This post is dedicated to Meixi Chen, whom I took her place to come here with her boyfriend. :D P.s. don’t get mad. :P
“Let’s go to Honey Pig!” DP was so excited when he realized that we will need to grab dinner somewhere near Dulles International airport. That was first thing it came to his mind, but I was totally fine because it is a Korean BBQ restaurant. I hadn’t have any Korean cuisine for a while now, something that is lacking severely in Newark, DE or even northern Delaware in general. DP might had been really excited, he tried to downplay my expectations because I thought his recommendation to Daikaya was only okay (In my defense of all defenses, I’m not a fan of Ramen; I love Udon). He really like Daikaya.
Days gone by quickly and today is the day we are heading towards DC. There were some heavy traffic on the expressways and to be safe we tried to reserve a table, only to be turned down as that’s a service for large party of people. We headed there anyways, and found that there are (more than) two Honey Pigs, located on both sides of I-495. The original shop is located at an exit near Annadale (Koreantown), which was closer to where we were and that’s how we ended up there. We have no doubt the original should taste better, I doubt it made any difference. This is not the kind of restaurant where you have a head chef yelling down your throat; it is closer to a stand on the side of a street where you grab some booze and beer food. It seems like they are open 24/7, according to Yelp, which we both thought that must be some kind of an error. It turns out that they are indeed open 24/7. So, there is no excuse not to come here! Amid the hundreds of Korean neon signs, there is no way you would just stumble upon this hidden gem, which has a storefront that doesn’t even face the main street. It speaks volume considering they are doing well in such awkward location.
Fortunately for us, it was a Thursday night and there weren’t many people at the pretty large size restaurant. I have never been to Seoul, but this place is what I imagine how Korea would look like. There are K-pop posters everywhere on the wall along the corridor leading into the restaurant, and almost everyone here is a Korean, speaks Korean or at least dresses like one. We sat at a standard size booth with a very cleanly scrub iron plate place in the center. The server was eagerly waiting for us to order once we took our seats. Even though there were many choices, it wasn’t hard to choose – Spicy Pork Belly (Samgyeopsal) and beef short ribs (Galbi). Unlike many other Korean restaurants, we were given only 4 side dishes. These are mostly vegetables and I don’t know their names, though they all tasted pretty good.
First up, Galbi. The rule is to cook beef before chicken and pork as to not cross contaminant the meats. This is something to do with bacteria ridden chicken/pork and beef are usually not cooked well done. I have never visited an authentic Korean restaurant, so it was pretty weird to have an oma standing over me cooking on the grill while I waited patiently for her to finish. I didn’t even eat or speak because I was told that way when I was younger. I’m pretty sure that’s not the normal etiquette, but the good news is she was pretty quick, cutting up the cooked meat and cooking some beansprout-kimchi dish on the side. Not before long, I have the first bite of the oh-jesus-it-is-really-tender slice of Galbi. I grinned really widely and DP started laughing at me. His confidence of recommending food to me probably just went sky-high. To be fair, it was divine – so great that I ate whatever the oma put on my plate. That also include the weird beansprout kimchi dish and it wasn’t half bad.
Once we cleared the beef off the iron plate, our oma began to put the pork belly on the grill. The pork belly took much longer to cook, but we were busy cleaning up the mountain load of Galbi. Overall, the spicy pork belly was yummy, but I’m a sucker for Galbi so it just wasn’t as fantastic as before. It isn’t too spicy, if anyone was wondering. If I learn anything about Korean BBQ, this is it – always get Galbi and Samgyeopsal. Those are probably the best among all the other meats/cuts. DP did mention that prime rib here is great there but we forgot to get it. We clear the plate of pork belly, but it wasn’t enough. It made no sense going home half hungry if we had driven 3 hours to a Korean restaurant, so we got Bulgolgi after that.
Remember the rule for mixing meats? They changed the iron plate and DP felt bad for them. I thought that they would just scrubbed clean of the surface but I guess these people are more professional. The restaurant is not the crappy looking wooden shack on the side of the road, but fancier version with shiny aluminum hoods over all the grills. I joked with DP that I need a hood like that for my research setup, and the Oma laughed. Soon, she restarted the fire and began to sear the Bulgolgi while refilling our sides and rice bowls. There is a fridge like appliance next to us holding dozens bowls of rice to keep them warm. It seems like everything here is prepared in advance and ready to serve, which makes everything so quick and efficient.
I was only checking my camera for a couple of seconds and the beef was ready. Even though I swear my allegiances to Galbi, I would eat Bulgolgi everyday if needs be. Galbi is more of a luxury while Bulgolgi is for everyday uses. I know my Bulgolgi pretty well, so it came as a surprise that their Bulgolgi taste pretty different. It is seasoned with black pepper and there are no sign of onions that are usually marinated with this cut. Again, the meat was tender but I felt that the black pepper overpowered the onion taste, if any. I definitely prefer the oniony original recipe over this slightly spiced version.
Warning: This place isn’t cheap. Galbi is known to be expensive, and even with that taken into consideration, this is not a place you drop by every day to grab lunch at. Unlike many Korean bbq buffets, the Honey pig is a-la-carte restaurant that serve quality meat (just stare at the marble!) with an awesome service. To me, quality trumps quantity when it comes to food. Their serving sizes are not small, but they are not very large in portion either. Both of us managed to finish 3 meats and we both had something just couple of hours before dinner. However, we will be coming back. We still hadn’t tried the prime rib yet!
Address: 7220-C Columbia National Pike, Annandale, VA 22003
Visited: December 11th, 2014. Dinner at 7pm.