Ju Lim could have opened Ssong’s Hotdog in Annandale or Centreville or somewhere else in Fairfax County, where there are plenty of folks familiar with the South Korean street food that dominates his menu. But Lim wasn’t interested in catering exclusively to the Korean American community. He was convinced that his corn dogs — simply known as hot dogs in South Korea — would appeal to a much wider audience.

“I believe this has a lot more potential than just being within the Korean American communities or even Asian American communities,” says Lim, a native of South Korea who calls Northern Virginia home. “I actually envision that this food can be one of the popular American snack foods.”

Ssong’s definitely has some built-in advantages for easy acceptance in America, starting with its signature dish and its connection to carnival midways across this land. The Korean snack in question is basically a corn dog, in that it features a sausage encased in batter, deep-fried and impaled with a stick. When spotted from across a food court, the bite looks no different from the battered beauties inhaled by countless American kids before they climb aboard the Tilt-a-Whirl, almost daring their digestive systems to keep those dogs down.

But as soon as you hold a Ssong’s dog in your hands, you see the differences. Its fried shell isn’t some sleek cornmeal log, at once smooth and slightly craggy, like a stretch of Georgia asphalt. No, a Ssong’s hot dog is battered and then rolled in panko, making for a jagged edge and a rugged crunch. The crackle alerts your system for the pleasures to come.

As the first Ssong’s franchisee in America, Lim relies on a flour mixture imported from South Korea for his batter. It is a proprietary recipe, of course, but it includes glutinous rice flour, which gives the coating a delicate chewiness, like that of mochi doughnuts instead of the hardcore jaw workout of tteokbokki, those elastic Korean rice cakes. The contrasting textures — the crunch and the chew — excite the senses before you even get to the heart of the matter.

I first encountered Korean hot dogs about two years ago at Pike Kitchen. The bakery tucked inside the Rockville food hall had installed a display case from which you could select any number of fried foods on a stick: hot dogs, dogs and mozzarella, split links encrusted in panko that was darkened with squid ink. They were more side show than main attraction at Pike. They were also among the early Korean American knockoffs of a street food that stretches back decades in South Korea.

The early Korean hot dogs were not unlike their American counterparts, relying on a cornmeal batter for the shell but distinguishing themselves with an array of condiments. In the past five years or so, however, South Korea has experienced a hot dog renaissance as vendors have reimagined the street food for a generation that expects more creativity. It has led not only to the sweet rice batter but also to inventions such as battered-and-fried rice cakes, dogs coated in fried ramen noodles or even mozzarella sticks covered in fat squares of fried potatoes. By one estimate, more than 700 vendors have now dedicated themselves to the snack, the growth spurred by pure craving and oddly seductive mukbang videos, in which diners dig into these dogs, producing long white ropes of mozzarella, like a magician pulling scarves from his mouth.

The U.S. franchises soon followed, just as they did with Korean fried chicken. Chains like Myungrang Hot Dog and ChungChun Rice Hot Dog started opening locations along the West Coast. Ssong’s has now followed suit on the East Coast, with plans to expand to Overland Park, Kan., this spring. Lim says the Ssong’s corporate team gives him a lot of latitude in terms of sourcing ingredients and designing his menu. He’s not even required to roll every fried dog in sugar, as is the custom in South Korea.

“That’s one of the main differences between American customers and Korean customers,” Lim tells me. “Korean customers would love to put a lot of sugar on the breading. If you take out the sausage, it’s more like a doughnut.”

The first time I set foot inside the Mall in Columbia, searching fruitlessly for Ssong’s among the food court counters on the lower level, I didn’t even know the sugar roll was an option. (By the way, Ssong’s in on the second level in the Columbia mall, next to the Venetian Carousel, its plumed ponies now static.) It was only on my second trip that I was informed I had the option to turn my corn dogs into candy canes. I asked the counter worker to coat all three of my selections in sugar.

To roll or not to roll, that is the question confronted by every diner at Ssong’s. I understand this may be a cultural question. Every palate is formed by its own environment. But my palate rejected the sugar dusting faster than teenagers dismiss their parents’ music. Let me just say for the record: A spoonful of sugar does not make the imitation crab stick go down.

Without the saccharine stuff, I found much to like at Ssong’s. To me, the batter is sweet enough to provide contrast to the fillings and dipping sauces. Lim sources most of his hot dogs and sausages from Johnsonville, including a spicy beef link with just enough chile flakes to ignite the bite. The menu offers variations on several links — a premium beef sausage (and its spicy cousin), Cajun chicken sausage and regular all-beef dog — any of which can be battered and fried on its own or paired with a whole-milk mozzarella that stretches farther than the truth in Congress. When dipped in a Sriracha mayo or sweet chili sauce, these dogs check off all the right boxes: crunch, spice, sweetness, balance, chewiness, convenience and, perhaps most important of all, playfulness.

Almost everything is served on a stick, even the mozzarella studded with diced potatoes, even the glass noodles wrapped in nori (a preparation that was far better than I ever imagined). The engineering of these snacks may, on occasion, be more interesting than the bites themselves, but don’t underestimate how much fun it is to sink your teeth into a thick armor of fried potato and extract long, looping strands of cheese. The tornado fries, on the other hand, seduce your eye with their accordion of potato slices but are something of a snooze to eat.

After multiple visits to Ssong’s, in both its locations, I have been contemplating Lim’s notion that Korean hot dogs can become the next street food to enter the American mainstream, right alongside tacos, pad thai and falafel. He may be correct, but the dogs don’t really work as a stand-alone meal. While three sticks will technically fill you up, they come with two significant issues: one, little differentiation between bites, and two, a whole lot of guilt over so much fried food. In South Korea, they tend to pair the dogs with bunsik dishes, such as spicy rice cakes, which is a terrific idea. And which may explain why Lim will soon be adding tteokbokki to his menu.

If you go

Ssong's Hotdog

10300 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia, Md., inside the Mall in Columbia, 443-545-7589; 7101 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda, Md., inside the Westfield Montgomery Mall, 240-743-4311; ssongshotdogus.com.

Hours: Columbia store: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday; Bethesda store: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Nearest Metro: N/A

Prices: $2.99 to $5 for all items.