Rose Lee, general manager of Seoul Mandoo in Aurora, never dreamed that the South Havana Street restaurant’s mandu (Korean dumplings) would be so popular. “We have two to three people making dumplings from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and we still run out. They’re all handmade, so they’re very time consuming,” she says.
Rose helped JW Lee (who also owns Seoul Korean BBQ, Sushi, & Hot Pot, Thank Sool Pocha, Koba BBQ, and Menya Ramen & Poke) open Seoul Mandoo in mid-May, pandemic and all. The restaurant was formerly occupied by an outpost of Menya Ramen, but JW decided to launch the Korean dumpling concept in its place in response to a combination of lagging sales and the state-mandated closure of dining rooms statewide in March. “While we were shut down, [JW] was thinking of what we could do to utilize the space, but he just couldn’t let go of the dumpling idea,” Rose says. “He grew up eating dumplings in Korea, so he’s always loved them.”
The small Aurora shop sells seven kinds of mandu made from JW’s family recipes—and that’s it. The best sellers are the steamed wang mandu (called “giant dumplings” on the menu)—doughy, palm-size wonders reminiscent of a yeast-leavened Chinese baozi bun. The mandu are available in four flavors: meat (silky marinated pork), kimchi, veggie, and galbi (similar to sugar-and-soy-marinated Korean barbecue beef short ribs, but with slow-cooked pork instead). The kimchi is scratch-made at Seoul Korean BBQ nearby. All four fillings also include a mixture of chives, clear japchae noodles, and secret house seasonings.
Seoul Mandoo recently added shrimp wang mandu to its concise menu, in which a thinner sheet of dough is generously stuffed with shrimp and minced tofu. You can get those steamed or fried, but we prefer the latter for the crispy factor.
Also on the menu are smaller, potsticker-like pork or kimchi mandu. All of the dumplings come with thick slices of sun-colored pickled radish and a sweet-salty-gently-spicy dipping sauce—the perfect accompaniment to all of the meaty, savory goodness. And yes, for pandemic home cooking, there’s a selection of frozen renditions available, too.
If you’re a mandu first-timer, try Seoul Mandoo’s $12 combo, which comes with one of each of the meat, kimchi, galbi, and shrimp giants. (Speaking from experience, we can promise that you won’t regret it.) Rose hopes to add more mandu flavors in the coming months, but her team has been too busy keeping up with current demand to develop the recipes just yet, she says.
Seoul Mandoo offers takeout and limited dine-in seating Monday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–8 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. (Delivery is also available via Uber Eats.) 2222 S. Havana St., Unit J, Aurora