One of my friends just got home from his deployment where he was stuck on a boat for 6 months in the Pacific Ocean. Boat food isn’t the most appetizing or the most plentiful from what I understand, so the plan right now is to feed him as much as humanly possible in order to get his weight back up. Which means of course we are opting for some good all-you-can-eat options. And these days, when I think all-you-can-eat I think Korean barbecue.
I’m lucky in that some really, truely great Korean barbecue is a short drive away in Annadale, Virginia – a town with a large Korean population. You know you’re getting close to some good food when the signs are written in both English and Korean.
Kogiya sits at the junction of five streets in Annandale. You might accidentally drive past it if you’re not careful since the building is unassuming and the parking lot is miniscule. But behind the bland exterior sits some seriously good noms. They don’t take reservations so its best to call ahead and get your party’s name on the list, or else you may be in for a bit of a wait.
Upon entering you’ll see the expected grills set into stainless steel tables with large hoods above. Each table is basically a mini kitchen after all. Chopsticks and spoons are stored in drawers set into the table so once seated you can immediately get started on the banchan (side dishes). If you’re fortunate you’ll get a seat near the TV, which is always playing K-Pop.
Banchan are one of my favorite parts of Korean barbecue. These small, mostly fermented vegetable dishes are perfect as an appetizer and for cleansing the palate between bites of meat. The selection is diverse, which is helpful when you are in a group with a variety of tastes. I always go for the Lemon Wasabi Daikon and the Beansprouts. They’re also bottomless, always a plus in my book!
Kogiya also has a selection of beverages to whet your palate. If you’re like me you’ll go for their sweet iced coffee. I always need some caffeine to combat the post meal food coma.
When it comes to the barbecue portion there are a few ways to slice and dice it. This time we opted for the All You Can Eat Option A for a cool $23 per person. This allowed us a lot of flexibility in picking out our meats. In the end we got the chadol bakgi (fatty brisket), jang sam kyup sal (spicy pork belly), and my personal favorite – miso sam kyup sal (miso pork belly). The meal also comes with white rice, a steamed egg dish, and red pepper soup.
The entire meal is basically an umami bomb, which is why the banchan are so crucial. The meats are so rich and flavorful that one would not be able to eat much of it alone. The spicy and acidic side dishes help to cut the fat, similar to how eating a pickle after sugar on snow allows you to eat more of the maple sugar (I swear this is a thing). Pro tip: don’t eat anything else on the day you plan to visit Kogiya, your body will thank you later.
In my humble opinion Kogiya is one of the best places to spend a cold and rainy day with friends. Sitting in front of a flame grill while your meal cooks, nibbling banchan and chatting with close friends is one of the most comforting feelings. Sharing a communal meal in front of a fire is a cultural phenomenon going back millennia. That we still have places where we can come together and share that experience is a happy thought. In that sense, the food is almost secondary, but not quite.