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Korean eats in Annandale

c
Chris in MA Apr 26, 2011 10:59 PM

This is a part review and part request for recommendations. We've lived in the area for a while, and eat Korean food fairly often for lunch and dinner. Below is our review of the places we frequent. We really would love to expand this list, so if there are any hidden gems we haven't explored yet, do please recommend. Thanks!

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Chung Dae Gam BBQ
This is by far our current favorite, despite what they lack in decor. It's authentic wood charcoal grilled meats at great prices, and their galbi dolsot bibimbap is hands down the best we've had outside of Korea. The dolsot(stone pot) is always heated enough to make nu-rueng-ji(crispy rice). This places has yet to increase their price(they merged with another for a while and seems to have split up and is back to their old menu), so a BIG bargain in every way, can't recommend enough.

ARA
This is our second choice place. Prices were hiked by 1-3$per menu item in the last year. Still does every menu item decently, though uses sugar and butter rather liberally. flavor is consistent and decent decor/flavor/price combination works. I'd avoid menu items with meat(such as galbitang or wooguhi galbitang) meat is not their specialty)

Han Gang
We used to call this our favorite in town when they opened few years ago, but have since either changed chefs or intentionally "Americanized" their seasoning and have begun to cater to occasional tourist bus groups(i.e. no longer aiming as a quality high-end restaurant) Delicate flavors are gone, just more salty and sweet, and have raised their prices. Now it's so-so foods at raised-prices. wish they would raise the quality again, or at least lower their prices, but we will still use this place to change things up once in a while.

Seoul Garden (formerly Bok Dae Ji)
This place seems to change hands every couple years. currently runs a buffet with a grill at each table. dinner ranges $18-20(fri-sun) before tax/tip.sushi is fresher earlier in the evening on weekends. meat quality is better than heebeen or ill mi buffet (I don't recommend heebeen or ill mi, unless some drastic change has been made; meats quality at these places seemed the worst), but still is a Buffet grade meat. flavors tend to run very sweet(try the pure sugar that is their sik-hae)

Palace
Prices are about if not higher than Han Gang, menu is slightly more diverse. Nice decor since the renovation, but the chef does not know how to cook. Overly salty and sweet, flavor is lacking.
We tried this place when initially changed management and renovated few years ago, and disliked it, forgot just how much we disliked it and tried this over priced one again last week. Really not worth their prices. We are done with this place.

Gom Tang E
It looked as if (equipment wise) maybe they brew their own gom tangs, though I've been told all restaurants nowadays serve from a canned premix. This place has the worst kimchee of any gom tang place I've ever eaten at(napa, radish, all inclusive) and serve their Gom Tang lukewarm(wish they would use stone soup bowls to keep hot). This place opened fairly recently in Annandale, and is a recent discovery for us, so will see after exploring their menu a bit further.

Sorak Garden
Haven't been to this place in the last year(used to be one of the few bigger Korean restaurants in the area back in the day), really liberal with the use of MSG (leaves a bitter after taste) and used to give so much trouble for taking home left overs. Not sure if still doing the lunch buffet, but unless their MSG habit has changed....is a no go.

Heebeen and Ill Mee Buffet
meat qualities were poor (we were questioning if they were serving up "commercial" quality meats vs fit for human consumption) when we tried them a few years ago and haven't gone back since.
things may have changed? don't know.

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Heebeen Restaurant
6231 Little River Tpke, Alexandria, VA 22312

Sorak Garden Restaurant
4308 Backlick Road, Annandale, VA 22003

Seoul Garden Restaurant
7133 Columbia Pike, Annandale, VA 22003

  1. s
    Steve Apr 27, 2011 07:55 AM

    Thanks for the impressive run down. Chung Dae Gam sounds great; will definitely hit that soon.

    My favorite meal in Annandale is the soon dubu (tofu stew) at Vit Goel. They specialize in this one dish. I order it at the hottest level of spiciness, still not outrageously hot.

    The seafood pancake at Yechon is my favorite version. Though this is not a recent rec.

    Too bad about Han Gang.

    1. a
      anchor Apr 27, 2011 09:30 AM

      Lighthouse Tofu & BBQ makes their own tofu, and the soups are amazing.

      Honey Pig for the atmosphere and the pork belly. Also, its open 24 hours!!!

      1. m
        mdpilam Apr 27, 2011 09:30 AM

        Haven't done much research into Korean in Annandale, but I had been referred to Honey Pig. How does that rate - or does it not even make the list?

        Also, where would Mandu rank against these? It's the only one I've heard anything about in DC proper, but remain a bit skeptical.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mdpilam
          v
          ViolentScarlet Apr 27, 2011 09:48 AM

          Mandu doesn't really hold a candle to places like Vit Goel, Yechon, or Ara - definitely not worth making a trip for if you don't already live or work near there, but it will definitely do in a pinch. I live in DC and sometimes when it's just not convenient to go to Annandale and I'm craving Korean, Mandu suffices. It's also somewhat more trendy than the other places - lots of people go there for after-work sojutinis. I actually think Adam Express just about a mile away in Mt. Pleasant has the best Korean in DC proper and it's cheaper than Mandu, but Adam Express is a hole-in-the-wall, takeout kind of place, not somewhere you sit down and have a real dinner.

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          Ara Restaurant
          7137 Little River Tpke, Annandale, VA 22003

          1. re: mdpilam
            h
            hamster Apr 27, 2011 12:04 PM

            Also in DC, I tried Muzette recently and was quite surprised by how good the food was! It will definitely be my new go-to on 18th Street. Definitely better than Mandu. I still haven't made it to Annandale, so I can't compare.
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7744...

          2. c
            Chris in MA Apr 27, 2011 03:47 PM

            Didn't realize Lighthouse/Vit Goel is that popular. Perhaps will give menu items other than soondubu a try. To even out my review portion, I will add:

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            Lighthouse tofu
            has been around a while, and we check in now and then, most recently few weeks ago. Tofu quality is better (didn't know they made their own--thanks for the tip), you get a raw egg to add to the hot soup, and some minimal kimchee varieties as side dishes. (their rice is served in stone pots, but they don't heat the stone pot sufficiently, so that's more of a decorative perk --at least during our last visit few weeks ago). About $10 for soondubu, and about $2 cheaper for lunch. Our qualm about this place is lack of variety of banchan(side dishes)-- walk in with a group of four, end up with 4 soups, rice, and kimchee for $50 some dollars and not really a full course korean meal.

            Honey Pig
            We tried this over a year ago. This place and Yechon is popular with a young crowd(20-30's) and has that late night rowdy crowd feel. We tried jumuluk galbi, and some add on jigae and wasn't impressed. Think might have been better to try their chulpan(metal grill) items. This and Yechon is more of a hip late night social joint and less a "meal" restaurant. We don't eat lunch or dinner here, but reserve it as an option for occasional late night cravings.

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