There are a lot of Korean restaurants in Maryland. In fact, nowadays, there are restaurants specializing in almost everything: Korean BBQ, desserts and coffee, Korean-Chinese food, Korean bars and bar food, etc… And you may pass by Jongkak, one of the few restaurants remaining in Baltimore’s Koreatown, and think it’s your typical Korean restaurant—after all, it doesn’t look particularly special from the outside. But it truly is a unique and special place: as far as I’m aware, there is no other Korean restaurant in Maryland that allows you to cook your BBQ over charcoal fire or “soot-bool” (숯불) as it’s known in Korean. That alone is worth a trip to Jongkak.
Anyways, I have fond memories of this place, as it was one of the few Korean restaurants easily accessible to me when I went to college. Even then, it already was one of the most popular Korean restaurants in Baltimore. Older Korean men would swing by for what was presumably their lunch break. Korean and Korean-American students, homesick for their family’s cooking, would go there to eat and drink. The clientele wasn’t just limited to Korean people either. You’d see groups of all different races and cultures, all having a good time eating and drinking while cooking their BBQ. And since Jongkak closes at 4AM, it also became a popular place amongst service industry workers who wanted to eat and drink after closing down their restaurants. Not much has changed since then (apart from the addition of karaoke rooms)—it’s still an incredibly popular restaurant in Baltimore.
Anyways, when you enter, you are asked if you want BBQ or not, as that will determine which table you will be led to. If you decide to do BBQ, there are many meat options you can pick from. There are a la carte choices as well as combos that include the more popular meats together. What would I recommend? Well, you can never go wrong with galbi (they have marinated and non-marinated versions), joomoolluk (think boneless marinated galbi), bulgogi, pork belly, chadolbaki (very thinly slide brisket). You can eat them by themselves, with rice, or even as part of a DIY lettuce wrap (which we call “ssam”)–just take a lettuce leaf, add some ssamjang sauce, rice, garlic, pepper, kimchi, and whatever else you want.
Jongkak is pretty generous with their banchan, the side dishes that come with any good Korean meal. When I went last, they had soy-braised tofu, japchae (seasoned glass noodles), kongjang (braised soybeans), seaweed salad, fishcakes, various types of kimchi, veggies and so much more.
So next time you’re craving Korean BBQ in Baltimore, take a trip to Jongkak. Yes, you’ll be immersed in a cloud of smoke and will come out smelling like BBQ, but it’s a Baltimore institution whose use of charcoal makes it a truly unique Korean restaurant in the region. And if you’re going in late night, don’t forget to tip your server well—it’s not easy to be working so late. 🙂
18 W 20th St
Baltimore, MD 21218