Category Archives: Korean

Seoul Food in Wheaton



It’s best, I think, when the restaurant makes the pun for me, so I don’t have to even try.Already operating as a Korean fusion food truck since 2011, Seoul Food opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Wheaton in June 2013, in the gas station on the SW corner of Georgia and University, where the Global African food place used to be.  Seoul Food is an upgrade over Global in all ways: food, service, decor.  Especially service, which was formerly indifferent; the Seoul Food folks are friendly and seem actually happy to be there.  They’re big on locally grown/sourced, organics, etc., all good.

The SF menu includes a bunch of “bowls” of meats (or tofu) and a few other items; the Wheaton location has more non-bowl options than the truck.  The Korean Superbowl is popular: “sticky rice topped with choice of meat or tofu, jalapeno and serrano relish, caramelized kimchi, scallion, queso fresco, cheddar, and Korean salsa roja” (says the menu).  I asked for max spicy and got it, the whole nose-running thing, a good sign.  But the kitchen sink approach to ingredients seems like overkill to me, there’s maybe too much going on, plus the caramelized kimchi is too sweet for my taste.  I would rather just have the spicy meat (excellent pork, in my case) over rice with some (regular not caramelized) kimchi on the side.  I’m not sure the cheese works, and I have rarely if ever been known to turn down cheese.  Having said all that, the flavors all popped, the ingredients were fresh, and I ate the whole thing (except for some cheese and kimchi).

Spicy Tuna Maki (also super)

Spicy Tuna Maki (also super)

Also tried the tuna maki rolls, which the proprietor rolled out as I watched at the counter.  The maki are an unmitigated success: lots of rich spicy tuna puree with slivers of pickled cucumber and arugula (or some other green) in a big rice and seaweed roll.  Almost as good as the one we had at the fabulous Seto Sushi in Richmond BC a few weeks ago, and bigger, for the same price.  Dy-no-mite.  Next time I will try the kimchi bacon omelet (!) and/or the quesadillas.

Seoul Food is on the leading edge of technology by restaurant standards. Their website is miles better than most restaurants websites, and in the store they use Square, which I had read about but never encountered.  The owner threw me for a loop when she asked if she could email my receipt to me.  Once my brain processed the question, I said sure, and it worked like a charm.  I guess it’s time to put Square on my phone.  Does everyone else already use Square all the time?  If I lived on H Street or U Street or something I would probably already know all about this, right?  Or certainly in San Francisco or Brooklyn. Has Huey Lewis’ prophecy come true, and it is now hip to be Square?

Well let’s not get crazy.  But Seoul Food is a welcome addition to the Wheaton food scene, and by the way is totally different from Woomi Garden, despite the fact that both are Korean-focused.  Both are worth a bite.

Woooooomi Re-re-revisited

Big group this time, eight people including a couple of kids, but Woomi Garden (2423 Hickerson) can house multiple big groups simultaneously thanks to their magic expandable fourth dimension interior. Which is good, because every time we go they are crowded.  Quality can be mixed, and Woomi probably isn’t in the same league with the famed Annandale Korean restaurant nexus (no matter how I try to convince myself otherwise), but it is still above average, certainly for Maryland.  And it is nice their menu is so diverse, including plenty of Japanese dishes, making it more likely that even the the least adventurous eater in a group can find an acceptable selection.

I tried a big bowl of soup this time, supposed to be spicy but wasn’t very; it was okay but not as good as the soups at the H Mart Mothership or (closer to home) Song Phat or Ren’s.  I forget which bowl it was, and the online menu is incomplete so I can’t identify it now. Dining companions also had overall positive but not excited reactions to various dishes; one of our pre-teen gastronauts pronounced the sushi good “but not nearly as good as Murasaki” — a high bar to be sure.  Woomi’s sushi is fine.  Panchan also fine.  The only real standout of the evening was the delicious, tender Gun Mandoo (dumplings).  We were at a barbecue table, the kind where you can cook your meat yourself — not all tables feature the bbq — and we should have taken advantage.  Next time.

Greater Boston Groceries

A recent long weekend in the Boston area revealed that the grass is sometimes indeed greener on the other side of the fens.* Specifically, the fruit and vegetable paradise known as Russo’s transcends anything I know of in greater DC.

* sorry.

Russo’s isn’t really all that big, but it seems huge, thanks in part to the rows of lovely fresh flowers, pumpkins (October!), and rows of apples and squash and potatoes in the outdoor courtyard.  Also, in part, due to the interior arrangement, where the dry goods are on shelves underneath the bins of produce, so you can see clear across the entire store.  And then there’s the quality: uniformly high.  Prices are generally low, though that can vary: five limes for a dollar is good (and especially at Russo’s high quality, I wonder who is their lime source?), these days, but green onions were crazy expensive, I think over a dollar a bunch.  Just for example. Overall, great selection and value.  They also have a bakery and limited deli, but no butcher or fishmonger.

After Russo’s, we visited the H Mart in Burlington, Mass., a bit north of Boston; I don’t think it is the H Mart mothership but it was huge, twice the size of the Wheaton H Mart, with similar stuff but even more of it.  And some stuff was different; I was particularly envious of all the sashimi-grade seafood on offer, like a dozen different kinds from salmon to tuna to scallops, etc.,  none of which is carried here.  Limes 4/$1 just like here, but marginally better quality — not like Russo’s, though.

The H Mart up there also has a glorious food court, with little shops selling dishes from Vietnam, Korea, Japan (one for sushi, one for ramen and other items), a couple of others; apparently the Indian counter closed recently.  We went for Korean (when in a Korean-owned store, eat as the Koreans eat?) at Woo Jeon (I had thought it was all H Mart-owned but maybe the storefronts are outside franchises like in a mall food court? Anyway, they all have names) and it was fantastic; I scorched my palate on a steaming bowl of spicy shrimp-and-tofu stew; my lunching companion enjoyed some great-looking bibimbap.  Big portions, served in nice stone bowls, and a decent value at around $10 per entree.  Not everyone thinks a big bowl of soup/stew/stuff is a good value at $10 or so, judging from some folks’ reaction to all the attention Ren’s has been getting for their $12 bowls of (awesome) ramen.  But I thought it was worth the price.

I wonder if the once and future Wheaton Safeway will carry sashimi-grade tuna? HAHAHAHAHAHA.

Turning Japanese at Woomi Garden

Normally we go to Moby Dick on Triangle Lane for Japanese, and to Woomi Garden (2423 Hickerson) for Korean.  But while MD’s menu has a couple of Korean options (MD is actually owned/run by a Korean family), WG’s menu has as many Japanese items as MD’s, beyond the pages of Korean delicacies.  And this time, with Senior Me in tow, we found ourselves at Woomi but with a Japanese cuisine craving.

Woomi’s Japanese food is good, though I think not as good as their excellent Korean food, and not as good as the best of Moby Dick.  My tonkatsu (pork cutlets) were voluminous — portions at Woomi are generally large — but overcooked.  Senior Me liked his shrimp/veggie tempura assortment, and having tasted a few pieces, I agree it was good, though not as good as the Moby Dick version, which I think has a less greasy, more delicate tempura batter; the WG version was more impressive for its presentation, with the shrimp arranged standing on tails around a tower of fried bean, carrot, onion, squash, and sweet potato, like the shrimp were saying grace before diving in to their meatless feast.  Perhaps to their surprise (?), they were the first to go…

Mrs. Me got some sushi and seemed to like it well enough, but was nonplussed and eventually quite irritated by the nearly 30 minute delay between the arrival of the (main course) tempura and the arrival of her sushi, a wait interpolated about halfway through by my tonkatsu.  We think the kitchen staff were trying to teach her a lesson, in retaliation for her attempt to order the 8-piece sushi assortment on the condition that she be allowed to pick which types of sushi were included.  Sushi chefs like to be dictators, not dictatees.  I understand their perspective, although it’s not like Mrs. Me was trying to order tuna belly or other high-end pieces; she just wanted salmon and regular tuna and yellowtail but no shrimp or scallop or urchin, that kind of thing.  Anyway, it pays to be docile when ordering? Especially since the sushi chef has sharp knives and you probably don’t.  This is why, if you’re the adventurous type, ordering omakase is always a good idea at a sushi joint: it makes the sushi chef feel in control, like the universe is as it should be, and when the sushi chef is happy, you’ll likely be happy too.  The opposite is also true.


I love having friends who are adventurous eaters, improving the experience at certain restaurants by allowing us to share lots of interesting dishes that the less adventurous might not be willing to try. We had such friends in tow at Woomi Garden (2423 Hickerson) the other night, and it paid off in stinky kimchi spades.  Woomi is always good but the Chef’s Korean Specials menu section is most rewarding (nothing wrong with their bibimbap or barbeque offerings, but nothing extraordinary either) — though we started, as usual, with the excellent gun mandoo, thin-walled fried dumplings stuffed with beef, pork, and vibrant greens, a little greasy but well above average. Seven or eight good panchan too, the fish cakes were in especially fine form.


Woomi? Yeah, you...

Then we branched out into several items I’d never tried at Woomi, including jap chae, clear noodles pan-fried with pork and vegetables, notably some tasty black mushrooms. I expected to like this less than the other dishes, but it was my favorite, great savory stuff.  The other dishes were also good, but I don’t remember their names and Woomi strangely puts only about half of its menu online so I can’t look them up.  One was spicy fried pork atop a mountain of kimchi and tofu (ratio unbalanced in favor of kimchi and disfavor of pork, but we liked it anyway). The other was supposed to be stirfried squid, but they brought stirfried octopus instead; Woomi is the kind of place where it really doesn’t matter, you accept the zen of whatever arrives at the table (we also ordered 12oz beers and were brought 22-ouncers instead; how could we argue with that kind of fate?).  The octopus was overcooked but edible and swimming in a delicious onion-laden red sauce.

So the service was friendly and efficient if a little off, but that’s typical at Woomi (especially for non-Koreans), at least the spicy dishes were actually spicy. One other odd development: many of Woomi’s prices have gone up, it looked like about $2 or so per entree, but instead of reprinting menus they have taken a black indelible marker to the old prices and written new prices in ballpoint pen above the old ones. A money-saver, but not exactly classy.  Still, overall, a fun exploration of previously unknown-to-me dishes.

Tuesday Woomi Matchbox Bitts

Wheaton Calling visits the Triangle and Little Bitts, yet another Wheaton food destination to which I have never been (in this case, baking supplies is really Mrs. Me’s department). Makes me think of this Alan Jackson classic.

Crash in the Kitchen goes to the new Rockville outpost of Matchbox.  Crash is psyched and so are we. And it’s a cliche by now but I still always think of REM.

What’s Up Wheaton recently hit Pashion and lived to tell the tale.  Unfortunate misspellings always lead me back to these guys.

Wheaton Patch eats Korean at Woomi Garden, which makes me think of nothing, really, other than our own recent visit to Woomi — review coming soon.

H Mart Kimchi

The latest Post food section features a store-bought kimchi taste test, and H Mart’s version is tops. I agree, H Mart’s kimchi is excellent, and they also have a variety of other pickled goodness — cucumbers, black beans, peppers, anchovies, you name it, they pickle it. A college friend and self-professed lover “of the stinkier foods” loved kimchi nearly more than life itself, but it is not for everyone.

Elsewhere in the H Mart prepared foods section, marinated beef and pork are big winners, and the fresh noodles (lo mein, etc.) are good. I’d stay away from the fried fish cakes, though, which are about the only thing in the entire store I categorically avoid (once bitten…).

Koh’s Bulgogi

Nice to have an affordable change-of-pace option for weekday lunch. Today: Korean from a cart. Koh’s Bulgogi cart hangs out at the corner of 9th and F (Portrait Gallery) during most of December, and I hit them up for beef bulgogi and soup. Koh’s frequently changing locations can be tracked here. The bulgogi is good, garlicky, a little dry, but sure beats hot dogs, the only other street food available for blocks around. Better is the side salad — cabbage, spinach, another leafy green or two along with cold noodles in sesame sauce — and the kimchi, which is cubed instead of the usual sliced variety, but packs decent heat and flavor despite less surface area to absorb the sauce. Koh’s also features bibimbop and “bulgogi tacos” which normally I would have been all over but a colleague warned me away, so instead I got today’s special, the fish cake soup, which was not bad, a semi-clear delicate broth with green onions, fish cake slices, and too-large chunks of onion. None of it is good enough for me to want to eat there repeatedly — it’s no Woomi, but then Woomi’s kitchen is a lot bigger than a 4×8 food cart — but I enjoyed it as something different for a change. Tough to find quick, inexpensive takeout at Metro Center that isn’t a chain or a hot dog. Hooray for diverse street food!  I also appreciate Koh’s commitment to environmental responsibility, which is secondary to the food, but a nice bonus.

Wooed (again) by Woomi

Returned with out-of-town friends last night to Woomi Gardens (2423 Hickerson, their website is well-designed IMO), another very good experience.  Less teeming on a Sunday than on Fridays or Saturdays, but still doing a nice business, with a clientele of maybe half Asians and half not. Koreans eating at a Korean restaurant (for example) is usually a good sign, and it is at Woomi. We’ve never had anything bad there, and some dishes are very good, especially anything spicy.

Panchan good as always, and we were informed that the thin beige chewy strips of something that we thought might be (a) fish, (b) tofu, or (c) noodle are in fact a combination of (a) and (b). Not as good as the kimchi but still tasty. They also do a nice miso soup. Squid in hot and spicy sauce was rubbery but the sauce was indeed fiery, pushing but not exceeding the limits of forehead sweat and capillary explosion. A lighter touch on the squid and they would have a gem. Beef negimaki is nice, maybe a bit oversauced. Bibimbap standard and good.  Sushi also solid.

Service is great at Woomi, extremely attentive and quick. They seem genuinely interested in our having an excellent experience.  Is this typical of Korean places, more so than other ethnic restaurants?  When I ordered the squid, our server made sure I understood that it would be spicy. Yes indeed! But good of her to make sure.

Also: Asahi.

“There aren’t enough plates on the table,” said Carl at the end, haha — you almost literally could not see the table beneath all the plates. Panchan! Woomi is a little pricier than Wheaton’s other ethnic restaurants, but is also better than most; we will continue to return.