Choi’s facade hides delicious treasures

jgaines@macon.comSeptember 21, 2012 

At first sight, Choi’s Oriental Market & Korean Restaurant isn’t inviting, but the excellence of the food more than compensates for the appearance.

Located at one end of the Shoppes on the Circle strip mall at the corner of Watson Boulevard and Davis Drive in Warner Robins, Choi’s grocery-store entrance looks a little shabby; but the cluttered family-run store is an added attraction, allowing customers to browse for do-it-yourself ingredients for some of the menu items.

The dozen-table restaurant itself is homey -- it was like eating in someone’s dining room or living room, complete with a cabinet-mounted TV softly playing the Travel Channel.

Choi’s is very much a family operation, with breezy, offhanded service; it’s a bit haphazard, but it’s a pleasant informality that’s right for a relaxing meal. The house assumption is that customers will know how to use chopsticks: the napkin rolls contain only those and a spoon, as is traditional in Korean place settings.

Unfortunately, the napkin roll also was spattered with a previous customer’s dinner, and that had remained unnoticed.

Choi’s menu has a good deal in common with more familiar Asian cuisines: egg rolls, chicken teriyaki and barbecued short ribs, for example. The foundation of many dishes is rice, and there’s a variety of soups. But much of the selection is unique to Korea, especially the emphasis on seafood: broiled eel in teriyaki sauce, sautéed octopus, steamed monkfish.

My friend and I went for classic Korean foods, deciding to start with pajuhn, a foot-wide pancake mixed with egg and green onions, for $13.99. That appetizer didn’t arrive until after our entrees already had been out for five minutes or so, but then the entrees themselves were ready fast.

The pajuhn was warm and delicious, neither too soft nor too chewy; but we didn’t really need it since entrees all come with banchan, multiple bowls of snack-like side dishes.

Our seven bowls included pickled papaya, fresh-made kimchi, marinated spinach, spicy pickled cucumber and seasoned green beans.

“These are really good,” my friend said after his first taste of the green beans. All the banchan were really good, despite the unfamiliarity of some. I thought the papaya, cucumber and kimchi were especially tasty.

For a main dish, I went for the dolsot bibimbab, a sizzling stoneware bowl of vegetables and shredded beef over rice. Carrots, mushrooms, dried seaweed strips and a few other ingredients made for a colorful dish, topped with an egg, for $10.99. And the taste matched the color, varying interestingly with bites from differing sections of the bowl.

My friend got bulgogi, a mound of sliced beef with onions in sauce, served with a small bowl of white rice for $12.99.

“This is awesome,” he said with conviction through his first mouthful.

Both of the main dishes and the pajuhn, all trundled out on a cart, would have been hard to top. It took a long time to work through them, together with picking savory counterpoints from the banchan bowls, and not a moment of it was wasted on so-so bites. For all its dining-room informality, Choi’s doesn’t fool around in the kitchen.

Choi’s Oriental Market & Korean Restaurant

Address: 423 N. Commercial Circle, Warner Robins

Phone: (478) 328-1746

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Closed Sundays.

Payment: Cash, credit, debit. No checks.

Smoking: No

Alcohol: Bottled American and Asian beer, rice and raspberry wine

Kids Menu: No

Noise Level: Low.

Health Rating: Not rated by the Houston County Health Department; under Georgia Department of Agriculture because of combination with grocery store.

Price range: $6.99-$29.99

Rating: 3 stars

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