The fried chicken requires a 20-minute wait, says the shy young waiter at Myoung Dong in Beltsville. Do we still want to order it?
I’m not in the business of telling restaurants how to make money, but having been unable to resist ordering this crispy bird a second time in four visits, I offer some advice: When you have a dish this good, don’t erect obstacles for the customer.
The chicken, fried to order, arrives as a heaping mound of bite-size, bone-in pieces—the bone ensures more juiciness—that have been dunked in a sweet batter and deep-fried until golden and crunchy. Seasoning is customizable thanks to pinch bowls of salt mixed with red pepper.
Good by itself, the dish reaches another level of deliciousness when you alternate bites of chicken with bites of the housemade kimchee, which is brought to the table at the start as one of three panchan, the sometimes spicy, sometimes pickled snacks that make up a proper Korean repast. This is a lightly pickled version of the cabbage dish, still slightly crunchy, shot through with enough chili sauce to balance the puckery tang.
Fried chicken and kimchee? It’s not the odd cultural mash-up it sounds. After all, some Southerners slather hot sauce on their crispy birds.
Myoung Dong—the sign outside says only oriental noodles—reopened for business in December after a year’s hiatus. The Beltsville shopping center that housed it underwent a wholesale renovation, forcing the 18-year-old tenant, among others, to set up shop elsewhere or wait it out for a year.
The new, improved space is simple and functional, but also bright and cheery. Posters of black-and-white photography line the white walls. The menus are in green-suede binders. Owner Bong Lee glides through the dining room replacing bowls of kimchee, refilling cups of corn tea, coaxing customers to mix the ingredients in their dishes, and dispensing good cheer.
Her pride in the restaurant is evident, and no wonder: It’s turning out some of the tastiest Korean food this side of Annandale. And some of the cheapest. The focus is noodles, not barbecue, which helps explain the bargain prices.
Lee confesses that the restaurant no longer makes all its noodles, as it once did. That’s too bad. But the kitchen still gives a lot of attention to these bowls, from the layering of flavors to the artful presentation. I loved a bowl of cold buckwheat cellophane noodles topped with slices of chewy brisket, Korean chili paste, a hard-boiled egg, and toasted bands of seaweed. (Ask Lee to swing by with her scissors to cut the long noodles for you—or risk soiling your shirt.)
A bowl of gently flavored clam broth piled with chewy broad noodles, strips of squash, baby clams, and drizzled egg was good, too. A soothing chicken soup teems with those same noodles and strips of chicken or is packed with delicate homemade dumplings, called mandu, and small, chewy rice cakes. The longer these bowls sit, the better they are. They make great leftovers.
The mandu are just as good without the broth, as an appetizer (either steamed or fried). A tasty Korean-style futomaki stuffed with sticky rice, pickles, and marinated beef—a dish at once funky and spicy and sweet—makes a fine starter, too.
You can end a meal by chewing on the free sticks of Wrigley’s gum that Lee provides with the check—a gracious way of reminding you that you have consumed copious quantities of garlic and chili paste. Or you can order the excellent Viennese coffee, a kind of strong-brewed mocha shake topped off with a generous swirl of what appears to be Reddi-Wip.
Welcome back, Myoung Dong. The wait was worth it.
11124 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville; 301-595-4173. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Noise level: You can make out the words of the low-decibel, soft-rock songs on the sound system.
Best dishes: Dumplings, chicken noodle soup, clam soup, buckwheat noodles, fried chicken.
Price range: $5.95 to $12.95.