Hanmaru is back from the ashes of a 2008 fire that closed down many nearby businesses. I'm gratified, as last fall I included this entry in Stuff magazine's annual Dining Awards, under the banner: "Most Delicious Dish That Doesn't Reward Close Scrutiny."
Hanmaru serves the city's finest gamjatang, an entrée you know you should order because every other customer is eating it, and you're the only customer not speaking Korean. What arrives is a headily fragrant, transportingly spicy stew of pork, tofu, potatoes, scallions, and chilies showered with wild sesame seeds. Damn, it's good, but the pork looks odd, kinda bony. What is that? Don't ask. You insist? Okay. Those are pork spines. Did I tell you not to ask?"
In praising this dish, listed as gamja stew ($34.95/serves 2–3), I exaggerated its offal horror. It's no scarier than eating chicken wings or spare ribs, really. And it is truly delicious — the pork fatty, coarse-fibered, and rich, the stew served atop a gas burner to keep it bubbling. Like most entrées here, it's accompanied by white rice and several banchan (cold vegetable side dishes), making for a substantial meal. The broader menu of Korean specialties includes spicy napa pancake ($9.95), a big, crisp crêpe of kimchi with a soy/chili dipping sauce. Rice-cake mandu stew ($9.95) is a bowl of mild broth loaded with slices of beef, sliced rice cake (think chewy rice-flour gnocchi), dropped egg, scallions, and outstanding pork/chive dumplings. Dakdoritang ($29.95/serves two), a hearty stew featuring big pieces of chicken, potatoes, and carrots, is a glorious brick red from incendiary gochuchang, the lightly sweet Korean chili paste. And there's a good selection of Korean stir-fries, noodle dishes, rice plates, "barbecue" (marinated meats grilled in the kitchen — no grill tables here), and Korean/Chinese fusion dishes ($9.95–$21.95). Drink options include complimentary tea, water, and canned American sodas ($1.50).
It's good to see this plainly decorated, friendly little place back in business, as it does its specialty exceedingly well, executes nimbly on the rest of its Korean menu, and even offers some familiar Thai and Japanese dishes for folks who see pork spine as a Fear Factor food. That's faintly ridiculous for anyone who's ever eaten a Fenway Frank, but even if American squeamishness holds you back from the joys of variety meats, Hanmaru will still have you eating well and frugally.
Hanmaru, located at 168 Harvard Avenue, in Allston, is open Monday–Saturday, 11 am to 11 pm. Call 617.779.7907.