If early reviews and my own taste buds have any say in the matter, Handam BBQ seems poised to weather the pandemic and thrive for many years. One of the newest additions to the ever-growing selection of Korean establishments in Chinatown, Handam specializes in the ancient art of Korean barbecue, a tradition that dates back to that nation’s Goguryeo Era, which began in the time of Christ and continued through the Middle Ages, evolving all along the way.
Bulgogi — literally “fire meat” in Korean — is the most widely renowned form of this cuisine in America today, but that marinated, thin-sliced beef is but one variant to be had at Handam. And sizzling meats are here, as at any Korean BBQ, served with both banchan (Korean for “tapas,” to go all multicultural) and drinks. Handam offers a variety of flavored sojus — “Korean vodka” — and interesting wines, including makgeolli (traditional sparkling probiotic rice wine); baeksaeju (rice wine tinged with ginseng and other herbs; temperate use is said to enable its drinkers to live a full century); and bokbunja, a dessert wine fermented from black raspberries.
Restaurants like this are best enjoyed dine-in — here, staff brings you raw meat impaled on spits to be cooked over smokeless charcoal flames built into the tables — but my dining companion and I opted for their take-out menu, more because we were busy than over pandemic concerns. (Handam has tables cordoned off, the better to enable ample distancing.) Handam has also responded to the pandemic by offering a variety of cook-at-home family packs of marinated meats (check website or call for details), but since we would not be around a grill for a few hours, we chose from their selection of fully-cooked meals, and we were not disappointed.
Our beef doshirak box — tender, thin-sliced and tangy marinated beef alongside a quartet of banchan including a scoop of scallion-dotted, fresh mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, a delicately fried dumpling and kimchi — became a point of mild dispute between the two of us; namely over which us would get to eat the lion’s share. A fried-egg and stir-fried beef crowned a tender mound of steamed and kimchi- spicy rice in a second special dish for pandemic diners on the go. (The dish is simply called “kimchi beef fried rice.”)
If you’ve never had a Korean seafood pancake — crispy-chewy and somewhat similar to pan-fried hash browns in consistency — Handam offers a great one: octopus and other crustaceans and mollusks and whatnot and scallions in a cake dipped in a belly-warming seasoned soy sauce dip. Kalbi (pork rib) kimchi stew is a traditional noontime meal for the Korean working stiff, and Handam’s hearty portion tastes like comfort food at first bite. (And the portion size is large enough to afford a great many bites after the first.)
With its friendly and helpful service and sleek and cheery interior, here’s hoping for a long future for Handam BBQ — I know I’ll be back someday to grill many a skewer over its open flame grills in happier times. The place was built with love in mind and it shows.
6609 W. Sam Houston Pkwy S, Ste 96
Houston, TX 77036