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Restaurant Review: Yechon or Woo Lae Oak?

January 18, 2013

The past couple of months AAM and I have been exploring Asian restaurants in the Falls Church area. As I previously mentioned, one of the perks of moving to our neighborhood is that we live between two of the largest Vietnamese and Korean communities on the East Coast. This means that beyond the typical cuisine offered at locally owned gastropubs and Italian trattorias, we have an endless list of new dishes to try.

Traditional Korean food is not precisely vegetarian friendly. One only has to look at the peninsula’s location on a map to understand that the cuisine leans heavily on beef, fish, and pickled vegetables, which often are pickled with fish juices. So, AAM and I decided to try one restaurant often recommended as authentic, Yechon, and another that is a bit more fancy and commercial, but also veg-friendly, Wae Lae Oak. Although each deserves their own review, I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose the two, since they have different strengths. For readers looking to explore Korean food, they can decide which is more important to them: authentic experience or vegetarian menu items.

Yechon

4121 Hummer Rd, Annandale, VA 22003  | +(703) 914-4646

  • Veg Friendly: Not very. You will have to really search the menu or ask for a dish without the fish.
  • Menu: Traditional Korean. Many, many options
  • Cuisine: Casual family of meal with friends.
  • Service:  Fast

Yechon is a restaurant located in the middle of the Korean-American community in Annandale. It is often the most recommended restaurant for those who want to try Korean and understand the experience. Known for being a good restaurant equally for families and the late night crowd, this is a power house restaurant that rocks out meals until dawn– which makes it a fixture in local media such as PBS specials and Washingtonian. We visited Yechon on a Saturday night, but followed the advice on Yelp to go early, since the wait can be an hour or more on the weekend. People in the DC travel from all areas to visit Yechon. A crowded restaurant, buzzing with activity and a waft with the scents of delicious food, you can only get energized when you walk through the door. In a relatively small space for the number of people who rotate through, Yechon is the type of restaurant where you may become familiar with your neighbor, but it is an expected part of the experience. It is not the place for a romantic dinner, but a friendly and relaxed meal. Additionally, the service is very, very fast, but also abrupt. This is not a place where you will get to know the waitstaff, however, you will get your dining needs met in an efficient manner.

Looking through the menu, we realized the list is a challenge for vegetarians. We ordered three classics: a Korean pancake-called a pajeon, a noodle dish- Japchae, and the classic Bibimbap. Even though we asked for it without fish, the pajeon came with fish. Poor AAM had to attack it himself, and it was the size of a large pizza. This is definitely a dish for pescetarians to share. The japchae was pretty good, and I would order it again. The bibimbap was delicious and we both enjoyed it. The best part of Yechon is the number of banchan (side dishes) they place on your table, nearly ten. We nicknamed it Korean Thanksgiving, as there were so many tastes on the side that you almost want to make it a man meal. If you visit Yechon, keep in mind portions. They are used to serving families and groups, so 4 people could have easily eaten the amount we ordered. I recommend Yechon if you want a good experience in Annandale, especially for a group that might have a variety of types of eaters. However, if you are a strict vegetarian, this might not be the Korean food experience for you. The entire dinner was an experience that engaged all senses, and worth a visit at least once.

Woo Lae Oak

8240 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA 22182  | +(703) 827-7300

IMG_7031

Woo Lae Oak’s Dolsot Bibimbap

  • Veg Friendly: Pretty veg friendly.
  • Menu: Korean
  • Cuisine: More formal restaurant, perfect for dates or celebration dinners in groups
  • Service:  Efficient

I originally noticed Woo Lae Oak when I first graduated college and moved to Arlington. Sandwiched between a few apartment buildings in Pentagon City, it had an odd location, which made it a common conversation piece amongst friends who lived in the area. Was it good? Why was it in the middle of an apartment building parking lot? As soon as I gathered motivation to visit, it closed and moved out to Tyson’s. Back then, Tyson’s Corner felt like going to the Ozarks. However, now that we live in Falls Church, a trip to Tyson’s is pretty regular. Woo Lae Oak’s new location is still a bit strange though, right on busy Leesburg Pike amongst investment banks and law firms, with a creepy garage above it. However, the new location gives Woo Lae Oak more room to become a fine dining venue with larger rooms for families to enjoy celebrations.  The interior of Woo Lae Oak includes romantic lighting, large tables, and thoughtful modern decor. It is just the place that you might want to look nice, but not necessarily need to dress up for. We felt comfortable the minute we sat in our large booth.

We decided to try similar dishes that we enjoyed at Yechon, to compare the quality, as well as figure out if my own bibimbap is good. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about a vegetarian menu. There were about a dozen main course dishes on the vegetarian menu, making this an ideal restaurant for veg groups. We ordered a Cass beer and took a gander. This time, we ordered Dolsot Bibimbap, Vegetable BBQ, and a Vegetarian Pajeon. Yet again, the waitress brought us a pajeon with fish, despite the menu saying a vegetarian version is possible. Either Korean waitresses consider pescetarians vegetarians, or one needs to be clear when they order the pajeon by saying “No fish.” This has only influenced my decision for me to learn how to make it myself!  The vegetarian bbq was good, with a pretty diverse array of vegetables to cook at your table BBQ. We also enjoyed the bibimbap, and eating it made me happy that my own recipe is pretty close to the real deal. The banchan at Woo Lae Oak is much more manageable, with about 4 or 5 tastings. We were able to join just enough bean sprouts and cooked greens with the kimchi that we felt we had yummy bites, without being overloaded. The food was delicious. Although many might look at Woo Lae Oak as maybe more commercial, especially since it is now a chain, we really loved our dinner there. We could see ourselves going back with family, friends, and even maybe more date nights.

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