This week’s Neighborhood Eats had me venturing to Federal Way, a community that is second only to Tacoma’s Lakewood neighborhood in density of great Korean restaurants. There was no way I was going to Federal Way and not getting Korean food. The only problem? I’m just not ready to eat at a restaurant, inside or outside.
The wrinkle is that Federal Way is 30 miles from my house. Undeterred, I went in search of dishes that were not only good for take-away overall, but had the potential to survive the trip back to my house.
If you are actively eating in restaurants, two of the ones I went to were open for dining-in. Federal Way also has a handful of beautiful parks if you wish to procure takeout and dine al fresco. Still, I chose to order takeout AND drive home to Greenwood. I have no regrets. In fact, I would gladly drive 60 miles round trip to get any of these dishes again.
Traditional Korean Beef Soup
8:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, open for dining in and takeout; 31248 Pacific Highway S., Federal Way; 253-946-1101
As the name of this restaurant suggests, it specializes in the homestyle Korean beef soup called seolleongtang. The broth is a milky white, rich with marrow from a long, slow simmer of oxtail bones. The soup comes with your choice of meat: brisket, tongue, tendon or a mixture that includes tripe and either wheat or clear sweet potato noodles. There’s also Korean dumpling soup, steamed pork dumplings and a seafood pancake on the abbreviated menu.
The seolleongtang (written as Sullung Tang on Traditional Korean Beef Soup’s menu) is a collagen-rich bowl of unseasoned soup. It is served with a side of flaky sea salt, a fiery chili paste called dadegi, sliced green onions and sides of rice, cabbage kimchi and kkadugi, a radish kimchi. Because I got it to-go, the noodles were also served on the side. You are instructed to first season with salt (and black pepper if you wish), then add green onions, dadegi and even kimchi — tasting between each addition. It is a perfect bowl of soup aided by the flexibility you get to tinker, adding a bit more dadegi after each bite, stirring in bits of rice or even dipping slices of cabbage kimchi. The paper-thin sheets of brisket were incredibly tender, the kkadugi kimchi crunchy, sour and spicy.
The portion is quite large, and the next day my leftover soup was a beautiful brick of gelatin that reheated easily. I added a few more noodles, the rest of the green onions and crunched my way through the remainder of the kimchi.
Daebak Wang Mandoo
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Monday, open for dining in and takeout; 33100 Pacific Highway S., Federal Way; 253-517-9548
Located in a strip mall, Daebak Wang Mandoo specializes in king-size dumplings called mandoo (also spelled mandu), stuffed with a slightly sweet red bean paste, pork or pork and kimchi. Unlike the pan-fried dumplings also available at Daebak, these mandoo are more like a steamed Chinese hombow. They’re about the size of a softball and are packed with filling and flavor.
The pork mandoo combines ground pork with sesame oil, green onion, vermicelli noodles and a good amount of black pepper. The spicy pork is all that plus kimchi. The red bean features red bean paste as well as whole beans and black rice. At $2.50 each, these are a cheap and delicious quick lunch and were still warm and soft after the drive.
I also got an order of the spicy cold noodles, made with sweet potato noodles drenched in a gochujang-heavy sauce and topped with slivers of apple, cucumber, a hard-boiled egg and a slice of beef brisket. The tower of noodles soaked up most of the sauce, but that wasn’t a bad thing. Use scissors to snip up the noodles and mix in the egg, brisket and vegetables. There was also a side of pickled radish to mix in if you wished.
The gochujang sauce is spicy and sweet, but also a little sour and completely refreshing on a hot summer day. I can imagine it being the perfect side to nicely charred beef bulgogi or freshly fried chicken, but it’s also deliciously satisfying on its own.