In what could be a game changer for the West Loop, uber-popular Korean-focused Pan Asian market H Mart opened its Chicago location on Thursday morning. It’s the first city of Chicago market for the national chain which has locations in suburban Naperville, Niles, Schaumburg, and Glenview. Besides groceries, it serves grab-and-go sushi burritos, ramen, and dumplings from a trio of restaurant stalls.
Local aldermen joined the opening festivities, which also featured traditional Korean dances, a tea ceremony, and a ribbon cutting on Thursday morning. While Chicago’s Korean-American population is scattered, with a Koreatown that’s dwindled through the years, stores like H Mart can provide a culture center for certain populations. Seafood City provided a center for many Filipinos when it opened a Chicago location in 2016.
Of the trio of restaurants, SGD Tofu House and Korean Barbecue may be the biggest deal. The chain has a popular location in Manhattan that opened in 2013 that stays open late. SGD (So Gong Dong) serves a variety of Korean stews (most notably the soondubu kalguksu — tofu with knife noodles), dumplings, bibimbap, and Korean barbecue favorites like beef, pork, and chicken bulgogi. There are also bento boxes.
Next up is Izakaya Yume, a Japanese spot that serves ramen, katsu, sushi burritos, poke bowls, and maki. There’s also a cooler with grab and go food. It has a location at Super H Mart in Niles.
The third restaurant is Baru, a new fusion restaurant. It promises “healthy fried chicken” on the menu. It’s skinless and flash fried and served at different spice levels. That may save calories, but it isn’t clear if it’s doctor recommended. It also serves fried multi-grained rice and “Asian tapas” (including a Korean egg frittata and marinated fried salmon). There are also customizable bowls with noodles, rice, or mixed greens.
Diners can sit at communal tables in front. Ownership hasn’t figured out whether to offer customers WiFi. The seating overlooks a bakery with Korean hot dogs, coffee, and more.
The market features fresh noodles, dumplings, and fish balls for home cooks. There’s also a marinated raw meats bar. Customers can grab as much as they want and cook kalbi and more at home. There are also live seafood tanks with lobsters and more. Kimchi is Korea’s national dish, and there’s a section devoted to the fermented cabbage.
H Mart has converted a former West Loop office supply store and created an urban version of its popular supermarkets. It joins Jong Boo in Avondale as prominent Korean markets in Chicago. It fills a need in the West Loop, which sorely lacks Asian options. The company is expanding, as it’ll open an Austin, Texas location later in February.
H Mart, 711 W. Jackson Boulevard, open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; SGD Tofu House and Korean Barbecue open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily; Izakaya Yume open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; Baru open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
- A Sign From The Past: What Happened To Chicago’s Koreatown? [NPR Chicago]
- Austin’s H Mart Finally Has an Opening Date [Eater Austin]