Not Korean BBQ, Still Enjoyable: Sunny Korean Restaurant

(Ziqiang Zhao)

Ziqiang Zhao

Good Asian food can be hard to come across in Santa Barbara. Open in downtown as of September, Sunny Korean Restaurant helps correct this problem.

The most familiar and common version of Korean cuisine is Korean barbecue, where platters of uncooked meat are grilled and prepared by the customers themselves instead of the staff in the kitchen.

While Sunny Korean is not traditional Korean barbecue, it provides dishes that are truly authentic, utilizing traditional spices and cooking methods. The restaurant features grilled chicken on sizzling iron plates, boiling soup in hot stone pots, and traditional side dishes known as banchan, staples in every Korean restaurant.

In Santa Barbara, where Asian restaurants are rare, prices for Asian food are fairly high when compared to other big cities. This restaurant is also customer-friendly in that it offers a reasonable price range while maintaining large serving sizes. Here at Sunny, prices hover around twelve dollars, comparable to other meccas of Asian cuisine such as Los Angeles or Irvine. 

The locale is a two-floor affair with some tables and a bar counter on the first floor. Seats by the window on the second floor provided a nice view of State Street and a saxophone player mingled with those passing by. The environment elevated the appeal of the dishes. Additionally, The restaurant serves alcoholic beverages for friends and couples looking to enhance their night.

I visited Sunny Korean on a Friday evening, the perfect close to a busy day of classes and shopping. As night comes earlier these days, it already feels a bit chilly at sunset. To help ward off the cold, we ordered seafood jjigae, a hot pot style dish fit for two people.

Jjigae is a traditional Korean dish where many people share the one pot together. If you feel comfortable sharing food with others, it’s a pretty good choice for a fun cultural experience. In addition to the entree, expect several side dishes. Kimchi, peanuts, black beans, pickled pepper, and seaweed salad the line of small dishes lends to the air of authenticity and culinary pride.

Overall, I enjoyed the seafood jjigae. Fragrant aromas of shrimp, clam, and scallop were strong and fascinating. There are also vegetables and rice noodles that make the whole pot more rich in flavor. My body was definitely warmed by the hot pot and spicy soup.

I compromised with my friend Ella when ordering, and picked the medium spicy option for our dishes, although I myself am a spice zealot. Personally, I would have preferred more spice, but the faint of heart can always choose mild or medium instead of spicy and the chef will accommodate your preferences.

The servers at Sunny Korean were all very kind and friendly. Korea is generally considered to be a country of courtesy, and that same politeness was on display, from the servers to the chef. When we hesitated about what to order, the chef came over spontaneously and introduced us to different dishes. Thanks to his recommendations, we were able to make our decision.

Although the food was enjoyable, the menu made deciding what to eat difficult. Its format used direct pronunciations of Korean in English, a stumbling block for non-Korean speakers. Additionally, the small number of images on the menus provides little information about what the dishes would be like. There are pages that are completely filled with images, where the lack of notes or labels confused me about the names of each image. Even though there are brief descriptions below each name of a dish, it was still hard to imagine how the dishes would look.

But a confusing menu was the only problem I encountered at the restaurant. If you really have difficulties reading the menu, you can always seek help from friendly staff. Otherwise the Korean food speaks for itself.

Sunny Korean Restaurant is located at 532 State Street, Santa Barbara.