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Korean Food in Ellicott City

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While other people are snarking about "no good food in Howard County," I'm eating Korean food in Ellicott City.

The Korean food along Rte 40 is worth a drive if you live anywhere from Baltimore to Burtonsville. It's not Annandale, but then there are probably suburbs of Seoul with less Korean delicacies than Annandale. Ellicott City has a swatch of Korean restaurants and markets where you can discover Korean food or find authentic delicacies.

Howard County Korean starts at Shin Chon Garden in the Lotte shopping center on Rte 40 just east of Rte 29. After last summer's renovations, Shin Chon Garden reopened blond and beautiful -- blond wood and modern design, but still great food. It remains casual and friendly. The old place was a bit quirky and dominated by televisions. Now, there seem to be more seats, and there certainly are more tables with built-in grills. The crowd still looks like the optimal ethnic restaurant: Most of the crowd is Korean, but the atmosphere welcomes anyone.

I don't know enough about Korean cuisine to notice any post-renovation change in the menu or the food. You start with the banchan: 5 to 7 room-temperature snacks that you can eat as appetizers and to accompany the meal. Tofus, pickled vegetables, kimchi, even potato salad. They change every visit, but the mixture makes a Korean dinner one of my favorites. Because my wife and I normally order only two entrees, we tend to return to the basics like bulgogi and kalbi (marinated meats) or dolset bi bum bop, which is a mix of rice and vegetables toped with an egg. Jump at any chance to go with a person who knows Korean food or with a large group so that you could try a few dishes.

If classy isn't your style, you can try Mirocjo on the second floor of the rundown Bethany 40 shopping center on Rte 40 just west of the Enchanted Forest shopping area. Inside, the restaurant has industrial fans over the barbecue tables and a floral wallpaper that suggests 1970s grandmothers. But the food is delicious. Similar panchan, and I think it is as good as Shin Chon -- although not as nice-looking.

Then if you're looking for someone new, check out the Bethany Seafood Restaurant (at least that is what they call it in English). Bethany's back door faces Mirocjo in the Bethany 40 shopping center. Bethany is at the far end of a building that is turned sideways to Rte 40, so you find the front door by driving along the east side of the building and looking for the Korean signs.

Although there is little English outside, you'll have an English menu and perfectly fluent waitresses inside. Bethany Seafood actually makes my list because it pulls off that array of flavors in my favorite dish -- dolset bi bim bop (or "bob" as Bethany calls it). The waitress brings a hot stone pot filled with rice, cooked vegetables, and some pieces of meat. Bethany's is my new favorite because the meat is actual slices of kalbi rib meat and because the hot pot browns the rice, which becomes crisp against the soft vegetables and tender, charred beef. With dollops of the spicy sauce, Bethany's bi bim bop becomes perfect. Better even than Shin Chon's.

But Bethany is a seafood joint. The waitress translated the Korean name as "Eel City, Flounder Country." There is both a sushi bar and a series of aquariums that show off how fresh your dinner can be. I have my eye on a pan-fried squid and on a cod and claim stew, and there is a spectacular Yelp post by "AJ K" that describes live lobster sashimi. Seriously, they served up live lobster -- along with little snails, mollusks and a lobster broth at the end.

That's three places to start. There are many others along Rte 40 -- and there is the Lotte supermarket that has had its share of health code violations, but still serves the best takeout dinner around from its panchan bar and marinated meats to grill.

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