Wan Bok Lee had been helping run his mom’s Chantilly restaurant Taste of Korea and a neighboring dessert cafe called Who Seek at the start of the pandemic. With everything suddenly shut down and nothing to do, the now-32-year-old started lifting weights nearly every day with his friends Yoo Cheong Won and Sang Hyun Lee in Won’s Annandale backyard. (“We did join the 1,000-pound club,” Lee says.) After workouts, the trio would grill meat for protein. Lee had been thinking about opening a Korean barbecue restaurant before Covid, but the idea started gaining momentum as he looped in his friends. They experimented with different cuts, charcoal versus gas cooking, and even their own aging. They eventually visited dozens of Korean barbecue restaurants from Virginia to New York to LA.
The result is Honest Grill, a recently opened Korean barbecue restaurant in Centreville featuring high-end meats that aren’t so common in the area. They’re sourcing American wagyu from Snake River Farms and Ibérico pork from Spain, along with premium beef and pork from other purveyors. But the thing that distinguishes them most from the competition: an in-house aging room for dry- and wet-aging.
“Now, [Korean barbecue] is just booming, and people are going crazy about all-you-can-eat buffet style. When we became very serious about this meat, I felt kind of sorry. I want people to try real Korean barbecue,” Lee says. “We want quality over quantity.”
While Honest Grill doesn’t offer endless proteins, it does have various “guides” or combos (ranging from about $65 to $150 for two) for diners to sample selections including pork jowl and collar or New York strip and beef galbi. A la carte options include pricier cuts like dry-aged ribeye (nearly $80 for 12 ounces) to well-marbled cabecero Ibérico (about $39 for 8 ounces), but also more affordable skirt steak and pork belly.
The owners are taking the same curated approach with the banchan. Instead of flooding tables with tons of different complimentary sides dishes, they offer only scallion salad and three types of kimchi (white, radish, and mustard leaf—all Lee’s mother’s recipes).
“I didn’t like having too many side dishes. I’m here to eat meat, but all I’m filling my stomach with is side dishes,” Lee says. “We want to only serve the side dishes as a garnish for the meat, not something you eat separate.”
Sang Hyun Lee, the restaurant’s chef who also previously worked at Taste of Korea, is preparing plenty of other Korean staples too, including kimchi stew, galbi bibimbap, and seafood scallion pancakes. Among his more unique offerings: a rice bowl with sea urchin and seasoned cod roe, meant to be mixed together.
To drink, Honest Grill has a basic Korean soju and beer menu, but Lee is looking to beef up the wine selection going forward to pair with the dry-aged meats.
“We’re not trying to aim high-end,” Lee says. “What we’re trying to achieve is: this is Korean barbecue, this is the standard.”
Honest Grill. 14215H Centreville Square, Centreville; 703-543-2320.