El Paso, TX
El Paso is known for its almost ubiquitous Mexican food, and sometimes it seems that this is the only good choice for eating out. Being a military town, though, has brought the Sun City some other options that are not found in a lot of other cities–one of them being Korean. It seems that most of the hole in the wall restaurants (which to me are the “good” ones) are situated near Fort Bliss, but at least they are not all located in one concentrated area. This allows many neighborhoods to enjoy this largely spicy, arguably healthy, and almost universally delicious cuisine.
Those in far northeast El Paso are most fortunate to have what I consider to be the best Korean restaurant out of the ones I have tried. Han Il Gwan (formerly Han Il Kwan) was a prominent restaurant on Dyer Street, but now has downsized and relocated to a strip mall on McCombs Street. It looks as if the menu has also been downsized, meaning that some of the dishes I previously enjoyed may no longer be available. I think the flavor and quality are still there–there are just fewer menu choices.
The standard setup for El Paso Korean restaurants is that you get a large number of appetizers, they have either lunch or dinner portions of food (depending on what time you go), and the featured (and probably most popular) item is the Korean barbecue.
I have found some of the main items and appetizers at Han Il Gwan to have a better flavor than at other restaurants. To me this more than makes up for the seemingly small number of appetizers served here compared to elsewhere, mainly because I cannot eat all of them anyway.
The biggest disappointment with my most recent visit here is that they do not have Korean (iced) tea. The owners explained that not enough customers ordered it so that they could continue serving it. Like many restaurants in the city this one seems to have been hit hard by the pandemic, and while the number of customers seems to be down from what it used to be, I hope people will discover the new location and come back.
Even though my first meal at the McCombs location was in the afternoon it was past time for the lunch menu, and only the dinner items were available. I do not know how the lunch compares to the dinner, but I do know that dinner comes with a complementary Pancake. The last time I had experienced anything similar to this was a scallion pancake at a Chinese restaurant in Bossier City, Louisiana, so the one at Han Il Gwan was a pleasant surprise and one that was very good. This was the first indication that I would not go away hungry.
Like other Korean restaurants in town Han Il Gwan serves a large assortment of Appetizers. Although there were fewer than at some other restaurants, I thought these were better (and I have thought this since the restaurant was on Dyer Street). With the pancake included it was really no contest. I could not identify the contents of all of these bowls, but they were all good. Only a couple got to the extremely spicy level including the kimchee (in the lower right corner of the photo). The kimchee was the only one, though, that I can remember being better at some of the other restaurants.
The official name of my first order from the McCombs location was “No. 73 Korean BBQ Ribs and Cold Spicy Noodles.” The Ribs part of it is shown in the above photo, and I think on the lunch menu you can get just the ribs without the noodles (the dinner menu also has a “large” order of ribs, as if this one is not large enough). These ribs had a delicious sauce but the meat varied between very good and a little tough. I do not remember any of my recent experiences at other Korean restaurants, though, to be better than here (I usually order one of the various types of Korean BBQ).
Spicy Cold Noodles are the other part of the BBQ rib plate (although a spicy soup is also available). This was a refreshing dish with apple and a hard boiled egg added. Although it was served the way it is shown in the photo, the owner came to the table and cut up the noodles, egg, and apple with a pair of scissors to make it easier to eat with chopsticks (or a fork if you wish).
My “Old” Reviews
My previous review from 2007 includes several dishes that I cannot find on the current menu, although there are a number of dishes currently available that look like good substitutes.
Tofu Chigae was a flavorful soup made with large pieces of tofu simmered in a meat broth. No. 102 on the menu “Homemade Special Tofu Beef Soup” might be the same thing, and if so it might be worth seeking out.
Chicken Bulgogi was my favorite main dish that I have tried at Han Il Gwan but I do not believe it is currently being served. It did convince me, though, that it is worthwhile to try new dishes here that sound as if they would be good.
The Korean iced tea was very good at the old restaurant but as of 2023 is not being served. The regular iced tea will work well enough for me to enjoy the food here.
Some of the Main Points
The vegetable side dishes served as appetizers are probably the best in town. The main items have varied from very good to “good enough,” but one of the restaurant’s biggest strengths is always the appetizers.
The complimentary pancake was a really nice touch, and I have not seen it served elsewhere.
Hours: Open Daily
Smoking: No smoking
Most Recent Visit: May 1, 2023
Number of Visits: 5
Best Items: Vegetable Side Dishes, BBQ Beef Ribs