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Tastes of Korea Enliven a Centreville Mini-Mall

By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, June 29, 2006

Annandale has long been the epicenter for Korean food in Fairfax County, but now Centreville is gaining a Korean center, in the Old Centreville Crossing Shopping Center at Braddock Road and Route 29.

The anchor retailer for the shopping center is Grand Plaza, a mini-mall that caters to the area's large Korean population. Several Korean restaurants have opened in the past year, including the third U.S. location of Korea's premier fast-food fried chicken chain.

Cheogajip Chicken, which translates as mother-in-law's chicken, opened in March; the Korean behemoth has more than 1,200 outlets in Korea. Sang Moon, who owns the U.S. franchise, said that because the name might be difficult for non-Koreans to pronounce -- a good approximation is cho-ga-jeep -- he is trying to decide on a simpler name.

The first Virginia outlet opened in October in Annandale, where the store has drive-through service. The other U.S. location is in Flushing, N.Y.

Moon said that Cheogajip uses only fresh chickens, which are delivered daily, and that each chicken is cooked to order.

"We don't precook anything," he said.

The chicken is deep-fried under pressure and is ready about 15 minutes after it's ordered (usually by telephone). At Cheogajip, customers must order a whole chicken rather than pieces. Other than the drumstick, you won't recognize the pieces: Each chicken is cut into 14 to 16 of them.

Chickens are available plain, with hot or mild sauce (similar to hot wings) or herb fried with garlic and lemon sauce. Moon said Koreans prefer the pickled radish that comes with the chicken.

"Most Koreans ask for extra radish, but Americans find it too sour," he said.

For U.S. palates, there is coleslaw. Moon plans to add other side dishes and soon will offer smoked and barbecued chicken as well.

The chicken has a thin, crisp batter and is tender and juicy -- not greasy. I thought my plain chicken needed more salt (it came with a small container of salt and pepper); the spicy chicken was a good match for any Buffalo wing preparations.

For a more traditional Korean meal, Tae Hwa Won Restaurant next door has an extensive menu of Korean-Chinese favorites, and Hahmji Bahk BBQ, at the opposite end of the sprawling shopping center, specializes in Korean barbecue.

Ted Park, owner of Tae Hwa Won, formerly owned a restaurant of the same name in Annandale, which he sold. He opened the Centreville restaurant in October.

Tae Hwa Won's menu lists dozens of Chinese specialties and includes the more regionalized Chinese-Korean noodle dishes, such as cha chiang mein (also called jja jang myun ). These fresh noodles are served in a black bean sauce and sprinkled with bits of roast pork and red onion. The version I had for lunch was excellent, with soft, slightly chewy noodles and a vibrant sauce that was never cloying. The noodle dish, which seemed to be the favorite of noontime diners, was served with kimchi and bits of raw onion.

The restaurant is tidy, if spare, and two large televisions were tuned to Korean broadcasts. At lunch, the place was packed, and a fellow diner helped me pick my way through the somewhat unfamiliar menu.

Hahmji Bahk BBQ opened in September and has the look of a steakhouse, with lots of wood, but in this case several of the tables have the familiar large exhaust fans overhead. Hahmji Bahk specializes in barbecue, cooked on a grill in the middle of the table. Sam Yoo is the chef of this family-owned restaurant.

Barbecue choices include not only beef short ribs but also rib-eye, pork ribs and pork belly. In each case, the meat is cut into thin strips that cook quickly. Pork ribs are available plain or marinated in Korean hot sauce.

The menu includes several dozen Korean specialties, such as fried dumplings -- which were particularly tender and savory -- and seafood pancake. There are also numerous luncheon specials, all costing less than $10.

A large flat-screen television dominates the back of the restaurant and will be tuned to Korean broadcasts of World Cup games for the rest of the competition.

Cheogajip Chicken 12814-C Braddock Rd., Centreville, 703-815-8744; 4300 Evergreen Lane No. 102, Annandale, 703-941-1506. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. Whole chicken, $12.99-$14.99.

Tae Hwa Won Restaurant 13814-B Braddock Rd., Centreville, 793-266-4785. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily. Appetizers, $4.50-$7.95; main dishes at lunch, $6.50-$12.95; main dishes at dinner, $7.95-$16.85.

Hahmji Bahk BBQ13814-C Braddock Rd., Centreville 703-266-6681. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-midnight Sundays-Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Main dishes at lunch, $6.95-$9.95; main dishes at dinner, $9.95-$26.95.

All three restaurants are accessible to people with disabilities.

If you have a favorite restaurant that you think deserves attention, please contact Nancy Lewis atlewisn@washpost.com.

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