Welcome to the fourth round of the Annandale Patch Korean Restaurant Battle.
We’re pitting eight local Korean restaurants in the Annandale area against a crack team of reviewers, and we’re asking our readers to weigh in on which restaurant is the best.
In round three, Han Gang Korean Restaurant and Oegadgib Korean Restaurant faced off. Based on input from readers in the comments section and elsewhere, OeGadGib was the winner.
Read what our reviewers had to say, and then tell us which restaurant you think should win this round by “voting” in the comments, in our shout box or through Facebook or Twitter. Voting will close at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, May 4. The winner from Round 4 and the semi-finals will appear next Friday.
Hee Been Korean Restaurant
Reviewer Dave Seminara ate here at 6 p.m. April 28, and reviewer Lori Weinraub ate here at 7 p.m. April 22.
Environment, Décor, Location
Dave: In a strip mall right near 395, don’t miss the entrance to the plaza, because it’s a bear to circle back around. A cavernous place that was more than half empty on a Thursday night. As we walked in, Kenny Loggins’s Danger Zone was blaring, and we were assaulted with loud, bad 80’s pop music all night.
Lori: We couldn’t have picked a worse time to visit Hee Been in terms of traffic. It’s located in a busy strip mall off Interstate 395 at Duke Street where traffic always backs up and this was a rainy Friday night to boot. By the time we got into the restaurant we were stressed from the traffic but the hostess assured us it was worse than usual and our smiling waitress was quick to take our drink order. The décor is attractive and tasteful. Lots of wood and Japanese touches. It’s also very roomy. There is a bar off the entrance and back rooms for groups where diners can sit close to the floor.
What We Ate
Dave: A friend and I tackled the buffet ($25.95 each) and ate just about everything on offer. Udong noodle soup, miso soup, steamed pork and shrimp dumplings (kanom seeb), chicken teriyaki, spicy shrimp rolls, eel, tempura, and a host of meats barbequed at our table, including steak, bul gogi, spicy BBQ pork, pork belly and spicy BBQ chicken. Like most buffets, the emphasis here is on quantity more than quality, though some items were quite good. The udong noodle soup and the kanom seeb dumplings were tasty, but the chicken teriyaki and the tempura were bland, flavorless and lukewarm. The sushi didn’t taste particularly fresh, but one doesn’t really expect to find great sushi at a buffet. The BBQ’d meats were also a mixed bag- the steak was chewy and not worth the effort, the pork belly was all fat and lacked the deliciously smokiness that you find at Nak Won, for example, and the BBQ chicken was also forgettable. But the spicy BBQ pork and the bulgogi were excellent. If you want to try some things that Andrew Zimmern might feature on Bizzare Foods, watch out for the acorn gelatin, spicy dried squid, and lotus roots.
Lori: I should have had the buffet, as my husband did. An insane amount of food for $27.95. All the steak, kal bi, bul-go-gi, pork and shrimp you can eat. My daughter and I shared the special kal bi, which is marinated in special sauce, for $23.95, and duk man doo gook, which is traditional Korean soup with dumplings and rice cakes, for $11.95.
I was very disappointed that my kal bi was cooked in the kitchen instead of tableside. That’s because I only ordered one BBQ dish. I hate to say it but I was disappointed with my dish. It was overcooked to the point of being charred and too chewy. The meat on the buffet was cooked tableside and I liked that so much better. I know you’re not supposed to share but I couldn’t help it, it was so good. But oddly my husband and daughter preferred the kal bi cooked in the kitchen. The soup was good, especially on a cold, rainy night. But the best deal was the buffet. In addition to the meat, there was all manner of sushi, a large variety of hot dishes and cold salads and desserts. I did grab a piece of sushi off my husband’s plate and it was good. As disappointed as I was, I suppose the no sharing rule is a good thing – it makes me want to come back for my own buffet dinner. Skip the banchan, though. Other than the cucumber it was all disappointing.
Quality of Service
Dave: Our servers- Mi and Yu- were helpful and efficient. My glass of ice tea never dipped below half full all night. Everyone we encountered spoke English, and they were all capable of making suggestions.
Lori: It was easy to communicate with our waitress; she even understood that my clearly underage daughter wanted a virgin daiquiri. Staff was attentive and quick to cook the meat from the buffet and assured me they wouldn’t overcook it or undercook it.
Dave: 3. Good service, and decent food, but our bill for two came to nearly $70 with tip, which is too much considering the fact that we just ordered soft drinks and the buffet. If you’re in the mood to seriously graze, and you like Kenny Loggins, this could be the place for you. Otherwise, go to Yechon or Honey Pig.
Lori: 2. 4 all around. While I was disappointed with my kal bi, I would have enjoyed the buffet and did like my nibbles. In the 20 plus years I’ve known my husband we have never eaten Korean food (the only other time he has eaten Korean was actually in Korea) but he said he would eat at Hee Been again. And so would I.
Reviewer Dave Seminara ate here at 2 p.m. April 25, and reviewer Lori Weinraub ate here at noon April 14.
Environment, Décor, Location
Dave: Yechon is one of the most popular Korean restaurants in Annandale, and that’s saying something given the huge amount of competition. The smart, yet casual vibe is quite nice, and the place was busy, even during the late lunch hour on a Tuesday. Some of the staff members were dressed in what I took to be kimonos. A nice touch.
Lori: Yechon is easy to spot; the sign out front is big and colorful and tells us that Yechon is open 24 hours. The inside is beautiful; wood everywhere, even hiding the vents above the grills that are on each table. Yechon’s Japanese influence is reflected in the simple but tasteful décor. There even is a sushi bar. But the wait staff wears beautiful, traditional Korean dress.
What We Ate
Dave: I was given a bowl of miso soup, along with small plates of radishes,some cold potatoes, bean sprouts, kimchi, watercress, a basket of lettuce, and some tofu with shrimp for free, along with sauces to dip them in. I was also given a small plate of what the waitress called mung bean jello. I ordered the daeji bul gogi ($15.95), which is described on the menu as, “sliced tender pork marinated in special spicy sauce.” The miso soup was deliciously salty, and was a nice free touch I hadn’t encountered in my other Korean BBQ forays in Annandale. I also liked the “mung bean jello” which had an oddly pleasing, gelatinous taste to it. The tofu and shrimp small plate had a nice tangy sauce and left me wanting more. The daeji bul gogi, which was cooked up at my table in less than 5 minutes, was very lean meat and the taste was outstanding. A bit spicy, perfectly marinated, and melt-in-your-mouth tender, this is Korean BBQ at its finest. The portion was perfectly adequate and I was full when I left, but it tasted so good that I would’ve liked more, so I could’ve gone from full to absolutely stuffed.
Lori: Because it was lunchtime I ate one of the lunch boxes, Kal Bi Box, or beef short ribs, for $9.95. My friend Jennie ordered Yuk Gai Jang, shredded beef soup with rice, for $7.95. We agreed to share our food. We also ordered an appetizer, mul man doo, which are broiled dumplings, for $5.95. I was disappointed that my Kal Bi was not going to be grilled tableside because it was lunchtime but it was very good, despite being a tad too fatty, and the portion was huge. In addition to the beef, the lunch box comes with miso soup, a piece of sushi (Yechon is a Korean/Japanese restaurant and has an extensive Japanese menu as well), cold fish salad (which was delicious) and several other pieces of food that were tasty but unidentifiable. For example, something tasted like a crab cake but our waitress said it was meat. Hmmm. But it was good. Jennie liked her soup but wished it was a little spicier. She was concerned about it being too spicy and asked the waitress to make it medium spicy, but she thinks they just left out all the spice. Jennie love the man doo, which seemed more steamed than broiled to me. I prefer mine pan seared so I let her eat more of them. Our banchan was plentiful. I particularly enjoyed the tofu and green beans but can’t remember the kimchi so it must not have stood out. At the end of the meal we were brought Korean rice tea, which was a nice touch, but we didn’t know what it was at first and I wasn’t sure if we should drink it. I did sip first and asked questions later so I’m glad it was a beverage and not something for cleaning my messy hands!
Quality of Service
Dave: I was one of just three non-Korean speakers dining at the restaurant, but each of the staff members I encountered was able to speak English. The menu is dauntingly thick (and mine appeared to have been dropped in a vat of water at some point), but the staff can provide you with some basic guidance. The service was a bit slow, and I was frequently looking for a busboy to fill my water glass.
Lori: No one approached us immediately. I don’t think it’s because we’re not Korean because there were plenty of non-Koreans eating. I wondered if we should ring the bell that was on the side of the table. No kidding, it looked like a doorbell. I did try it at the end of our meal and it was loud! We had no trouble communicating with our waitress but staff wasn’t good about checking on us or refilling our water.
Dave: 4. An outstanding choice for Korean BBQ beginners. Aside from the tasty food, they also have good ventilation, so the BBQ’ing won’t bother your eyes. If the prices were a bit lower, and the service was more solicitous, it would be a 5.
Lori: We both gave it a 4. I loved the look and the menu. And you can’t beat the lunch box for the quality and quantity.
So, readers, which restaurant do you think should win this round of Patch’s Korean Restaurant Battle: Hebeen Korean Restaurant or Yechon Korean Restaurant? Tell us in the comments.
About this column:
We’re pitting eight local Korean restaurants in the Annandale area against a crack team of reviewers, and we’re asking our readers to weigh in on which restaurant is the best. Who will reign supreme?