By James Moon
Sorak Garden (4308 Backlick Road) has been a landmark for the Korean American community for a long time, practically as long as I’ve known Annandale existed.
The restaurant is named for Korea’s famous Mount Sorak (commonly known as Seoraksan). The national park nearby is an autumnal mecca for leaf peepers in the Taebaek mountains of northeastern South Korea.
The restaurant itself is a pretty standard Korean American operation. The menu offers Korean barbecue, noodle bowls, rice dishes, grilled fish, a few Japanese dishes, and what Koreans (much to my confusion) in English call “casseroles” (jeongol in Korean)—a large open pot of soup or stew heated at the table and meant to serve multiple people communally.
A wide variety of sushi and sashimi is also available, and rumor has it the lunch buffet isn’t bad. Food, prices, service, and banchan (side dishes) are average for the many mid-range Korean restaurants in the area (but your mileage may vary).
Sorak Garden is widely known to be a go-to place for northern-style cold noodles (naengmyeon), and the banner out front attests to North Korean-style cuisine from the city of Hamhŭng. But the restaurant has been around so long during which ownership or management has likely not been constant. So who knows from which era the reputation originates?
The naengmyeon here is good, and here is a good place to try some if you never have. But don’t let the reputation steer you from anything else you’re itching to try.
Probably one of the reasons this restaurant has remained a Korean American community landmark is the venue. Just inside the entrance and to the right is a banquet hall, used by many Korean Americans for catered ceremonies and parties, such as the traditional Korean Dol ritual for a baby’s first birthday. The restaurant also has semi-private backrooms that can seat parties as large as 24. Call 703/916-7600 for reservations.
Although not as much of a standout as maybe it once was, Sorak Garden can’t be ruled out as an option for general Korean cuisine and remains reliable for the standard dishes. But the market for good Korean food in Annandale is highly competitive and significantly more crowded nowadays, so if you know what you want and where to look, you can probably find better offerings elsewhere.