Myung Dong has always been a simple restaurant. For 18 years, it was in a jumbled little shopping center at Baltimore Avenue (Route 1) and Powder Mill Road, that had poor access to both roads and little parking. Then the shopping center was torn down.
But for Bong Lee, the owner of Myung Dong, the story actually has a happy ending, because a new shopping center was built at the same location but farther back from Baltimore Avenue and with better street access. Three months ago -- after a year's closure -- Myung Dong reopened in the new, bright, airy building with plenty of parking spaces.
Two signs outside identify the restaurant as Oriental Noodles (with a few Korean characters).
And Korean noodle dishes are the mainstay of this little business.
At lunch, the 40 or so seats are jampacked, and steaming bowls of noodles fill the tables.
The signature dish, Myung Dong kal guk su, is Korean chicken noodle soup and the most popular item on the menu. At one time, most of the noodles here were made by hand, and sometimes they still are, though Lee said she often buys noodles these days. Still, the noodles are soft and slightly chewy, nearly filling a large bowl, and rich with chicken stock and slivers of moist, flavorful chicken. The bowl arrives at the table with a crown of shredded vegetables, topped with a confetti sprinkling of dried seaweed (nori).
Accompanying the bowl of noodles are jars of chili paste and soy sauce infused with chunks of hot pepper for adding more spice to the dish, but most Americans forgo the added spiciness, Lee said.
It is a wonderfully satisfying meal on a cold winter day and an amazing amount of tasty food for just $7.95 (lunch costs even less).
Asian customers prefer spicier noodle dishes, Lee said, such as the spicy clam noodle soup or the spicy seafood soup, which includes squid, mussels and pork.
Although Myung Dong isn't flashy with table grills and overhead exhaust systems, it serves most traditional Korean dishes, including grilled marinated strips of beef, pork and chicken (bulgogi), and hot rice bowl dishes, another favorite of Korean customers. The beef bulgogi lunch special is a small portion of sweet-tasting beef and cooked onion spread over a mound of flavorful rice, a tangle of shredded lettuce and two fried dumplings.
Main dishes are served with just three simple side dishes called panchan: a tart but not too spicy savoy cabbage kimchi, a similarly flavored cucumber kimchi and plain cubes of pickled radish.
Although these dishes arrive first, they aren't really appetizers but vegetables for the other dishes. And, as in Korea, all of the entrees will arrive at the same time, unless you ask for a succession of dishes.
A full order of dumplings (man doo) is 12 pieces, each stuffed with meat and available steamed or fried. The fried dumplings are crispy on the outside but not overcooked inside, and they have a pleasant meaty taste. Though the accompanying sauce is rather bland, you can heat it up with chili paste or pepper sauce.
Myung Dong is also one of the few Korean restaurants in the area to include rice cake dishes on its regular menu. Rice cakes, actually cylindrical sticks of rice called duk bok gi, are a popular street food in Korea.
Buckwheat noodles in chilled beef broth (naeng myun), a summertime favorite, is among the cold noodle dishes served here.
You can also try the Korean version of fried chicken -- but you have to buy the whole chicken, and it takes 20 minutes to prepare.