Name of restaurant: Nae Go Hyang. Korean translation: "My home town."
Concept: A down-home Korean joint in a K-Town strip mall, Nae Go Hyang is known for its handmade whole wheat noodles and dumplings. The restaurant has been open for about 14 years, but owner Brant Kim took over about 2-1/2 years ago.
What dish represents the restaurant, and why? They tout their haemul kalgooksu, hand-cut noodles with seafood, so much that it says so in Korean right on their sign. And yes, this is rustic and generous — but one of the best dishes is their kong gooksu. The chunky whole wheat noodles are swimming in a chilled soybean broth speckled with ground black sesame seeds. Toss a little bit of the sea salt into the dish and the nutty flavor comes alive. It’s a subtle but refreshing dish, great for either hot or cold days.
Runner-ups: The kimchi sujebi, a humble looking soup made with handmade dough flakes, is also made with whole wheat and just enough ripe kimchi to add spice and tanginess. And if you're still hungry — and in the mood to share, get the buchu mandu (dumplings). They come steamed, with the almost translucent skins stuffed green with leeks.
Who's at the next table: A Korean mom tries to get her picky son to eat some kimchi while his little sister quietly slurps her bowl of noodles, with no complaints.
Appropriate for: A casual lunch or dinner. Even your health-conscious friends will love it.
Uh-oh: Some of the menu items are only listed in Korean on their wall, but don’t be afraid to ask. Avoid the soba dishes, which are bland and uninteresting.
Service: Can be slow during busy lunch and dinner times. The ajummas (middle-aged women) do their best to keep the customers happy. The printed menus are in English, and the waitresses speak English fine. Lucky for you, the 2 banchan of baechu (Napa cabbage) kimchi and moo muchim (seasoned shredded daikon) arrive at your table in large earthenware, so you can help yourself.
What are you drinking: Pass around bottles of makgeolli (Korea’s unfiltered rice wine) or baekseju (100-year soju), another fermented rice alcohol with an earthy, husky taste. Baekeseju contains ginseng, arrowroot, licorice and other herbs and roots — and is said to help you live to be 100 years old, which is the reason it has that name. (No, it's not aged for a century. Sorry.)