It can be easy to miss a new addition to the cluster of Korean restaurants in the lower Remington neighborhood; they tend to have fairly blank facades, and most of their signage is in a language I don't speak. So it took me a little while to discover Nak Won (spelled "Noc Won" on the awning, but "Nak Won" on menus and business cards), which opened late last year next to the more venerable Joung Kak. I'm glad I finally went, though, because this is one of my favorite Korean restaurants in some time.
True, it's not lovely to look at—the bright, bare rooms have little in the way of décor, unless you count some promotional posters for Korean liquors and some handwritten signs announcing, in Korean, the chef's specials. But the food is all fresh and admirably free of grease. They also serve a lovely and generous selection of panchan, those tiny dishes of garnishing foods; on our visit, those included sesame-dressed greens, chile-flecked savory jelly, smoky black beans, and, of course, kimchi. In these and other dishes, I found the spiciness to be potent but not unbearable—in most cases, you were allowed to manage your heat level with accompanying hot sauces.
This was true of the duo of grilled meats we ordered ($16 each, plus $5 to have it cooked at our table). The bulgogi, thin strips of tender, tangy marinated beef, came with a pungent, spicy sauce that tasted like it had fermented tofu in it. The pork belly was less interesting, perhaps because, due to language barriers, it didn't come with the marinade we'd ordered. Each morsel of meat could be wrapped in either a lettuce leaf or a large circle of thinly sliced radish, and garnished with spiced green onion slivers garlic, fresh jalapeño slices, and any panchan you felt like throwing in there (I suggest a few blanched mung bean sprouts).
But Nak Won has more than barbecue. We also tried a hey-mul pajun ($12.95), a scallion pancake the size of a small pizza, dotted with bits of seafood and made sweet and crispy through the magic of pan-frying. A soup of beef and dumplings with rice cake ($9.95) was soothing and mild. Scrambled egg and scallion added texture, and the whole thing was incredibly filling—partially because of those big, gingery dumplings, and partially because there was a full quart of it in the stone pot that came to our table. A stone pot was also used for our bibimbap ($12.95), which mixed diced kalbi (short ribs) with hot rice and scallions—but oddly, there was no raw egg, normally an integral part of this dish. Still, it was delicious and even more filling than the soup, and boasted a bottom crust of crispy rice, which offers the same satisfaction as the crunchy top of baked macaroni and cheese. All of this was washed down with plastic glasses filled with a bottomless amount of complimentary hot barley tea.
We didn't see dessert on the menu (not all of which was written in English, so we may have missed it), but our meal ended with complimentary tiny bottles of what tasted like sweetened liquid yogurt. Odd, but enjoyable—which may be as good a way to sum up Nak Won as any.
Nak Won, 12 W. 20th Street, 410-244-5501. Hours: Mon 11 a.m.-midnight, Tue-Sun 11 a.m.-4 a.m.