One of the things I love most about Downtown Huntsville dining is the fun, spontaneous nature of it. Perhaps you are checking out Big Spring Park or meeting friends. Eventually, you’ll work up an appetite. Next time give Big Oh’s a consideration. The casual dining atmosphere isn’t pretentious, and you’ll feel like you are having a meal in someone’s home. I always felt this way when I’ve eaten there. I decided to go back and discover what gives this restaurant such a personal touch.
Yeon Arnold (pronounced like “yawn”, she joked) is the owner, chef, and every other label you could imagine. She is the literal glue that runs the business, but the restaurant didn’t always start that way. Named Big Oh’s after her maiden name, the restaurant began as a family business. Ending up in Huntsville after her husband’s military retirement, Yeon was thinking of ways to share family recipes with the city. Originally, she was accompanied by her brother who served as the head chef for many years. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, her brother left the restaurant business to pursue other interests.
Most people would give up. In fact, many close to Yeon encouraged her to do just that to save her the stress. What people may not realize is that Big Oh’s is more than a restaurant. It’s an emotional investment that has touched the hearts of so many across the greater Huntsville. Perhaps even their first introduction to Korean cuisine. It’s a place where families come to celebrate and share special memories. This is the spirit of Big Oh’s.
Imagine my surprise when I requested to meet Yeon only to find out, upon my arrival, the restaurant was not open. I hadn’t realized lunch hours were suspended due to the pandemic. Rest assured, Yeon arrived and greeted me with a warm smile. I had the honor of her personally preparing my lunch and tell me about the history, the food, and future plans of Big Oh’s. With summer approaching, she focused on sharing some dishes that are perfect for Big Oh’s patio dining on a hot day. These dishes will not weigh you down but will still satisfy tastebuds with huge flavor.
First up was the Beef and Leaf. Not only is this a fantastic low-carb option, but it’s also so flavorful you don’t feel like you are giving up anything for the sake of eating healthy. Topped with Big Oh’s famous Bulgogi meat, these large lettuce leaves are the perfect vessel to serve up every savory bite. The radish slivers amplify the fresh cooling effect of the lettuce while the sliced almonds add a crunch for a textural difference.
The real star here is the Bulgogi meat. The meat is marinated so that the flavor penetrates it completely. Upon tasting, you’ll find classic Korean flavors like gochujang, ginger, sesame oil, garlic, and soy sauce making this deliciously savory. My favorite part is the bit of sweetness (perhaps brown sugar or a fruit base) that contrasts delightfully with the saltiness of the soy sauce. Give these a shot as a meal or as an appetizer to share with the table.
Next, I tried the Big Oh’s Cold Noodle as suggested by Yeon. I wouldn’t normally order a cold dish like this. I’ve tried several inspired by different regions of Asia. I have to say this was my absolute favorite and blew away any preconceived notions I had. This beautiful bowl of buckwheat noodles comes stacked with chopped cucumber, carrots, cabbage, and pickled radish. Choose a side of sesame vinaigrette or spicy Korean red sauce.
I went with the spicy Korean red sauce and I’m glad I did. After trying it, there is no other way to eat this dish. It isn’t spicy to the point where it’s just chili pepper heat. The spiciness is more flavorful that gently warms the tongue against the cold noodle. Yeon even added some watermelon chunks in this one which gave the dish a very fresh feel. Don’t skip on this during the Alabama heat. Additionally, you can add chicken or shrimp to make it a full meal.
Last, and certainly not least, were the Big Oh’s Specialty Wings. These have to be my all-time favorite at Big Oh’s and possibly some of the best wings in town. If you’ve ever had Bonchon or another similar Korean fried chicken chain, then you know exactly what to expect. These wings have the lightest, crunchiest batter and are deep-fried to perfection. Big Oh’s offers two varieties: 1) mild, spicy Korean BBQ sauce dusted in peanut crumbs and 2) sweet, tangy teriyaki style.
Look, don’t even waste time debating on which flavor you should get. They are both ridiculously good. If you want a more authentic Korean fried chicken, then you’ll want the Korean BBQ sauce. It’s a gochujang-based sauce that is hard to beat. I’ll admit that when I first tried these wings about 2 years ago, I immediately went home and attempted to deconstruct the recipe. I even got to compare notes with Yeon about my approach and, surprisingly, I had it right!
Big Oh’s is so much more than a Korean/Korean fusion joint. It’s a living story that tells itself. Walk inside and look at the photos of all the smiling customers. Better yet, ask Yeon where all the Korean War era photographs came from. Whether through the photos or restaurant dishes inspired by recipes from her family, Yeon provides an amazing experience to her guests through the guise of Big Oh’s. It’s more than a restaurant, it’s a family legacy.
Thanks again Yeon for sharing lunch with me and making me feel like an Anthony Bourdain level writer. Seriously, how often do you get to dine in a closed restaurant while the owner makes your food? That’s the feel you get when you dine here. Give Big Oh’s a visit during your next downtown visit. Yeon will make your day like she made mine.
Growing up between the Washington DC suburbs and Savannah, GA, Brett always found music and food to bridge the gap between the two worlds. Musician, US Army veteran, Software Engineer, dedicated home chef, Brett has worn a variety of proverbial hats and is used to traveling outside his comfort zone in pursuit of new experiences. Whether studying abroad in Greece or deploying to Afghanistan, food and the people involved in the process, became a way to relate to his ever-changing world view.
While an engineering career may have led Brett from Tampa, FL to Huntsville, more importantly, there was a flourishing food scene to explore. After discovering most of his coworkers had no idea what their city had to offer, he started a food blog to catalog his experiences and share recipes that demystify culinary techniques. He has found an audience in fellow foodies and industry professionals alike.
Aside from food, Brett also enjoys building his vinyl collection, sipping craft beer and whiskey, and building websites for small business owners. He loves exploring the city through the stories told by its long-time locals.
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