Review: Anju

1805 18th St. NW 

Washington D.C. 20009

202.845.8935

website

When Anju opened its doors in Northwest Washington in the waning months of 2019, the restaurant concept immediately landed buzz, and for good reason. Formed by Chefs Danny Lee and Scott Drewno, whose Fried Rice Collective built the popular Chiko further south in Dupont Circle, this restaurant’s quirky environment and upscaled Korean bar food staples immediately resonated. The cozy environment evokes the upstairs chikin joints that line the bar districts of Seoul — making the most of a little space, just as a lot of common ingredients come together to build the distinctive sticky-sweet dish. 

Covid-19 hit the restaurant — and all business like it hard. Fortunately, Anju adapted a take-out business quickly under Executive Chef Angel Barreto. Coming up on three years in business, Anju is thriving. 

The signature dish is Korean fried chicken or chikinwhich is coated in a spicy glaze of gochujang red bean paste, preferably eaten with beer. As a flourish, Anju tops it with a thick white sauce to cool it a bit. Half a chikin is best shared between people with a few other things, because it’s super heavy. But as soon as you dive into that crispy, sticky sweetness, you won’t wanna stop. Anju honors the last restaurant in its space, Mandu, with some other menu items, too. 

A few other things on the menu:

  • Yache Mandu: Extra-large Korean dumplings stuffed with impossible meat and kimchi, pan-fried with a crunchy chili glaze and scallions. One is huge, but the crunch is addictive. 
  • Dolsat Bibim Bap: One of the most approachable Korean dishes in American kitchens, this fried rice dish is served still sizzling in a stone bowl with veggies, bulgogi beef and an egg. One is huge, so it’s perfect to pair with some chikin for a more filling complement.
  • Panchan: Or barchan, these specialty munchies are a great table-pleaser as an amuse-bouche. A few options are the sturdy odeng fish cakes in a savory sauce, kimchi which in Anju’s case have an overwhelming ginger flavor, chayote which is a stir-fried squash-like fruit with a soft crunch, and sweet lotus root which offers another sticky crunch. Doobu is a tofu option, too.  

It’s a cozy restaurant, the compact upstairs brings me back to the little restaurants hiding above the nightlife in Itaewon — Always making the most of the space. So service is quick, reservations strongly recommended, and on a nice night you benefit from more space on the patio. Cocktails are great too, but the best Korean food is enjoyed simply, I think. 

Anju has staying power and versatility, and that’s what’s kept it at the top of lists from Washingtonian’s restaurant guides to Michelin recommendations. All in all, an excellent stop. 

Recommendations

  • Best with a small group of people, because the dishes are heavy and better when you share a few, especially the signiture chikin.
  • Cocktails are good for a longer meal but the food is perfect when paired with beer. 
  • Reservations much recommended, though slow nights make it easier to sneak in. 

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