Smile Politely

Remember: San Maru exists, and you should order it

A hidden gem sits in the Village Green Place plaza. Some of these places seem to get overshadowed by Jupiters’ behemoth spot, but if you take a moment to drive around the parking lots (which you will, trying to find the best way to get the heck out of there), you’ll notice San Maru.

This little joint serves up traditional Korean dishes, which are perfect for those wanting to try out the cuisine, or even those who are just looking for a yummy meal. I ordered a few different things, being familiar with some (bulgogi) and not-so-familiar with others (Jjambong). I wasn’t at all disappointed, even when my order showed up over an hour late (I’ll explain).

The delivery and pickup menu at San Maru is limited compared to their full menu — which is certainly understandable during these times. But don’t make the mistake that I did by getting too excited and spending 15 minutes perusing the full menu only to be saddened that you can’t order some items you had your palate set on. Although, I still had a lot of options to choose from on their current pickup and delivery menu. You can order pickup or delivery if you’re in the greater-Champaign area (I went for the latter), or if you’re outside their delivery zone, you can order through Grubhub.

A close up of six fried kimari rolls and its dipping sauce. Photo by Remington Rock.

Photo by Remington Rock.

I went with fried kimari for an appetizer. The fried kimari ($4.99 for small) is fried seaweed rolls filled with seasoned sweet potato noodles. These little rolls were deliciously crunchy and came with a sweet-and-sour-type sauce to dip. The sauce was amped up with a little more spice and wasn’t a traditional sweet-and-sour sauce because there was a jalapeño slice marinating in it. The kimari was a nice, crispy starter that didn’t fill me up before digging into the smorgasbord I ordered.

A closer look at the combo's pork and sauce meal. Photo by Remington Rock.

Photo by Remington Rock.

Especially for these reviews, I like to go for as many different things I can try, so when there’s a sampler, it’s great. Enter: the Jja Jjam Tang combo ($34.99). This sounds a bit on the pricier side, but considering it contained three different meals and could be shareable for two, it seemed like a no-brainer. The combo comes with JjaJang-Myeon, a Korean-Chinese black bean sauce with shrimp, squid, pork, and vegetables. It’s served over fresh noodles with a fried egg and cucumber, but since everything came packaged separately (thank you, San Maru, because that’s the way to do it), I actually tried it over white rice. But I do intend to eat it with noodles come dinnertime. The JjaJang-Myeon is absolutely divine with rich, complex flavors that would be nothing but extra delicious to eat on a cool day. Can a food make you feel cozy? Because this is like a warm, deep stew that was nothing but perfect to eat cozied up on the couch on a rainy day. Frankly, because it has such a stewy texture, I’d consider eating it on its own. Is that weird? Anyway, the JjaJang-Myeon can be ordered solo for $10.99.

Also in the combo is Jjambong, a Korean-Chinese spicy noodle soup with seafood and vegetables. Wow is right. This came still hot and steaming, and it had a really nice spicy kick to it. It had full shrimp, mussels, zucchini, and other veggies in the broth. It could have used a tad more seasoning, but it was cooked well and still really tasty. I love a good seafood soup, so this pretty much sealed the deal. You can order the Jjambong on its own for $12.99.

Last in the combo was Tangsuyuk, Korean-Chinese sweet-and-sour pork with vegetables. I admittedly ate a couple helpings of this, and when I opened the container with the pork, I audibly oohed and aahed. Their pieces were just the right size and fried so nicely. Both crispy and tender, layered with rice, and the sauce was delectable. This dish is a little reminiscent of a Moo Goo Gai Pan but elevated a notch. The sauce was full of vegetables like carrots, onions, pickled zucchini, and (wait for it) pineapple. And, boy, was that pineapple a nice touch. And because I apparently ate everything backwards, I ate the pork and sauce with noodles instead of rice. The noodles were still really delicious with the sauce and pork. I look forward to eating that (and everything else) as leftovers later.

A closer look at the beef bulgogi in its container. Photo by Remington Rock.

Photo by Remington Rock.

To keep things familiar, we also ordered bulgogi, the spicy pork version ($13.99). If you’ve never had bulgogi, stop reading this immediately and go find some. It’s stir-fried, thinly-sliced meat marinated in sauce with a hint of onion and scallion. The pork was really tasty and came with a side of kimchi. The kimchi was well prepared and also different than what we’ve had before; it wasn’t as intensely-flavored as it sometimes comes. This came in larger chunks than what some people might be used to.

An overhead shot of the author's order: several styrofoam containers and tubs contain the different meals Remington ordered. Photo by Remington Rock.

Photo by Remington Rock.

I ordered everything online for delivery. I had gotten confirmation and everything, but 45 minutes passed, then an hour. Nothing came. I gave them a call to check in only to find out that my order hadn’t gone through the system to them. What was initially a bit of a bummer (I was really hangry) was quickly quelled. This minor inconvenience wasn’t their fault, but they were so nice and accommodating. They quickly retook my order, and it was at my house even quicker than it was originally supposed to be.

To make it even better, they called me to offer a free drink for the issue, so I got some Shikeh, homemade Korean sweet rice punch ($5). I’m drinking it as I write this, and it’s a nice sweet treat. It tastes like sweetened cereal water (that sounds off-putting, but stay with me here) and is a nice balance to all the savory flavors from the meals.

Overall, I would definitely recommend San Maru to you if you’re looking to switch things up with your quarantine meals. Everything was incredibly tasty, and it is definitely a place I would like to visit when things re-open, so that I can try things from the full menu. Right now, they’re open for curbside pickup, delivery, and outdoor seating. You can order online from their site for pickup or delivery, or delivery through Grubhub. You can also give them a call. Whatever your preference, you should order a dish you already love, like bulgogi, and something new. You might just find your new favorite.

San Maru
2504 Village Green Pl
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Top image by Remington Rock.

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