About thirty minutes outside of Baltimore lies the community of Ellicott City. It’s home to a sizable Korean population—in fact, in 2017, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan dedicated a stretch of Route 40 as “Korean Way.” There are over 166 Korean-owned businesses there and the influx of these businesses has been recognized for revitalizing this stretch of highway. There's even talk now of designating it as an official Koreatown.
Kim Bop Na Ra is one of the older Korean restaurants in the area (its first Yelp review was written in January 2011). It specializes in “bunshik,” a term used to describe inexpensive snack foods like tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), soondae (blood sausages), ramen, and of course, kimbap (side note: a lot of Korean words can be romanized in different ways and “Kim Bob” is the same as “Kimbap”).
Kim Bob Na Ra sits at the corner end of a strip mall, its rather nondescript storefront transforming at night into something more eye-catching with the glowing neon signs on the windows. The interior, however, is anything but boring. Its walls are colored maroon and a dark wasabi colored wood paneling lines most of the wall—it’s almost as if the restaurant took design cues from a romanticized notion of what a vintage, homey Parisian cafe would look like. But it’s seen better days; on the way I visited, there were some water stains on the ceiling, one of which had a big white bucket directly underneath that was dutifully catching the occasional drop of water.
When I went, it was around 3PM—a fairly late lunch. As such, there weren’t many patrons there and the ahjussi (old man) there sat me down at one of the tables and gave me a menu. It’s kind of a necessity; although there is a sign posted above the counter listing food items, it’s missing many items and doesn’t show show any prices—there hasn’t been any for years. In fact, it’s been that way for so long that I question if the prices were even there on that sign to begin with or if it’s just my memory playing tricks on me.
Anyhow, considering the restaurant is called “Kim Bob Na Ra”—literally “kim bob country”—I decided to get kimbap. They had a bunch of different types but then I saw the combo: veggie kimbap with tteokbokki (I believe it's combo #1 on the menu). I put that order in and eagerly waited for my lunch. If you’ve never had kimbap with tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) before, you’re really missing out. Both dishes are delicious in and of themselves, but when you dip kimbap into that thick orange-red tteokbokki sauce, it literally goes into the next level of flavordom.
You can also order other things like tteokbokki with kimmari (glass noodles wrapped in seaweed and then fried). There's also rice dishes like ojingeo dupbap (rice with spicy squid). Most items on the menu are fairly inexpensive and under $10. Even the most expensive item on the menu–a combo consisting of kimbap, tteokbokki, and soup–is under $20.
By the time I finished my lunch, the ahjussi disappeared into the back of the store somewhere while two ahjumas (older women) came in and were taking care of the front of house. One of them came by and gave me my check, which was placed under a couple hard candies. I’m not a big fan of candy and was going to just leave it, but the ahjuma said “ee candy deusaeyo”—please have this candy. I couldn’t say no. I paid and I took them with me as I left.
Kim Bob Na Ra
9339 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042