I first found out about this restaurant when I was browsing my Instagram feed. What caught my eye were a few things: Korean fusion tapas, pretty-looking cocktails (even though I’m not a drinker), their beautiful light bulb sign, and their decor. What I didn’t realize was their location… not downtown Toronto. I started my mini road trip in Hamilton and made my way to downtown Toronto then to North York. The restaurant is relatively easy to find, only being 2-3 blocks north of the 401. They don’t have a sign outside in English phonetics, just a sing with Korean characters in orange. You’ll see their giant light bulb sign once you peer through the window or walk in the restaurant.
We didn’t think it was necessary to make a reservation, so we walked in hoping to find a table. And we were wrong! The wait was about 30 minutes, so we walked around Whole Foods to kill time. Our table was ready and we were all excited to check out the menu.. We scanned through the 2 pages of interesting combinations and decided to try 5 dishes. The drinks came first: Sweet Surrender and 2 Clean Cuts. The drinks (as described to me) were sweet with minimal taste of alcohol. These drinks are great for those light-weights out there that aren’t used to the taste of liquor (me), but dangerous because you’ll get wasted quickly. Let’s move onto the food!
We didn’t wait long at all for the first dishes to come out. We started off with the chicken salad. Sounds simple but it was glorious: hand shredded chicken breast with cucumber, green pepper, carrot, cabbage, onion, deep fried taro chips, sweet soy sauce and mustard dressing. This salad was perfectly balanced in flavour and texture. The ingredients were shredded and cut the same way so you’d get a bit of everything in each bite. I loved it! I spazzed over what we had next, the Creamy Rice Cakes. The traditional Korean rice cake dish is Ddeokbokki – super sauce, super spicy, loaded with cabbage, fish cakes, and rice cakes… it’s addicting even when your tongue is on fire. Here, they’ve completely changed the sauce and went for a cream base. I honestly had low expectations but when I took my first bite, my body exploded with excitement. The combination of the creamy, salty sauce and the soft, glutinous texture of the rice cake was magical and incredible!
Our next dish was the Mac and Gochujang with Baby Octopus. I knew the dish was going to be spicy, but I underestimated how spicy it actually was. I was glad the staff came by to refill our water frequently because I needed to cool my tongue with their fruit water after each bite! The sauce was sweet/savoury and addicting.
The Spoon Pizza was an interesting concept but a bit boring compared to the other dishes. It’s a pizza without the crust, so you have to eat it with a spoon. The mashed sweet yam and potato acts as the crust and it’s topped with mozzarella, mushrooms, and homemade tomato sauce. Our protein dish was Beef Kalbijim – short ribs with walnuts sprinkled throughout. Nothing bad to say about it either. Tender with balanced flavour. Lucey, our certified 100% Korean taste tester, notified us that the meat tasted exactly how it traditionally should. After finishing what we initially ordered, we decided that our bellies had room for some more dishes. We ordered the Kalbi Salad and Sweet Potato Chips. The salad consisted of sliced beef, romaine, and a similar dressing to the chicken salad. It was alright, I still preferred the chicken salad. The sweet potato chips were super thin and crispy. The cauliflower dip was a nice and cheesy touch.
Han Ba Tang is also known for their selection of cocktails, liquors, and soju. It’s a late night spot to hang around, eat good food, sip or chug fancy drinks, and enjoy it with your company. The overall atmosphere mimics the mood of an underground bar with an eclectic collection of wall decor and furnishings. It’s a space that represents something different, something far from the traditional mom and pop Korean restaurants that I frequent. The music is louder, the crowd is younger, the food is sexier, and the staff are more relatable. I’m coming back to try everything else on the menu… like the tacos!