In a country where most people grow up on homestyle cooking like mac n’ cheese (oh, mac n’ cheese), burgers or foods covered in gravy, it’s hard to remember that “homestyle” doesn’t describe a type of food, but rather an experience. Homestyle doesn’t evoke a specific flavor palate, but more so a comforting, oh-so-nourishing dish. To prep for the harsh realities of winter we took a moment to enjoy foods from Toledo’s “homes”, where the idea of homestyle comes from Lee’s Oriental Market, Toledo’s oldest Korean restaurant.
Everything under one roof
Walking into Lee’s, an unassuming grocery and restaurant on Laskey Road, a long line of patrons trailed out of the tiny dining area. A friendly face greeted us and politely explained a table would be ready soon. The short wait gave us time to explore the fully stocked market, where my eyes rolled over in joy as I scanned the selection of Korean candy, inexpensive face masks, bulk ingredients, and plenty of interesting food choices to experiment with.
As I surveyed the cooler, stocked with seafoods, meats, and Korean labeled packages, a man emerged from the kitchen, grabbing a bag of noodles from the cooler. Minutes later, hot noodles were served to a hungry family, explaining where the restaurant’s ingredients come from.
“The market opened 25 years ago, but 15 years ago we opened the restaurant,” said David Lee, manager and son of the owners, Jesse and Jae Lee, who prepare the meals. “There weren't many places serving Korean food in town, and my parents decided it was a good idea.”
Consistency is key
Changing the name of the operation from “Kim’s Oriental Market” 12 years ago, the popular recipes honor a homestyle tradition through consistent quality and ingredients. The family-owned and operated business services Toledo’s Korean community. David estimates that 80% of the customer-base is Korean.
“The food has always been the same,” David added. “We make homestyle cooking, instead of restaurant prepared. If you order a meal it takes 15-20 minutes because every dish is made to order. We don’t prepare anything in bulk— the food here is as traditional as it gets.”
Noshing like a pro
Lee’s offers ban-chan, traditional Korean side dishes — tiny plates filled with pickled treats, kimchi, seaweed salads, mung beans and more. These varied, refillable treasures are essential parts of Korean cuisine.
For our meal, we chose to dine on Dwenjang Jigae, a delicious bean curd soup served with vegetables and clams. The Jigae, served in a hot stone bowl, had an appetizing delight of subtle fish flavors. The dish was neutral enough for me to experiment with the ban-chan, following the direction of the table of Korean grandmothers next to us, who smiled and quietly giggled with me over my struggle to use metal chopsticks.
David told us that the hot soups are a favorite among Koreans, but noted that Americans tend towards the barbecues. Heeding his advice, we ordered Beef Bulgogi, thinly sliced beef tenderloin, coated in a mildly sweet sauce and served on a piping hot platter.
After an unpretentious experience, we left Lee’s with bellies full of interesting Korean food— ready to take on the day and wishing we had leftovers.
Market & restaurant open: 11:30-7pm, Monday-Saturday.
Market open, restaurant closed: 12:30-7pm, Sunday.
Lee Oriental Market, 2527 W. Laskey Rd.
419-475-9742 | Facebook