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$20 Dinner

Get Excellent Homestyle Korean Food At This Bed-Stuy Coffee Shop 

Taeil Kim's popular popup Sonbul is now a permanent nighttime fixture at Burly Coffee.

Pork belly don-kat-su, $15 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

In early 2020, Taeil Kim was happily barista-ing away at Burly Coffee on Throop Avenue in Bed-Stuy. He'd been living in the neighborhood for about four years at that point, and, as he told Hell Gate, the job "made me a consistent enough income to keep me alive in this city." A reasonable goal for sure! 

You know what happened next: COVID tore through town, businesses shut down, lives were upended, and Kim decided he needed to rethink his path and get his own thing going.  And so we have Sonbul, Kim's "LA Street and Home Comfort Korean Food" spot that, after nearly two and half years of popping up all over Brooklyn, is now permanently ensconced, four nights a week (soon to be five) at Burly.  

"I've always been good at cooking, just in general," Kim said. "And my dad runs a restaurant in Long Beach [California], so I grew up around the hospitality industry. Plus there wasn't really much in the way of Asian food in Bed-Stuy, so maybe there is a place for Korean?" 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Kim started by setting up Sonbul "at Burly, at bars, at raves, at people's parties, anywhere I could. It was very underground for a while. I'd just be out on the sidewalk in front of places at night. There weren't really any regulations during those times, and a lot of really cool food popups came about." Sonbul at Burly had its grand opening last weekend with a tight ten-item menu of killer Korean dishes—Kim converted the coffee shop's backroom into a commercial kitchen—and will be serving dinner from Wednesday through Saturday, and soon on Sunday too, from now until whenever. 

"I learned how to cook from my family, and a lot of these are home recipes. Like my dad gave me the family kimchi recipe, so I use that here." 

Kimchi cheesesteak sandwich with potato wedges, $15 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The Kim kimchi is very good, and is featured in multiple different ways: with pa-jeon, for example, the Korean-style scallion pancakes; or cooked with a whole mess of fried rice; or sitting atop a superb cheesesteak made with tender bulgogi beef on a soft hero roll. The sandwich also comes with some well-seasoned potato wedges, and is definitely a complete, and delicious, meal.     

Also soul-satisfying is Kim's pork don-kat-su, which he makes with pork belly for added fat and flavor. The fried breaded exterior crackles, the meat is juicy as hell, and sides of good, sticky rice and dressed shredded cabbage bring additional heft to your dinner.         

Sonbul dosirak with LA-style galbi, banchan, and dumplings, $20 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Sonbul's dosirak, which is like a bento box, comes with one of several different main dishes, like fried tofu, bulgogi, or a terrific galbi, those Korean short ribs that Kim says he prepares here like they do on the streets of LA. If you can, I would suggest filling out your dosirak with a trio of Kim's first-rate fried pork-and-kimchi dumplings. 

Other things available now at Sonbul include Korean fried chicken (wings or "popcorn"), bibimbap with or without meat, spicy rice cakes, and Kim's kimmari, which are bundles of deep-fried seaweed stuffed with noodles. 

In addition to expanding the hours of the place, Kim also plans on adding Korean stews to the menu for the winter. It's important to him, however, that any growth in the business doesn't come at the expense of his, or his employees, quality of life.      

"I want to create a work environment that doesn't feel exploitative," he said. "The hospitality industry can be like that, profiteering for owners and investors at the expense of the workers. I'm trying to move forward in a way that I can provide a consistent income for people working for me. To create an environment that isn't toxic, just a nice place to work." 

Sonbul at Burly is located at 356 Throop Avenue, between DeKalb Avenue and Kosciuszko Street, and is currently open on Wednesday through Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.        

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