High on the Hog

Honey Pig is our critic’s choice for authentic Korean food

Photo by Anthony MairHoney Pig’s sides.

Photo by Anthony MairHoney Pig’s interior.

From the intense animal funk of meat grilling on hot iron to the dreaded kimchi—fermented cabbage, dusky with chili—Korean cuisine isn’t for sissies. And Honey Pig is probably the most hard-core version of it in Las Vegas.

We live in a city where most Korean restaurants have identical menus, as if they were faxed from business to business. Honey Pig doesn’t vary a lot from the form, but it does enough to stand apart. One reason is that the waitresses cook for you at the table, on crazy contraptions that look like your grandmother’s juicer, had it been made of pig iron instead of glass. Another is the selection of quality meats for the grill: black pork, wine pork, prime beef and exotic combinations such as one with tripe, small intestines and pork.

Like most Korean barbecue restaurants, there are braziers at every table, which the staff will fire up when you sit down. Korean cuisine is not multicourse. The pan’chan, or side dishes, do come out first, but the idea is to eat everything at once. I should add that the sides are wonderful, and replenished on request. On any given day, you’ll get cabbage and radish kimchi, cubed potato sprinkled with sesame seeds and marinated in sweet soy, yellow bean sprouts, julienned sweet potatoes, tiny salt fish and many others.

Eat here at lunch and the menu is an absolute bargain. Set lunches start at $6 for hand-rolled noodle soup chock-full of seafood. Night is different. The Gold Pig Combo is a whopping $90, but comes with four meats, octopus, seafood bean paste soup and a choice of beer or soju, Korea’s version of sake.

The pork belly is extraordinary. Think unsmoked bacon, in thick slices that your waitress places deftly on the grill. When they are cooked she will place them on top of your steamed rice so you can dip them in one of the three sauces provided. Koreans love sesame oil. The perfume of it penetrates many of the beef dishes, especially kalbi, beef short ribs.

After you’ve cooked your meat, you can have Korean-style fried rice as an extra, for only $2 per person. The waitress will cook that as well, so just sit back and watch. The rice is mixed with cabbage, egg and a soy paste. When the bottom becomes a crust, she’ll vector the delicious results to your plate.

It’s not all ’cue. Two of us shared mandu, pan-fried meat dumplings. There is also soon doo bu, a spicy broth laced with soft tofu—more like custard than the firm cubes of tofu so feared by novice Asian food fanciers.

Service is solicitous at all times and the all-woman staff aims to please. The level of English is minimal, but be patient and you’ll get the point across. It’s part of Honey Pig’s exotic charm.

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