Address: 4121 Chatelain Road, Annandale, VA 22003
It’s been almost 10 years since the last time that I had Korean food, and I don’t remember too much of my last experience at a Korean BBQ restaurant in New York City. After moving down here to Virginia, a group of us from work headed to Lighthouse after our work shift one evening for a very satisfying dinner consisting of many Korean dishes. It was a great re-introduction to the cuisine that left a very good impression.
Last week when my friends Kyle and Kathryn came into town, we hit up Lighthouse on their second night here. The crowd was much smaller going on a normal weekday evening, rather than a Friday night the previous time I went, where the restaurant was completely packed and the line for a table was out the door. The restaurant itself is not far from main road that runs through Annandale, but parking in their cramped lot can get really hectic if their place is really busy.
This place was my very first experience trying soondubu, a spicy Korean tofu soup served boiling hot with an assortment of vegetables and meats. I opted to go for the beef and pork tofu soup, which was bold in flavor and spice (and really gave you a kick after your first spoonful). Some people choose to crack an egg into the soup when it first comes out, which I was able this second time. Stirring the egg into the soup gave it an even smoother consistency than before.
In both my trips, we also ordered a number of side dishes to compliment the soondubu. I’ve tried a number of them, so here they are listed below:
- Pa jun is a Korean-style pancake that is made predominantly with eggs, scallions, and flour. We got the seafood version, which also came with shrimp, oysters, and squid cooked into the pancake itself. The outside was lightly crunchy, but the inside was moist and all of the components put together gave it some really good flavor.
- Bibimbap is a very popular Korean dish that features a bunch of meats and vegetables put over rice, typically topped with an egg and served with a chili pepper paste. Our bowl came with carrots, mushrooms, corn, cucumbers, onions, bean sprouts, tofu, and a fried egg over the top. With the rice served on the side, you pretty much just loaded up on what you wanted from the bowl, put the chili pepper paste on top, and mixed it around a little bit. It’s such a medley of flavors from all of the vegetables together, but the chili pepper paste really seals the deal with a spicy, but sweet note after each bite.
- Bulgogi is a grilled meat (in Lighthouse’s case, they use beef) that is marinated in a special sauce to add a very distinct flavor. Lighthouse slices the meat thinly and serves it up on a hot plate with some scallions and onions. I really enjoyed the dish because of the mild sweet and salty flavor combination that you can taste from the beef. The meat is very moist and isn’t very chewy at all. Having a plate of that and rice on the side would be a great meal in itself.
- Galbi features grilled pork short ribs marinated in a Korean soy sauce (possibly a combination of garlic, soy sauce, and sugar). The short ribs were served with the bone still on, but since it was off to one side you could easily eat around it. The first piece that I had was really fantastic, the sort of bite where the meat kind of falls apart in your mouth. However, the second piece I had was extremely chewy, and certainly wasn’t as enjoyable as the first. The sweet and salty flavor was certainly there and they had that distinct grilled taste as well.
From some of my friends that have eaten at several other Korean restaurants in the area, it seems like Lighthouse is a great place to get your Korean food fix. I’ve had two great experiences there already and look forward to going back.
Here are my rankings for Lighthouse Tofu:
Food: 4.5 / 5
Almost everything I’ve tried so far, I’ve really liked. From the looks of it, their menu focuses on a core group of dishes, and they make them very well.
Atmosphere: 4.5 / 5
The restaurant has a very large, brightly-lit dining area with nice wooden tables. They can accommodate small to large groups of people, and on busy nights, you can get that sense of a bustling atmosphere while sitting at your table.
Service: 3.75 / 5
The food itself came out very quickly from the kitchen. Waitstaff service was slightly spotty during the first time that I went (but then again, they were also right in the middle of their peak dinner service rush). The second time was a little better, but we always had to signal our waitress when we wanted water refills.
Price: 4.5 / 5
For dinner, be sure to take advantage of their combo meals when you’re there to split some food with others. The combo that we got included two of the tofu soups, a large plate of dumplings, and a plate of the bulgogi, all for right around $12 per person. Some of the other combos also include another side dish, but I don’t think you would ever be paying more than $15 per person. The amount of the food that they gave you seemed well worth the price.
Overall: 17.5 / 20 (87%)