Restaurant review: Newbies and veteran foodies will enjoy Manna Korean Restaurant

G.A. Benton
Special to The Columbus Dispatch
Bibimbap (center) at Manna Korean Restaurant inside Saraga International Market on Morse Road.

Korean food has become quite popular in Columbus — it’s even featured in chain eateries — but scanning a large menu of Korean dishes can still be intimidating for people who didn’t grow up eating the cuisine. Enter Manna Korean Restaurant.       

Because it focuses on well-executed, crowd-pleasing classics — and shows them in menu photos — Manna is a great place to explore Korean food. It’ll hook veterans of the cuisine looking for good values, too.

(Bonus: You can shop till you bop after dining at Manna.)

“Bop” — aka “bap” and “bob” — pops up frequently on Korean menus because the word means “cooked rice.” Manna (like Momo Ghar and Ranchero Kitchen before it) is another strong-performing eatery launched inside the global-ingredient wonderland of Saraga International Grocery on Morse Road.

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After eating at Manna, then you can shop for the bop and other ingredients in the dishes you just ate mere feet away— then intensify your education by trying to replicate the dishes at home. Or you can just keep “studying” at Manna. 

Manna Korean Restaurant: Classic dishes, generous portions, affordable prices

Occupying a niche on the right-hand side of Saraga’s entrance with about a half-dozen simple, well-spaced tables and a blond wooden counter with about a half-dozen stools, Manna is small but not cramped. While hardly fancy, Manna offers friendly service, and its largely wood-paneled space includes endearingly homey touches: numerous plants, swaths of red paint, strings of multi-colored lights and (head-scratcher alert!) Norman Rockwell-style decorative plates on sale for $3 to $5.

Okkyong Kim started Manna Korean Restaurant to create a community for people while serving traditional Korean food.

Color photos of popular Korean dishes, most positioned above the ordering counter with their inexpensive prices, serve as Manna’s decorative, easy-to-navigate menu.

The Kimbap ($7) — a Korean twist on sushi without raw fish — was characteristically bigger and better than many local versions. The maki-style roll’s properly sesame-oiled and faintly sweet interior of rice (the “bap” in kimbap), fish cake, omelet-like egg plus pickled and marinated veggies (carrot, fernbrake, daikon) made it an easy-to-like delight.

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Ditto for Manna’s characteristically sizable take on beef bulgogi with rice, perhaps the best-known Korean dish (bulgogi deopbap, $12). Seared and notably tender good meat was treated to a less-sweet-than-average marinade that accentuated rather than dominated the beef’s steak flavor. Stir-fried carrots, scallions and onions made colorful, compatible partners.

If botanical heat is calling, the spicy pork bulgogi ($12) was equally good and different enough from the beef bulgogi to merit ordering both if you’re not dining alone — or even if you are.

Both come with rice and all entrees come with banchan — nice little sides that might include semi-sweet pickled veggies, garlicky greens, kimchi or (if you’re lucky) a full-sized, fiery salad assembled with cabbage, cucumber and watercress.

Kimbap from Manna Korean Restaurant

Like botanical and thermal heat? The kimchi soondubu jjigae ($10) — a kimchi, tofu and pork stew with veggies and a whole egg beneath its spicy broth — arrived gurgling hot, as is traditional with this healthful and delectable classic. 

The new “KFC” — sweet-and-spicy Korean fried chicken —  has been soaring in popularity lately. Manna’s version ($12) was solid: abundant knobs of breast meat beneath relatively light breading coated in a soy-and-gochujang-based sauce that’s finger-licking good.

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By emphasizing its salad-like characteristics, Manna’s bibimbap ($12) was an outlier, and not in a bad way. One of the more colorful, veggie-forward presentations of bibimbap around, it was rice topped with hefty garnishes such as : raw and cooked-down greens and spinach, fernbrake, kimchi, carrots, daikon, cucumber, red and yellow pepper strips, bulgogi and a fried egg.

Pork bulgogi with banchan at Manna Korean Restaurant

You’ll find several of the same veggies — plus zucchini, shiitakes and bulgogi — in Manna’s served-cool, umami-rich, winning take on another old favorite, japchae with rice (here spelled “jbchae bob”; $12). You’ll find sweet-potato-based glass noodles — like the kind nicely cooked to firm-yet-yielding in this dish — on a grocery-store shelf just a short stroll from this welcome new restaurant.  

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Manna Korean Restaurant

Where:1265 Morse Road (inside Saraga), Northland area

Contact: 614-204-9401

Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; closed Sundays and Mondays

Price range: $7 to $12

Ambience: friendly, homey and idiosyncratically appointed niche in the Saraga International Grocery on Morse Road   

Children's menu: no

Reservations: no

Accessible: yes

Liquor license: no

Quick click: Well-executed Korean classics are sold in large portions at very affordable prices at this welcome new little eatery inside a global-ingredient-rich grocery store.