9379 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa
My continuing exploration of Korean restaurants in San Diego has finally taken me out of my comfort zone. No, I didn't eat anything outside the reach of my gringo palate. I did, however, pick a restaurant that wasn't on or near Convoy Street in Kearny Mesa. To find Tofu Ka, I had to dig deeper, further north, into a different mesa: Mira.
Sometimes you've just gotta go see an after-dinner IMAX at the Edwards multiplex, and when you do that, where're you going to eat, Panera Bread? Only if your date's a picky eater. Mine this night was feeling adventurous, so I talked her into checking out an independently owned restaurant just a couple blocks from the theater. Tofu Ka is the recent replacement of another Korean restaurant on this site, Fuze, which was actually (as the name implies) more of a fusion spot and prone to things such as Korean tacos and quesadillas.
Tofu Ka's definitely not like that. The bibimbap (rice, sautéed vegetables, and meat in a bowl), tofu stew, and chae (sweet potato noodles stir-fried with vegetables) menu reads authentic through and through, and while the banchan (small-portion side dishes) selection featured jalapeño a little more than I'm accustomed to, the restaurant's overall vibe is that of a homey, family restaurant. Then again, there are little call buttons at each table that allow you to summon a waiter with a clever little bit of 1990s technology. Fortunately, my server responded to my gleeful over-pushing of this button with a much friendlier manner than flight attendants I've encountered.
We kept it simple, going for bibimbap, sundubu jjigae (soft tofu stew), and some dumplings. The bibimbap ($10) was loaded with a little beef bulgogi (grilled, marinated beef) and a bunch of veggies — some fresh, some fermented. Nothing remarkable — bibimbap never is — but filling, nourishing, and tasty even without the restaurant's offering of purple rice (which I did wind up trying... it tasted pretty darn similar to the white rice).
The sundubu jjigae (soft tofu stew, $9) was interesting, with a little more of a smoky flavor than I've found at other restaurants. Not outstanding, like that of [Convoy Tofu House], but this difference intrigued me, and it certainly surpassed the bland versions I've eaten elsewhere.
The jjin mandoo ($7) were my favorite. We tried the steamed version of the pork and beef dumplings — crisper fried versions were also available. The ground meat was succulent and tasty, served with a nicely tart dipping sauce (and more jalapeños). Were I on Convoy, I'd have found this shop a little ho-hum, but in the shadow of the multiplex, the jjin mandoo just about made up for some mediocre banchan.