Santa Clara’s Koreatown
By Kathy Chin Leong
I recently discovered the unofficial Koreatown in Santa Clara, located along a stretch of El Camino Real near Lawrence Expressway and Kiely Blvd. Stomping the grounds here for several months and talking to Korean friends, I unraveled the mysteries of this wonderful culture. Here’s where you can go to eat and shop:
Chasaengwon Tea House
It’s an updated version of the classic Korean tea house with a giant flat screen TV for around-the-clock Korean news, small wood tables and chairs, and a three-page menu of teas, soups, and desserts. The 21 teas come straight from Korea and are described on the menu according to their health benefits. A pot of tea is less than $5 and served in a clear glass teapot with tiny clear glass cups. If you are lucky, you may be there in time to witness the occasional tea ceremony demonstration. 3330 El Camino Real #206; 408/246-0700 .
Han Kook Supermarket
Perilla leaves. Ginseng root. Opo squash. Beech mushrooms. The mile-long produce aisle in this Costco-sized independent market features a tempting pantheon of unique fruits and veggies. Don’t miss the open smorgasbord of marinated raw meats and cooked vegetables where you can package your own pickled vegetables, sesame spinach and more. 1092 E. El Camino, Sunnyvale; 408/244-0871 .
Lawrence Health Center Korean Bath & Spa
According to local Koreans, who smirk at the thought, undergoing a body scrub here is like getting skinned alive. It’s that good. For $30, an older Korean therapist literally takes a hard bristle brush to exfoliate your naked body, head to toe. For $65, you can get a scrub and deep tissue massage. FYI, it is proper to walk around in your birthday suit in the spa and sauna facilities. Remember: no guts, no glory. 3545 El Camino Real; 408/243-1177 .
Korea Ginseng Center
Ginseng is as common to the Korean medicine cabinet as aspirin is to the American war chest of remedies. Allegedly good for arthritis, high-blood pressure, stomach problems and anti-aging, the world of ginseng bares all in this small retail shop. Nicely packaged ginseng tea, ginseng hard candy, ginseng pills, and even ginseng chocolate are yours for the asking. Ask for a free sample. 3330 El Camino Real; 408/985-1616 .
Clean and well lit, the Face Shop prides itself on offering natural ingredients in its line of soaps, creams, and cleansers at affordable prices-specifically $1 to $40. Check out the individually packaged hydrating mask sheets that cost $2 and $3 each. The mask, made of woven cotton or soft paper, is infused with a fruit or vegetable essence for brightening, wrinkle control, and more. 3561 El Camino Real, Lawrence Plaza; 408/ 248-3223.
Beque Korean Grill
You can finally enjoy grilling your own Korean barbeque beef without smelling like the entrée afterwards. Inside this trendy restaurant, you can experience the first smokeless Korean barbeque at your table. Special vacuum ventilators beneath the table suck in the smoke and oil, so you can lightly singe your kalbi (short ribs) like a pro and stay grease-free. $$; 3060 El Camino Real; 408/260-2727 .
You’ve always known green tea is good for you, but in a pound cake? This dessert plus sweet potato cake, mugwort castella cake, and sesame puffs are just a few of the healthy snacks you can order with a cup of steaming espresso. Baked items less than $5. $; 1488 Halford Avenue; 408/246-2434
Beat the winter chill with a bubbling bowl of hot tofu soup complimented with an assortment of tiny side dishes including pickled radish, dried anchovies, bean sprouts, and more. Come early for lunch or dinner to beat the crowds in this Korean community hangout. $; 3450 El Camino Real, #105; 408/261-3030 .