are eating, though, you don't worry too much about service until you want something, and I watched a couple of customers walk over to the kitchen entrance (where Mrs. Chang and the waitress had disappeared into) to get their attention. All in all, diners were pleased with their food, and not all of Urijip's customers were Korean. Their food is popular with Japanese, Chinese, and a mixture of other local residents, with some ordering take-out (call 647-3777).
If you'd like to explore Korean cuisine prepared the traditional way and served in a home-like ambiance, try Urijip Restaurant in Tamuning. Like me, you may return for more!