Don’t be fooled by the word “diner” — this restaurant does not fit the conventions of an American diner in any sense. Located in the Heights, Republic Diner + Sojubang is a tiny Korean restaurant, with tasty food and a cool ambience that upstages many trendy restaurants in the neighborhood.
Walking into Republic Diner + Sojubang, you’ll find only a few tables and a bar besides the patio outside, so I recommend arriving before 7 p.m., especially if you go in a group. The small interior fits the vibe of the Heights very well with large pictures of street signs in Seoul and different old school stereos and speakers mounted to the walls, along with a randomly placed colorful fish tank in the back.
The food menu is split between sharable starters, soups and noodles and entrees that are a mix of authentic and Americanized dishes. The price for each menu item ranges from $6 to $24 (this price is for the largest entree that comes with all the traditional Korean sides), but the average menu item costs $10 or $11. There’s also a separate drink menu with a variety of Korean sojus.
Some members of my group started the meal by splitting kimchi fries, a delicious combination of house cut french fries with bulgogi beef, kimchi pieces, kimchi aioli, sesame sauce and green onions. For comparison, Oh My Gogi!, the food truck in Rice Village, serves fries
that are similar in concept and price (theirs sell for $7 and Republic Diner’s fries sell for $8), but Republic Diner’s kimchi fries are less greasy with higher quality components.
Off to a great start, we ordered several other appetizers and entrees to round out the meal, including pajeon, wings and dolsot bibimbap. Branching out from my usual beef bulgogi order, I decided to try the pajeon, which comes in two varieties on the menu. Pajeon is a pancake made with egg and flour batter with different fillings. My pajeon had generous portions of onions, red bell peppers and scallions. The other option, haemuljeon, is filled with assorted seafood. Pajeon is often compared to Chinese green onion pancakes, but I found mine to be thicker and chewier, and thus more substantial, than its Chinese counterpart. It is listed as an appetizer for $6, but given that it has six slices, I found this dish to serve equally well as an individual entree.
The wings were another appetizer that could serve as an entree. Republic Diner’s menu describes their rendition as “the other KFC” with a blend of sweet, savory and spicy flavors in the sauce. The dolsot bibimbap was one of the more traditional items on the menu, arriving in a hot pot “sizzling like fire from hell” (according to my friend, not the menu) that crisped the rice on the edges of the bowl. My group enjoyed the generous portions of veggies (they were able to customize the dish to be vegan) and found it to be a very hearty meal.
Another traditional menu item is wang galbi, which is the restaurant’s signature barbecue short rib served with rice and all the traditional Korean accompaniments. Republic Diner also offers dishes that are not authentic by any means, like the KO burger and kimchi fried rice, which we didn’t get a chance to try.
Overall, there are enough different dishes on the menu to please meat lovers and vegans alike and keep them coming back for more. Of course, my favorite part is that the menu prices don’t reflect a premium for the quality or portions of the dishes. With Republic Diner, I’m surprised to discover that my favorite Korean restaurant in Houston is actually in the Heights, not in Chinatown or off Long Point Road.