Welcome to the second 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 , Nak Won Restaurant and Choong Hwa Won faced off. Since we didn't have comments on the site voting for either restaurant, editor Sherell Williams has declared Nak Won as the winner for round one.
This week, we’re asking you to vote for either , 7220 Columbia Pike, Annandale, Va., or , 4231 Markham St, Annandale, Va.
Read what our reviewers had to say, and then tell us which restaurant you think should win this round by “voting” in the comments. Voting will close at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, April 20. The winner from Round 1 and the reviews for Round 2 will appear next Friday, April 22.
Reviewer Lori Weinraub ate here at 6 p.m. April 11, and reviewer Dave Seminara ate here at 12:30 p.m. April 7.
Environment, Décor, Location
Lori: Good thing I checked my directions carefully because even though the address is Columbia Pike, the restaurant does not front Columbia Pike. Luckily I caught it out of the corner of my eye. I knew right away it was going to be a casual place, because of the grease stains on the door before you even step inside. It’s very casual, but in a funky way. The walls are corrugated metal; the floor is concrete and a little sticky. Pictures of food and pretty Korean women pitching beverages are plastered on the walls.
Soccer games were playing on two flat screen televisions. My friend said it reminded her of a sports bar. A chest-high wall is the only thing preventing you from looking into the kitchen. The dishes are stacked on a cart in the middle of the dining room. In the front room, each table is round and has its own grill; tables are rectangular in the back room. The restaurant was bustling for a Monday night, which gave it the feel of being a fun place to eat.
Dave: Located in the heart of Annandale’s Korea-town. A very casual place with tin walls filled with colorful Korean advertisements, photos of menu items and other bright posters- many of them with large photos of the proprietress. Most of the other diners were Korean. Like most other Korean places in Annandale, a large screen TV played Korean music videos for our amusement. We were told that the pig is lucky animal in Korea, hence the name of the restaurant. The owner, whose face is plastered throughtout the restaurant, has just opened another location in Centreville.
What We Ate
Lori: Our waitress immediately appeared with four green salads, our banchan and dipping sauce for our meat. The salad was boring. The kimchi was very spicy and not very good but I did like the cole slaw and zucchini. We ordered the seasoned beef rib (kalbi) for $24.99, sliced pork belly for $12.99, soybean paste stew for $6.99 and for an appetizer, fried dumplings for $7.99. We ordered in English, but my friend switched to Korean to get the waitress to recommend the sliced pork belly. When my friend asked in English for a pork dish recommendation, the waitress gave the stock answer of everything is good. Staff cooked the beef and pork for us. They were both delicious. The beef was tender and juicy. I liked the sesame dipping sauce; the salt sauce was way too salty. I also preferred to eat the beef by itself instead of the traditional lettuce wrap with rice. When the pork cooked up it looked like white bacon but it was tender. I had never eaten anything like it but I really enjoyed it. The fried dumplings were huge and delicious. The soybean paste stew is a Miso-based soup with vegetables and tofu. Interesting but I don’t see the need to eat it again.
Dave: We were given small plates of salad, pickled radishes, onions, fried tofu and kimchi for free, along with sauces to dip them in. We ordered the Beef Bulgogi lunch portion ($9.99) and the Spicy Pork dish ($8.99). And I ordered a Korean beer called Cass. I felt that the quality of the food was quite good. My dining partner, the travel writer Tom Swick, who has spent time in Korea, also felt that the food was tasty and authentic. The beef was grilled at our table, and was ready within a couple minutes. It was tender- not chewy and grilled to perfection. The pork was prepared in the kitchen and was even better. It was quite spicy, but not in a painful, grin and bear it way. Good kick, but no burn on the tongue. Lunch portions were more than adequate, and were a good value at just under $10 each. I wasn’t wild about the free appetizer small dishes, but Swick thought that the fried tofu and other small plates were tasty.
Quality of Service
Lori: The waitress was very attentive, taking our drink order right away for example. We never lacked for anything. We were able to communicate in English but I’m not sure what pork dish we would have ended up with if my friend hadn’t spoken Korean.
Dave: The service was very prompt and friendly. We had some plates on the table before I could even take my jacket off. The only downfall was that our waitress had pretty limited English, so she wasn’t able to offer much commentary or recommendations beyond, “beef is good” and “pork is good.” They grilled up our beef and pork right on our table in just minutes.
Rating and Conclusion (1 – 5 scale)
Lori: 5. The beef and pork were the stars of the show and they did not disappoint. Even though I’ve had better banchan, I decided to rate this restaurant on the main dishes and they were better than I could have imagined. I also gave a lot of weight to the fact that my 12-year-old daughter enjoyed it as well and said she would eat here again. Even though it was a very hot night and the grilling didn’t help, we still had a good time.
4. Honey Pig indeed. Loved the food, and loved the name of this place. Great place for a fun date—tell your mate you’re taking them to Honey Pig. They’ll love it.
Seoul Soon Dae Restaurant
Reviewer Lori Weinraub ate here at 2:30 p.m. April 2, and reviewer Dave Seminara ate here at 1:45 p.m. April 13.
Environment, Décor, Location
Lori: Tucked away in a Korean shopping center one block off Little River Turnpike, I would have missed this restaurant if my friend hadn’t spotted the picture of the pig outside and recognized it as our destination (my friend has a Korean mother so she speaks the language. She has never been to Seoul Soon Dae and was eager to try it). I would describe the décor as “upscale casual.” Nice black wood tables with wood chairs. There is a small room off the front of the restaurant that is ideal for groups. The walls are lined with pictures of Korean dishes with the description in Korean as well as prices. The food looks attractive so you could point to what you want to eat. It’s definitely a pleasant atmosphere for lunch or a casual dinner. Alcohol is served.
Dave: Located smack in the middle of a strip mall in Annandale, it’s very easy to miss this place. The English language translation of the name is written quite small, but look for the place with the electronic message board in the window. Named after a type of blood sausage that involves pig intestine, pig blood, and glass noodles, this is a casual but nicely laid out, small restaurant that has been in this location since it opened in 1987. The owner, Chang Cho, indicated that they’ll be moving to a newer location at 4220 Annandale Road in a few months.
What We Ate
Lori: We started with an appetizer called Tteok Bok Ki, which means spicy rice cake and noodles, for $8.99. You can’t find that dish everywhere and my friend Diana really likes it so she was excited to see it on the menu. It was basically tubular rice cakes and noodles in a spicy sauce. It was delicious. And huge – Diana took half of it home. But it’s not something I ever would have thought to order because I couldn’t imagine what it would taste like. Same for the Seoul Soon Dae soup, which I was told would be a specialty of the house even though no description is given. It is a base of pork broth, chock full of sausage (which Diana says you usually don’t see), collard greens and vegetables. Delicious and big enough for two at the lunch price of $4.99, although Diana found it a little bland. Finally we got the Bul Go Gi, for $13.99. Diana says you can tell the quality of a place by its Bul Go Gi. She thought it was very good, tender and not fatty, but a little too thin for her taste. I can’t say that I would have a preference for thick vs. thin but I liked it nonetheless. Diana also raved about our side dishes, or banchan. She especially liked the cabbage kimchi because it wasn’t too old or too new. I liked the spicy radish kimchi and the cabbage kimchi but was less enthused about the summer kimchi.
Dave: I was given small plates with two types of pickled radishes,some cold potatoes, bean sprouts, and kimchi for free, along with sauces to dip them in. I ordered the fried dumplings ($6.99) as an appetizer, and I was torn between the sautéed chicken gizzard, ($12.99) the “spicy pork fee with dipping sauces,” ($15.99) and the spicy BBQ pork, but after Chango Cho told me that the spicy pork fee was “very, very spicy,” and the spicy BBQ pork was merely “very spicy” I decided to go with the spicy BBQ pork. ($13.99) The dumplings, which had some nicely spiced meat and vegetables inside and were pan fried to perfection, were excellent. Cho said that they were homemade unlike the frozen varieties you see in many Korean restaurants in Annandale. The spicy BBQ pork dish was massive. It contained a healthy portion of thinly sliced, lean pork with green and red peppers, onions, cabbage, spring onions, and some tasty, spongy little rice cakes. The pork had a nice kick but wasn’t outrageously spicy. But I found the sauce to be bland and the overall flavor, while good, wasn’t nearly as tasty as the spicy pork at Honey Pig.
Quality of Service
Lori: I don’t think our service was better because Diana is Korean, plus I made sure we spoke in English as well as Korean. My waitress was pleasant and even wished us the Korean equivalent of “bon appétit” but we couldn’t really communicate. I tried to ask her about Korean barbecue but I got nowhere.
Dave: I was the only non-Korean speaking diner and the staff approached my table fearfully, as though the idea of speaking English terrified them. They were quite nice but didn’t speak English, really at all. I saw that my table came equipped with a burner, so I asked for Korean BBQ. “No thank you,” my waitress said. When I asked why, she said, “no English, please wait.” Moments later she returned and said, “owner coming, 5 minutes please.” When Cho arrived, he explained that the burners weren’t ready to go yet, so there would be no BBQ for a few more weeks until their system is ready. He noted that when they move to the new location, they’ll have BBQ all the time. Since I was dining alone, Cho decided to sit with me, and it was quite odd to have him watching me as I ate my meal, but I chalked it up to a cultural difference. If Cho isn’t around, don’t expect to find English speaking staff.
Lori: 5 for both of us. The food was very good and the surroundings were attractive but this is not a traditional barbecue restaurant. The dishes to grill are under the heading of “casserole,” which is confusing, and feature such foods as goat, octopus and mackerel. Only some of the tables have grills, and no one was grilling when we there. Most of the items on the menu had English translations so a novice could be more adventurous, plus they offer some American-style dishes. But if you want to order an item that doesn’t provide a translation you’ll probably have a difficult time getting someone to explain it. As a non-Korean I felt welcome and would be comfortable eating here again without my Korean friend. Diana gave it a 4 and said she would eat there again.
Dave: 3. A fun cultural experience, complete with language barrier and everything but a trip through passport control. I might return, with an interpreter, but probably wouldn’t rush back. Next time, I’d probably go with the pig intestines.
So, readers, which restaurant do you think should win this round of Patch’s Korean Restaurant Battle: Seoul Soon Dae Restaurant or Honey Pig?