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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Korean, Japanese
Casual restaurant

Mon–Fri 10:30am–10:00pm
Sat noon–10:00pm
Sun noon–9:30pm

Features Kid-friendly
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted

1009 21st St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 833-1244
Yee Hwa
Yee Hwa, not yee haw-style barbecue at one of the only true Korean options in the district

For the best Korean food in DC, you have to leave DC, and make the drive to Annandale, Virginia. However, if you ever develop a desperate craving for bibimbap, there are a couple places in the city that aren’t so bad. Yee Hwa, unobtrusively settled in the Downtown district, is one. Clean, spacious, and orderly, it feels like a replica of a higher-end, informal diner in Asia. Down-to-earth service and endearingly faded napkins add to the mom-and-pop feel.

Like many Asian restaurants in DC, Yee Hwa’s menu has caved and offers “pan-Asian” cuisine, mixing a sushi bar and Chinese appetizers with traditional Korean fare to attract as many clients as possible. Given their quality, you would do best to stick with the traditional offerings.

Meals at Yee Hwa begin with the standard complimentary banchan (small dishes). This includes ubiquitous pickled vegetables (kimchi—sharp, pungent, bitter, acidly spicy; cucumber—mild at first bite but filled with a long, slow heat; radish—tangy and clean) and less traditional dishes like a lost-looking pasta salad (?!). The dishes are a welcome and (mostly) authentic touch, but ultimately underpowered. Kimchi, when done well, should burn off the lining of your mouth and overpower you with its gloriously stinky aroma. Yee Hwa’s version is nowhere close.

That being said, some of the other dishes are very well executed. Hae mul pa jeon, a Korean version of a scallion pancake, is looser and eggier than its Chinese cousin, and laced with bits of various seafood. It is served piping hot, and the chunks of vegetables and fish in the batter are incredibly crispy yet soft inside. Bulgogi (marinated beef) is sweet, gritty, and cut thin for maximum marinade absorption. If you sit at one of the tables with the built-in barbecue grills, you can cook it to chewy, juicy tenderness. You’ll get treated to the smell of charring meat, which is deeply reminiscent of the street food sold in Asian open-air markets.

Your meal at Yee Hwa will end with another traditional offering: a teacup full of cinnamon-spiced punch. As you leave, the earnest smiles of the servers will make you feel like coming again. Which, given the lackluster local competition, you probably will.

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