NoVa’s Newest Korean Barbecue Stands Out With Charcoal-Smoked and Dry-Aged Meats

Puzukan Tan in Falls Church offers a "butcher's omakase" to sample the menu.

Puzukan Tan features a dozen tabletop grills that utilize both gas and charcoal for a smokier flavor. Photograph by Jessica Sidman.

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A new Korean barbecue restaurant is already differentiating itself in the crowded tabletop grill scene. Puzukan Tan—meaning “butcher shop” and “charcoal” in Korean—has special grills that utilize both gas and charcoal for a smokier flavor. The spot features several house-aged and pre-smoked meats from its “master butcher” alongside some less common sides for the area, including bulgogi sushi and hashbrowns with kimchi mayo. Also: bingsoo for dessert.

The restaurant comes from brothers Sunghoon and Kibum Kim, who moved from their native Seoul to Northern Virginia five years ago with dreams of opening their own restaurant. They didn’t have a ton of money, so they ended up taking over and revamping Matsui Sushi & Ramen in Alexandria. It was familiar territory: their dad used to run a sushi restaurant in Ohio, where Kibum worked while getting a culinary degree from the University of Akron in 2014 before moving back to Korea. (Sunghoon was previously a banker who went on to front-of-house gigs at Michelin-starred restaurants in Seoul.) From there, they’ve expanded: Asian fusion Rateba Grill & Ramen in Fairfax, a catering company in Manassas, and Puzukan—a fast-casual spot in Alexandria with Korean barbecue in bowl form.

At their newest KBBQ spot, Kibum says they spent a long time searching for a way to use tabletop charcoal within local regulations. The brothers ended up finding a company in Los Angeles that makes a special gas grill that allows them to put charcoal on top “so we don’t have to carry all the dangerous charcoal around the restaurant.”

Wagyu chuck flap and prime boneless galbi at Puzukan Tan. Beef fat primes the grill. Photograph by Jessica Sidman.

But ultimately, Kibum says, it’s all about the quality of the meat. The brothers hired a “master butcher” who has 20 years experience at Korean grocery chains like H-Mart and Lotte. In addition to your standard pork belly, brisket, and galbi (marinated short rib), you’ll find a range of wagyu specials and ribeye dry-aged for two-to-three weeks in house. They pre-smoke some meats for an even smokier flavor. And before the meat hits the heat, they grease the grill with beef fat.

The banchan is limited to only a handful of side dishes—such as kimchi radish and soy-pickled chayote—that the owners felt best complement the meat. The meal is accompanied by traditional dippers like sesame oil and salt, but also a riff on spicy-tangy Vietnamese nuoc cham and a Japanese-inspired sweet sesame sauce that’s started as a salad dressing at their sushi restaurant.

The untraditional “bulgogi sushi” at Puzukan Tan. Photograph by Jessica Sidman.

A great way to sample the best of the menu is the “butcher’s omakase” for $59 per person. The feast includes four meats, including a standout giant one-the-bone galbi, alongside hashbrown-like fried potatoes with kimchi mayo, a “grandma-style” brisket soy-bean stew, and a foot-long “bulgogi sushi.” (Korean beef tartare sushi may be coming down the line.) A lot of Korean barbecue restaurants skip dessert, but here you’ll find bingsoo with vanilla or green tea shaved ice, ice cream, and red beans.

The dining room is relatively small with a dozen tabletop grills. It has a sleek, minimalist design with black-paneled walls and copper-toned grill hoods.

“Me and my brother, we are just trying to do a little bit better than any other restaurant us,” Kibum says. “The details make a lot of difference.”

Puzukan Tan. 8114 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.