American-friendly Korean BBQ restaurant promises worry-free dining near Camp Humphreys
Foreigners lacking in chopstick skills but too embarrassed to ask for a fork will be relieved when they sit down at Hoejen Hwa Hwa, a Korean barbecue restaurant located near Camp Humphreys, just a few blocks down the main street leading from the base’s Anjeung-ri access gate.
Unlike other restaurants offering local fare, Hoejen Hwa Hwa offers forks, along with traditional Korean metal chopsticks, conveniently located in drawers at the tables.
Commonly known as “beef and leaf” due to the large leaves of lettuce that accompany the meal for making wraps, Korean barbecue is one of the most famous forms of Korean cuisine among foreigners. Different cuts of meat, including pork and chicken, are grilled tableside and served with an accompaniment of side dishes, called banchan. In some restaurants popular with the younger set, the current Korean barbecue trend throws cheese fondue into the mix — making for a unique, Instagram-worthy dining experience.
Hoejen Hwa Hwa is one of several restaurants outside Camp Humphreys that caters to the growing American community in the largely rural area. The base has become the main headquarters for the U.S. military in South Korea as part of a long-delayed plan to relocate troops south of Seoul.
The restaurant is brightly lit, with two floors that are often packed and lively in the evenings. Don’t be surprised if you’re met with a wait, especially on weekends. Think of the restaurant’s popularity as a sure sign that the food served up at Hoejen Hwa Hwa is indeed good — although diners should be prepared to cook it themselves on the tabletop grill and not expect much help from the busy wait staff.
My colleagues and I were lucky to get a table right away on a recent Thursday. We ordered the restaurant’s “Special Set,” which includes three types of beef ribs, or galbi in Korean, and a mildly spiced chicken for 50,000 won (about $45). It was plenty for four people.
Other dishes are available to order individually include pork belly (13,000 won), beef bulgogi (9,500 won) and various noodle and soup dishes ranging in price from 2,000-6,000 won.
The usual selection of banchan are laid out on the table in small portions at the start of the meal — but you can get more at a self-service buffet located at the front of the restaurant.
Somewhat surprisingly, the banchan appeared oriented toward an American clientele, with dishes such as noodles, potato salad and coleslaw. I had to ask for kimchi — a pickle-like dish consisting of spicy fermented cabbage and other vegetables that’s a signature staple in Korean cuisine and a common offering at restaurants.
The wait staff spoke English and were friendly, even bringing several side dishes to the table without complaint before finally informing me about the self-service buffet, which I had missed.
The meal itself was a satisfying one, with the well-seasoned and tender galbi giving a slightly spicy kick that complemented the rest of the food nicely.
The menu, available in Korean and English, included entertaining descriptions explaining that the boneless beef galbi has “better chewing taste than the sirloin” with the texture described as “great!” The chicken is praised as being “so tender that people say is [sic] not chicken but only the ones who have tried this knows the secret.”
I tried the chicken (using chopsticks) and am still not sure what the secret of the dish is, or what the menu’s claim means — but it did form part of an overall tasty meal.
Hoejen Hwa HwaLocation: 153-18 Anjeong-ri, Paengseong-eup, Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
Directions: From Camp Humphreys, exit through the Anjeung-ri access gate and walk or drive up the main street of the same name. The restaurant will be on your left. Street-side parking is also available.
Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., except some holidays.
Prices: Dishes range from 9,000-62,000 won (or about $8 to $55), with the most expensive item being a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of boneless beef galbi. A variety of beverages, including beer, soju, makgeolli and soda, are also available for 2,000 to 12,000 won.
Information: To make reservations, call 031-618-8592. English-speaking staff is available.