Gerry Krzic, FOK Board Member
Annandale, (Northern) Virginia
My first encounter with Korean cuisine was in January 1977 in a San Francisco restaurant. It was during Korea Peace Corps' “staging," a three-day, state-side orientation. For the first time, this Midwesterner sat on the floor with crossed legs tingling from restricted blood flow while grappling with slim metal chopsticks and inhaling the pungent aroma of Kimchi. Most of the bulgogi, rice, and banchan wound up in my lap as my fingers and chopsticks wouldn’t quite cooperate. Now 40 years later, I have enjoyed Korean food across the world: Prague, Paris, London, Vienna, Tokyo and Sao Paulo. Whenever traveling in the U.S., I make sure to check out the local Korean restaurants. I also admit a fondness for "mom and pop" restaurants over the faddish fusion places. Give me a hot bowl of kimchi chigae in the winter or naengmyeon in the summer and I am a happy guy.
In addition to my choices, I have asked some FOK members about their favorite Korean restaurants. Please note the disclaimer: FOK neither endorses the restaurants below nor assumes any liability for addiction to Korean food resulting from visiting any of the establishments. All restaurants are listed in alphabetical order. Photos by Gerry Krzic unless otherwise noted.
Annandale is the traditional gastronomic center of the Korean community in the Washington, DC area. Although the community is now expanding to other suburban areas, a ride down Annandale's Little River Turnpike off I-495 leads you into an area with every choice of Korean food imaginable. Here are some of my favorite stops.
Lighthouse Tofu (빛고을순두부)
4121 Chatelain Rd.
Searching for some tofu (두부) inspired cuisine? Then Lighthouse Tofu is the place to go. The menu is full of the famous bubbling Korean stews (chigae) served in the stone bowls. Place the accompanying egg in the bowl and watch it boil. Lighthouse also offers the traditional fare of galbi (갈비), bibimbap (비빔밥) and pajun (파전) and combo menus with tofu and bulgogi or galbi. For those who can't make it to Annandale, another Lighthouse is in Centreville. And don't forget to get a customer loyalty card for special deals!
간단하게말하면: If it's cold winter day, I am heading to Lighthouse for some 해물순두부찌개 (Korean tofu stew with seafood)! Even if it's summer, I am still going.
7331 Little River Turnpike.
The food at 외갓집 may not be exactly like the stuff served at your mom's house unless they ate tons of grilled meat everyday -- but the hospitality and the decor is down home and welcoming. The specialty of 외갓집 is the one-price, all-you-can eat menu of a variety of meat, cooked shabu-shabu style or right on the grill. The owner is like your friendly uncle, who makes sure you've had enough to eat.
간단하게말하면: Feeling like you want to eat a lot of Korean BBQ with your friends? This is the place.
7243 Little River Turnpike.
If you are looking for a slightly more upscale place to entertain friends with a traditional Korean meal, Hangang is the place to go. Meals start with a butternut squash porridge (호박죽) appetizer, the main course, and a sweet rice dessert drink (식혜). I am told the Agujjim (아구찜) is one of the most requested dishes. The owners named it Hangang, to keep the business flowing just like the famous river in Seoul.
간단하게말하면: Solid choice for introducing friends to Korean food.
Nak Won (낙원)
7317 Little River Turnpike.
Nak Won is the type of restaurant that you just might drive by -- and if you do -- you're making a missing out on a little gem. The 삼겹살 (grilled pork strips) is reputed to be always fresh -- never frozen. The staff will prepare it for you at the table. Just lay it on a piece of lettuce, add a little rice, a slice of garlic, a dab of 쌈장 (spicy sauce), pop in your mouth and enjoy. Repeat until fully sated!
Then, stop at the Nak Won catering store next door for some 떡 (rice cake). If you're lucky and it's the right time of month, you might even see members of a 1970's style 계 sharing a monthly meal.
간단하게말하면: Go here for some fresh 삼겹살.
Sorak Garden (서락 가든)
4308 Backlick Road.
Started in the late 1990's, Sorak Garden offers a very comfortable interior, private party rooms, and an extensive menu from sushi to the traditional Korean grilled meats and fish. Our table ordered tubu kimchi and it came in large pot with abundant tofu. Also, had some kick to it! Other customers seemed to favor the barbecue offerings. We have not been to the lunch buffet but have heard it offers good quality and quantity for the price.
간단하게말하면: With the extensive menu, Sorak is another good place to take friends for an introduction to Korean food.
4121 Hummer Road.
Every time I have gone to Yechon, the place has been packed. The only Annandale Korean restaurant to be open 24-7! The food is tasty and served by staff wearing traditional Korean clothing. It's best to get there before the peak lunch and dinner times to avoid waiting for a seat. Lunch specials are affordable with ample portions. The owner told me they chose their Hummer Road location because it is the first traffic light from the I-495 exit. So, if you are heading down to or coming back from Florida, you have destination dining. Another plus is the Breeze Cafe located right next door for a cup of tea or coffee and Korean-style pastries.
간단하게말하면: Got the Korean munchies at 3 AM? Yechon is waiting for you!
Cleveland does not have a large Korean-American population, but there is a long-time community centered around the medical clinics and universities. Two of the Korean restaurants to visit are the Korea House and Seoul Garden. Both restaurants offer midwestern friendliness with ample portions of entrees and banchan.
3700 Superior Avenue.
Located east of the center of downtown Cleveland, Korean House offers a no-frills offering of traditional Korean food. Prices are reasonable and service is midwest friendly. Kim's Oriental Food is located in the back of the same building for some after-dinner Korean grocery shopping.
간단하게말하면: Find yourself in downtown Cleveland for a conference or meeting? Take a quick taxi ride up Superior Avenue for some home-style Korean food.
5270 Pearl Road (Parma, Ohio).
Located in a suburb of Cleveland that is better known for its Eastern European restaurants, Seoul Garden, like its counterpart in downtown Cleveland serves large portions at good prices. My galbi order had more more ribs than I could possibly eat. You know Seoul Garden has earned its stripes when it has convinced Clevelanders to chose chigae over pierogies on a Saturday night.
간단하게말하면: Your suburban choice for Korean food in Cleveland.
Columbus, home to one of the country's largest public university -- Ohio State -- has a sizable Korean student population and growing Korean community. Korean food has also gained popularity among the non-Korean community. One of the popular restaurants closest to the campus is Minga, located in a small shopping on Bethel Road.
800 Bethel Road. Originally founded 20 years ago by immigrants from Jeolla Nam Do, Minga changed hands 4 years ago and added a Chung Cheong Buk Do flair to its menu. Students from Ohio State continue to flock to the restaurant on the weekends and evenings for kalbi, stone pot bibimbap and squid bokum. My favorite is the Kalbi Jjim (steamed short rib with chestnuts).
간단하게말하면: The banchan is fresh and the service is Ohio-friendly.
Falls Church, Virginia
Gom Tange ( 곰탱이)
6751 Wilson Blvd #18, Falls Church (Btwn Arlington & Roosevelt Blvd). Tucked into the Eden Center Shopping Area, the Vietnamese shopping center in the Washington area, Gom Tange is gem that serves up fresh sullongtang. It doesn't take long to decide what to order as the menu is very simple -- just a variety of soups all priced about $9-$10. The main restaurant is located in Centerville, Virginia. If you are close to DC, save the gas and stop at the Eden Center branch.
간단하게말하면: If you want to eat oxtail soup, look no further.
Los Angeles & Southern California
Home to the largest Korean community in the United States, Los Angeles and Southern California are the mecca for Korean food. You can find any type of Korean food -- cooked traditionally or in the new eclectic creations blending Hispanic and Korean flavors by famous Korean-American chefs.
BCD Tofu House (북창동순두부)
3575 Wilshire Boulevard.
BCD Tofu House has numerous locations throughout Southern California and in New York. FOK Board Member, Dan Strickland, says the Wilshire Boulevard restaurant in Koreatown is the place he goes to get his fix of 순두부. Good prices, good food and they don't freak out if you speak Korean; they just take your order without any fanfare.
간단하게말하면: Have some business at the Korean Consul General's office? be sure to stop at BCD before going home. Don't have business at Korean Consul General's office? Stop at BCD anywa
Chosun Galbi (조선갈비)
3330 West Olympic Boulevard.
You know Chosun Galbi is a good place when two FOK members vouch for its quality. Sukhee Kang says, "I eat at several restaurants when I go to Los Angeles for dinner. But my favorite restaurant, by far, is 'Chosun Galbi" on Western and Olympic when it comes to Korean BBQ. The quality of their meat is always superb and they serve excellent side dishes. Most of all, their service is the best." Dan Strickland seconds the motion: They're central in Koreatown, serve good meat and a good assortment of tasty side dishes, especially seaweed dishes done like 생체. They serve good 막걸리 as well."
간단하게말하면: Chosen Galbi should be on your bucket list for the next visit to Los Angeles.
Hwa Sun Ji Tea & Coffee Shop (화선지 전통찻집)
3960 Wilshire Boulevard.
Although not technically a restaurant, Hwa Sun Ji is the perfect place to go after a meal. According to Dan Strickland, " you can't beat 화선지 전통찻집, a traditional tea shop where you get a menu with a huge selection of traditional teas, with descriptions of what they're good for and traditional tea pastries to go with your beverage. The place is quiet in the afternoon - perfect for long conversations with friends."
간단하게말하면: Hwa Sun Ji is the perfect peaceful alternative to newer places such as
설 빙 in Koreatown.
Korean B.B.Q House ( 한국회관)
9844 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, CA.
FOK member, Ed Chang, says that if you are in Riverside, check out his favorite restaurant -- 한국회관 (Korean B.B.Q.) for various authentic Korean foods including 해물탕 (Spicy Seafood Stew). Other folks claim that the grilled meat offerings and the kimchi is what you want to come here for, particularly for the buffet hour.
간단하게말하면: Find yourself east of Los Angeles, make sure you find the
한국회관 in Riverside. And tell them Ed sent you.
Jun Won ( 전원 식당)
3100 W. 8th St., No. 101.
According to an LA Times review Jun Won is supposed to be hard to locate, but that didn't stop FOK member, Ed Chang, from finding it and proclaiming it as his "favorite restaurant in Los Angeles' Koreatown." According to Ed, "Junwon has truly homemade style fish dishes – 갈치 조림 (Braised Cutlass fish) and/or 동태찌게 (Pollack casserole)."
간단하게말하면: Looking for an alternative to bulgogi and tofu? Head over to Jun Won for one of their fish dishes with the ever-popular offerings of banchan.
Los Angeles Pictures
Syracuse, New York
Syracuse, New York, home to a famous university with a significant enrollment of Korean students, is a place where you can also find some tasty Korean food. FOK Board member, Rob Ichihana, has some suggestions for this upstate city.
Secret Garden (비원)
2731 Erie Blvd East.
According to Rob, "When we’re Syracuse, NY, we usually go to Secret Garden Bi-Won (비원) restaurant for fantastic Soondubu Chiigae. It tastes like the down home cooking in Taegu that I remember. Conveniently attached to the well stocked Han’s Oriental Grocery on 2731 Erie Blvd E.; the restaurant is opened Sun-Th from 11:30am – 10 pm and Fri-Sat. from 11:30am-11 pm. Reasonably priced, nice atmosphere and great tasting food. If you’re staying longer to watch a Syracuse University game, you may want to try out the Chorong House Restaurant on 1121 East Fayette St.; Hours: Mon-Sat. from 11:30am-10 pm, Closed Sun; Price is right and actually located in a two-story home structure where you will find tasty, mouthwatering Bibimbap. Makes me hungry just writing about it, so I think I’ll go this weekend for sure!"
간단하게말하면: Looking for some Korean food as your zipping along I-90 in Upstate New York? Stop at the Secret Garden.
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