Finding worldly bites for $12 & under.
Far from the crowd of Korean barbecue restaurants dotting the streets of Annandale, a solid contender for pork belly and bolgogi can now be found in Fairfax.
BBQ21, located in a strip mall along with two Middle Eastern restaurants, Chinese takeout, an Indian restaurant and Burlington Coat Factory, bucks the standard strip mall design and instead offers a sleek, clean interior with heartfelt service.
While there isn’t much under $12 at dinner, several lunch boxes featuring spicy pork, bulgogi or chicken teriyaki are available for $9.95. I arrived at dinnertime, so I didn’t get a chance to try the lunch portion. The dinner portion ($16.95 per person) is a hefty amount of food when factoring in the included salad bar and banchan (small plates of simmered greens, pickled vegetables and kimchi).
A welcome departure from most area Korean barbecue restaurants is the beef bulgogi, sliced just ever-so-slightly thicker than normal. This thicker cut seems to allow for a more intact grilling experience, reducing the need to scrape ribbon-y bits of beef off the griddle to maximize every last bite. The marinade, a slightly sweet soy sauce, is also more impactful as a result of the thicker meat.
For a true cheap eats experience, don’t miss the haemul paejun ($7.95). BBQ21’s version is a fluffy, puffed pancake served in a cast-iron skillet with scallions and large chunks of squid and shrimp woven throughout. The cast iron sizzles the exterior of the pancake so that it’s searingly hot with a caramelized, crispy exterior. The inside, however, stays light as air, with a slightly briny flavor punctuated by tender bits of seafood. The result echoes a savory funnel cake, if funnel cakes had tentacles sticking out of them. / BBQ21, 11272 James Swart Circle, Fairfax
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