Woo Lae Oak: A Taste of Korean BBQ in DC's Suburbs
Woo Me with Korean BBQ
KOREAN BBQ! One of my favorite interactive eating experiences of all time. Forget Melting Pot - go to Korean BBQ for the real experience and your life will be changed forever. Woo Lae Oak in Tyson's is one of THE most authentic and longest running family owned Korean BBQ restaurants in the area. Starting in Seoul in 1946, this family owned chain made it's way to DC's suburbs in 2006, following restaurants in LA, NYC and Indonesia.
I was treated to an authentic Korean meal, complete with Korean cocktails, side dishes, bibimbop and BBQ. Follow along as I take you through a foodie photo tour of must order Korean dishes from Woo Lae Oak.
First stop: Korean beer and hot sake to work up our appetites.
Apps & Sides
First up was the traditional BinDaiDdeok pancake. A hearty mungbean pancake is mixed with shredded pork, bean sprouts, and kimchi; and then pan fried until crispy. The ground mungbean gave the illusion of a comforting potato pancake, and the house-made kimchi added some funk and depth to the appetizer. These crispy delights are served piping hot and stuffed with pork - it was hard not to gobble down more than one.
The institution that is Korean side dishes is probably one of my favorite culinary traditions that I've experienced. There are always so many options of different vegetable concoctions, and the every popular Korean potato salad. From fresh kimchi, to aged kimchi (both out of this world and made every day), sesame kale, pickled daikon, spicy cucumbers and more, the side dishes could be a meal on their own! It's so fun to have something to constantly nibble at throughout the meal.
I'm not sure what was in this salad, but it was crunchy, bright, fresh and delicious. With a sesame-miso dressing it was a delightful break from meat and pickled veggies. I think I ate 75% of it by myself.
The Main Event
It's time to set meat on fire. We tried the traditional BulGoGi (thin sliced boneless rib eye steak), and the HyeoMit (tender beef tongue). The meats are marinated in the sweet and spicy marinade that Bulgogi is known for, and then sliced razor thin so it cooks up in minutes, while staying tender and flavorful. The beef tongue is so thin that it creates almost a crispy crust on the outside, which is completely addicting. Try the beef tongue and stop being a pussy.
To accompany the mouth-watering meat selection are fresh vegetables that are charred with tons of whole garlic cloves, which are not only roasted and nutty, but also act as a fun game to try and pick up with your chopsticks. Fun for the whole family!
Noods & Baps
Have you ever been to a Korean restaurant, where they are wary of Americans' skills at eating their super thin noodles so they cut them with scissors for you? Well to me, I consider the noodles a challenge, and immediately regretted not having them cut, haha. Talk about a choking hazard! Anyway - the noodle dishes are UNREAL at Woo Lae Oak. So different from any other noodle bowls you'll get at Thai, Ramen, or Japanese restaurants.
First we tried the NaengMyeon, fresh handmade buckwheat noodles with slices of beef, Korean pear, cucumber, radish, and cabbage served in a cold broth. It comes topped with an egg and is SO refreshing. I never thought that I would consider a noodle bowl refreshing, but the cold, crisp vegetables and pear were light and elegantwith plenty of noodles for toothsome satisfaction.
We also tried the spicy version of the cold noodle dish, BiBim NaengMyeon, which is the same dish but served in hot chili sauce. I'm all about that kick!
And then there was the Bibimbap. The absolute BEST hangover cure for any level of hangover. My mouth is watering just thinking about this masterpiece of a dish. This classic Korean dish is a mixture of steamed rice, assorted vegetables (shiitakes, carrots, zucchini, bean sprouts, etc.), fried egg, and your choice of meat. It comes to the table in a piping hot stone pot, which creates a beautiful crust of crispy rice on the bottom. The best way to eat this dish is to pour on some gochujang (Korean hot sauce), and mix it all up completely so that the egg yolk creates an unctuous sauce and you get a bite of everything, including the crispy rice, in one bite! Completely craveable.
Some final thoughts. Get the Lychee cocktail. I don't know what's in it but it's slightly sweet and refreshing, a perfect end to the meal.
Some not-so-Korean desserts include build your own S'mores over the BBQ, and the flaming monkey - a banana ice cream dessert that is set on fire and eaten in seconds. Both are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
And finally, the cinnamon punch with toasted pine nuts. WHAT IS THIS DRINK FROM THE GODS?! I don't know why this hasn't become the new horchata, but it is fire, ya'll. I'm tempted to say I would come back solely for this, but then I remember the meat and bibimbap. The punch is cold, slightly spicy, and rich from the subtle infusion of the toasted pine nuts. It's freakin' delish.
So, don't hesitate to take a trip outside the District to the magical land of Woo Lae Oak. You'll be spoiled and satisfied with so many traditional Korean dishes to choose from. I can't wait to go back.