Review: Anju sheds light on D.C.’s immense Korean culinary scene

The menu at Anju in Washington D.C. (Connor Senay/For The Diamondback)

Just outside Dupont Circle lies Washington, D.C.’s best kept Korean spot: Anju. After a July 2017 electrical fire sent its more traditional Korean predecessor crumbling (see Mandu), owner Danny Lee decided to rebuild in the same spot while handling the opening of Chiko, their fast-casual take on Chinese-Korean cuisine.

One step into Anju’s interior and it feels like home, decked out with smooth, hardwood tabletops and floors, welcoming servers, and cozy seating in the nooks by the front windows. The use of space throughout the two-story eatery is ingenious, hosting a myriad of different seating options.

Three versions of bar seating are available to suit your exact mood: The traditional bar where spirits are served. The front-window countertop to watch life go by. The kitchen bar that provides a glimpse of the culinary magic in which you’re about to indulge.

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Once seated, look no further than their well-priced happy hour menu for starters. An aesthetically-pleasing dish that’s a bit difficult to attack, the tornado potato is a spiraling spud crisped to perfection and drizzled with a tangy aioli. Don’t worry; there’s extra mayo for dipping on the side. They know you’ll want more.

While the dress is fairly casual and dishes are served efficiently at Anju, there is no ticking clock as you eat. The wait staff fill up your water (and offer bigger glasses for when the heat is too unbearable) but do not impose themselves on your eating experience, which is likely slow and steady when savoring a massive bowl of stew or conquering a hot wok of rice and vegetables.

Heat is not neglected in any regard; just about every dish packs a punch. Broths brewed with spicy seafood and brisket, pork belly that’s been slow cooked…twice, and an irresistible gochujang-glazed fried chicken topped with an Alabama-style white barbecue sauce dominate the menu. I can attest that these dishes are all irresistible. 

Having dined at Anju twice in the past nine days, I chose the Kimchi Jjigae, a “Mama Lee’s Classic,” on first visit and the Jjamppong, a more modern main course, on second visit. What struck me about both is their rich, unctuous broths, which allows all the ingredients inside to cook down and release flavor. Try this dish next time you feel under the weather; the heat and immense flavor will dissolve all bad vibes.

I would highly recommend the Jjamppong for seafood lovers; the almost unwieldy bowl of perfectly tender noodles sits chock full of clams, squid and shrimp that refresh the palate and taste as fresh as a fish market. 

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Each course is served with Anju’s house kimchi, a palate cleanser and additional pick-me-up for the taste buds. If you’re close with the chef, he’ll send you a lovely complimentary ssam board from the kitchen. 

I merely witnessed this happen to my bar-neighbor, my mouth wide open in jealousy as a massive board of surf, turf and greens touched down, engulfing the entire width of the bar. 

I suppose I’ll have to become a regular at Anju for this kind of star treatment, and I’m all in.

Rating: 

Best Dishes: Chikin, Jjamppong, Kimchi Bokum Bap, Mandu, Dolsot Bibim Bap

To ensure a table for more than 1-2 people, get there early or reserve well in advance. While there is plentiful seating throughout the restaurant, it fills up shortly after doors open at 5 p.m. 

Located at 1805 18th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009.

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