Upon discovering our friend Andrea lived in the heart of Maryland’s Koreatown but hadn’t eaten at any of its restaurants, our mission became clear. Andrea, my husband Joe, and I dedicated a day to sampling a few of the Korean restaurants near her home.
We began our day at Shin Chon Garden, where we learned that traditional Korean dining focuses on communal meals. Our rice and proteins of choice were accompanied by several small, shareable dishes of vegetables, meats, and seafood called banchan. Andrea ordered Bul Gogi, a finely sliced and marinated beef that came out of the kitchen hot, while Joe’s Saeng Samgyup Sal (pork belly) and my shrimp BBQ were cooked for us right at the table on a small turtle-shaped grill. We then mixed and matched our proteins and banchan, adding them to rice or wrapping them in lettuce.
Some of the more unique items we tried were pickled radish, mungbean gel, and kimchi spinach. Our waitress was kind enough to identify everything for us. Along with the Gun Mandoo dumplings we ordered, we were delightfully stuffed after our meal.
We walked around Lotte Plaza Shopping Center, which Shin Chon Gardens shares with a variety of other Korean-owned establishments. Thanks to its excellent educational system, Howard County’s Ellicott City has become a desirable spot for Koreans to call home. An abundance of Korean-owned restaurants and businesses have sprung up along Route 40 in Ellicott City, leading Governor Larry Hogan to proclaim the area Koreatown in 2021.
On the other side of the Lotte Plaza parking lot, we found Korean bakery La Boulangerie. Inside, we were greeted by a host of delectable baked goods all made in-house and free of preservatives. Joe and Andrea got red bean pastries while I selected a cinnamon bun. Although we could have eaten our treats at one of their cafe tables with a cup of coffee, we decided we would save them until we were a little hungrier.
As we headed to our car, we noticed bb.q Chicken in Lotte Plaza also had a cocktail menu. Drinks seemed like a good idea, so we headed in. This casual spot had K-pop music videos playing on several TVs, and we ordered fruity cocktails made with soju, a Korean alcohol. The strawberry version was our favorite—it tasted like fresh berries had been mixed right into the drink.
Although we couldn’t eat anymore, I wanted to have authentic Korean chicken, so we ordered a half-chicken (8 pieces) coated with Honey Garlic to take home.
Fast-forward to my lunch the next day, and the chicken’s coating had remained crispy and the meat moist. It was clear why bb.q Chicken had been doing such a robust carry-out business.
Ellicott City’s H Mart, where we spent some time perusing the aisles, has a dedicated Ktown section with ready-to-eat meals. People who don’t already have a bag of Korean chicken in their cars could select takoyaki, tteokbokki, steamed Korean sausage, mugwort roll cake, and a variety of other specialty foods and desserts.
We sampled kimchi that was being made right in the store, as well as pulmuone spicy topokki and sweet cream-covered biscuit sticks called Pocky from tables set up around the store.
You would think we’d be finished with our food adventure at this point, but no. Andrea wanted to visit Tous les Jours, another Korean-owned bakery. I’m so glad we went along!
Along with the traditional cakes and pastries you would expect to find, they also had Asian-inspired treats like mochi pancakes, red bean donuts, and kimchi croquettes. We added some sweets to our to-go bag and officially called it a day.
Two weeks later, Joe and I were in Ellicott City for a party and decided to hit Koreatown a second time. For dinner, we chose HanJoongKwan, which specializes in Korean-Chinese fusion.
This restaurant had a friendly family vibe, and the service was incredibly fast. My Ja Jang Myun, noodles with onion and pork in a black bean sauce, and Joe’s Beef Brisket Jam Bong were both delicious comfort foods that warmed our souls.
For dessert, we headed right next door to Tiger Sugar, which specializes in bubble tea. While I went relatively simple, ordering Black Tea and Brown Sugar with Boba, Joe chose Brown Sugar Red Bean, complete with Tiger Sugar’s signature syrup “tiger stripes” down the sides of the clear cup.
One of the great things about Maryland’s Koreatown is the wide variety of restaurants available. We could easily do another day of Korean-cuisine (or two or three) and never eat at the same place twice. Lucky for us, Andrea is game!
About the Author
Heidi Glatfelter Schlag is a marketer, history lover, and traveler who can often be found exploring museums, parks, small towns, and farms. She founded Culture-Link Communications, where she helps local nonprofits and small businesses build their brands. Heidi lives in Frederick, MD, with her husband and two dogs.