The sounds of sputtering grill tops, clattering utensils, and lively conversation fill the dining room at Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean Grill, earning it praise from the Washington Post in 2010 as "one of the most entertaining barbecues around." The menu brims with both familiar and adventurous meats, including pork belly, beef ribs, and pork neck. Diners select a protein-rich spread and watch as the servers sear their orders on solar-heated tableside grills. Although most of the menus revolve around grilled selections, some also feature stews and octopus- or squid-laden servings of chul pan, which Washingtonian magazine called "Korea's answer to Spain's paella." Three of the locations in Ellicott City, Centreville, and Annandale remain open 24 hours a day, six days a week, catering to the late-night crowds.
Fried softshell crab, grilled squid, and Rod Stewart’s greatest hits. At Honey Pig Izakaya, guests might experience all three as they dig into Asian specialties and listen to fellow diners sing their hearts out on a karaoke stage. Founded by the owners of Honey Pig Korean BBQ, Honey Pig Izakaya continues the culinary traditions of its sister restaurant with raw, fried, and grilled seafood dishes stuffed into a menu of authentic Japanese and Korean cuisine. Guess can sip sakes and savor tapas, hearty entrees, and sushi rolls at tables, bar tops, or inside one of eight private karaoke rooms, which can accommodate small parties or large groups of Elvis impersonators.
At Suldoga, the chefs create a menu of Korean cuisine, including hot-pot meals such as veggie bibimbap, cold buckwheat-noodle dishes, and casserole-style dishes for two. Both vegan and meatier options are available. Suldoga’s full bar, backlit with magenta and blue lights, washes off spice-covered tongues with cool libations.
At Palace Korean BBQ, diners watch as meats sizzle atop tableside barbecue pits, flanked by a colorful mélange of marinated vegetables, rice, and Korean condiments. In addition to Korean barbecue, kim-chi, and bi bim bop dishes, Palace’s expert chefs chop fresh ingredients and simmer them in teriyaki sauce or roll them into fresh sushi and sashimi. Their sharable Japanese shabu-shabu dishes also warm empty bellies.
Decorated with minimalistic earth tones, Asian masks, and dark wooden tables and chairs, the dining room fuses traditional and contemporary elements better than a supercomputer glued to a horse-drawn carriage. Throughout the eatery, bamboo stalks spring up from square pots, glowing in the same neon lights that illuminate the fully-stocked bar.
Though rooted in Korean culinary traditions, the dishes at Red Holic might feel familiar even to those foreign to that gustatory language. Seven types of kimbap—a translation of the maki roll—enfold everything from spicy squid to Spam within a soft blanket of white rice and sweetened radish. Similar to blood sausage, soondae encases noodles and veggies within pig intestine, toppoki dishes pair rice cake with egg or dumplings, and Holic meals frame sautéed beef or Korean-style pork as the centerpiece. As if the flavor profiles and colorful ingredient weren’t enough to entice the senses, Red Holic stays true to its name, surrounding guests in a crimson wonderland speckled with white-topped tables and solid black chairs. To fill the wall space, reliefs feature domestic themes, including clotheslines laden with pins and a watering can hanging over flowers, constantly suspended by the cooks’ telekinesis.
Korean specialties such as barbecue short ribs, kimchi, and—of course—tofu soup fill the menu at this casual restaurant with outposts in Annandale and Centreville. Among the chefs' crowning offerings are steaming bowls of bi bim bap that cradle bulgogi (Korean-style marinated beef) as well as heaps of bean sprouts, corn, and fried egg. Depending on personal tastes, the spice levels of each dish can be custom calibrated from ultra-mild “white” to three-alarm “spicy spicy.” But not all dishes served here come to the table piping hot, including the cool naegn myun soup, a refreshing summer dish loaded with buckwheat noodles, slices of beef, and hints of Noreaster.