Have you ever dipped chips into a salsa so vivid that you kept dipping long after you were sated? Then it’s time to acquaint yourself with the chili sauce at Moa, a Korean restaurant in a section of Rockville where auto parts are more common than good eats. To rattle off the ingredients—soy sauce, chili and sesame oils, green onions—is to miss the magic of this sauce, one of those cases in which the sum is much greater than its parts. A waitress one night noticed we had drained our cup.
“You like?” she asked. We loved.
We cut into a seafood pancake ($15.99) as if it were a pizza and drizzled it with the sauce, watching it run into the crunchy frittata dense with shrimp, squid, and octopus. A perfect marriage.
So, too, the chili sauce and the dumplings called mandu ($8.99). The translucent skins held a garlicky mixture of kimchee and pork, and the sauce was as intense as the filling.
Still, the sauce isn’t a necessity—the kitchen is putting out some of the most exciting Korean food in the area right now.
Spicy pork with kimchee is a gloriously pungent stew, cooked at the table with pork ribs, green onions, and rice cakes vying for attention in a peppery broth.
The galbi arrives in a skillet with tender short-rib meat atop sizzling onions. Enfold the beef in crisp lettuce with some rice, a dab of bean paste, and a few slices of garlic. This is a wrap that goes beyond mere convenience.
Rice and noodle dishes are as rewarding. Bibim bap ($9.99) is built atop perfect rice, with beef, veggies, and a soft egg. Buckwheat noodles provide a tasty base for bands of radish, cucumber, and beef. Crumble the hard-boiled egg over it and blend.
Beware of over-ordering. Two or three dishes amounts to a feast for two, especially when you factor in panchan, the cold snacks that accompany every meal.
Order a cold Hite, a Korean beer, or a carafe of Soju Cocktail ($15.99), a blend of the Korean liquor soju and puréed fruit. I like the watermelon and mango versions—each has kick amid the sweetness. As with that magical chili sauce, you’re likely to drain the pitcher before you’ve realized it and be tempted to order another.
This article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.