In an unassuming little white building on Richmond Highway, behind a custom-crafted wooden door, lies a charming and welcoming Korean restaurant run by sisters SunYong and Lisa Pang. The three-year-old restaurant has a comfortable feel, as though you are visiting a friend's house for dinner. The interior was designed by an artist friend to emulate the style of the Korean countryside. If you are fortunate enough to visit more than once, it is quite possible that you will be greeted as a family member on your second visit. Each time we visited, it seemed that every group that entered were regulars.
We saw several families dining at Kimchi House, and the staff seem partcularly fond of children, especially babies. If you come with an infant, don't be surprised if a kindly Korean lady carries your baby around the restaurant for the duration of your meal.
If the charming staff is not enough to bring you back for more,the food will surely do the trick. The owners describe it as home-style Korean cooking, and it is clear the family recipes are prepared with love and care. The meal begins, as in most Korean restaurants, with the arrival of several plates of banchan - a variety of vegetable dishes, some spicy, some pickled, all delicious. Don't skip the fried dumplings, lightly pan-fried bundles of spiced pork in a delicate wrapper. My children could make a meal of these. The bulgogi, Korea's famous marinated beef, is a favorite here, as is the spicy pork, jae yuk bok um. Both feature very flavorful and tender meat, accompanied by bowls of steaming rice. Sometimes the waitress will bring out a plate of lettuce and show you how to make a roll with a bit of rice and a bit of meat.
The sisters say that many of the customers come from Fort Belvoir, since many servicemembers have been stationed in Korea and became enamored of the food there. Sun Yong says that she often makes items that are not on the menu for people who miss a certain dish they tried in Korea.
Kimchi House offers a selection of soups and stews, with deeply flavorful broths that will be welcome in the cold weather months. (And, as chef Sun Yong says, they are very good for you if you are getting a cold.) Bi Bim bap, a bowl of rice, vegetables and meat topped with a fried egg, is something you will find on every menu in Korea, and for good reason. The combination, mixed with a bit of hot pepper sauce, is the ultimate comfort dish. Vegetarians might find the meatless version of this to be their best bet here, as even the tofu stew seems to be based on a beef broth.
There is no dessert menu at Kimchi House; the meal usually ends with a plate of orange wedges or other fruit, or a yogurt drink for kids. When asked about Korean sweets, the owner said "Desserts are fattening!" and laughed.
"It's not good for you!"
Just like mom.
(If you still feel the need for something sweet after dinner, you might ask for an iced coffee — not on the menu, but if available, delivered milky and sweet. Or head across the street to Johnny Mac's for a soft-serve custard.)
KimChi House, at 8537 Richmond Highway, is open daily from 10:30am to 10:30pm.