735 45th Ave NE, Minneapolis (Google Maps tells me that this is in Minneapolis, but I know better...well, it's somewhere in or between the towns of Columbia Heights and Hilltop, next to Fridley.)
When you drive into Dong Yang's parking lot, you're immediately confronted by a giant hardware store next door. That's okay - because Dong Yang is just as big. In fact, Dong Yang's official name is Dong Yang Oriental Foods and is the largest Korean supermarket I know of in the Twin Cities.
Walk in and don't take a cart. You should probably shop after the meal, when you're not hungry. (But Dong Yang has a lot of food - from the Korean equivalent of Pocky to aloe vera juice.) Head to the back of the store and turn left at the meat counter. You'll find an opening with tables, chairs and a counter. This is Dong Yang's restaurant: the decor is lacking, but clean. On Sunday lunches, it's full. It's also self-service, so choose what you want from the signs on the wall surrounding the counter that comprise the menu and pay up.
In general, when I go to a Korean restaurant in the area with friends (for example, King's, Mirror of Korea, or Shilla-turned-another-name-I-can't-remember), I order at least one of the following three dishes because they tend to be friend-pleasers:
1) Bibimbap. This is the dish pictured above: it's a large serving of rice covered with cooked vegetables and thin sliced beef, then topped off with an egg. If you request it to be served in a stone bowl (which usually amounts to a $2 price increase), it's a showpiece as it sizzles in the pot. You would also be required to do some cooking work by adding hot sauce to your taste and stirring the rice in the bowl so that it's evenly browned and not too wet.
2)Bulgogi. Thinly sliced, it is Korean barbequed beef with a slightly-sweet marinade of mainly garlic and soy sauce. The secret ingredient, though? Grated Asian pear. At times it is also stirfried with sliced white onion for additional flavor. With large orders, it is often grilled tableside. Bulgogi can be eaten by itself, or wrapped in a lettuce leaf with hot sauce.
3) Japchae. This dish consists of clear cellophane noodles made up of sweet potato flour (like transparent vermicelli). Vegetables (zucchini and mushroom seem to be popular in Minnesotan restaurants) and sliced beef are added, and the japchae is stir-fried in sesame oil and soy sauce. This makes for a smooth texture to the noodles without them being slimy.
In general, these tend to be consistent good dishes to try for your first time at a Korean restaurant. They will also come with a set of small dishes (about six) that you eat with your meal. At Dong Yang, at least two will be some form of the infamous kimchee (one lettuce, one daikon). Another might be mung bean sprouts; all six dishes will have been chosen for the day. If you are lucky, you might get slices of fish paste slices (there is no overwhelming fishy smell to them) in sesame oil. If you're really lucky, you'll get their batch of marinated potatoes, which are coated in a sweet pseudo-crust. Dong Yang does allow take-out orders, but make sure that you specifically request the small dishes; otherwise, they will not be included.
The ordering process at Dong Yang:
1. Pick your meal. In general, dishes are written in Korean with English translations in small text on the side. I've written down these translations below as best I remember.
3. Get your chopsticks, napkins, etc. from the containers adjacent to the register. Some of you may have qualms about this; they are clean.
4. Make sure you get some of the roasted barley tea from the coffee machine to the left; pour it on your own from the stacks of styrofoam cups.
5. If you order bibimbap (described below), grab a tube of hot sauce from the counter as well for your table; return it when you're done using it.
When waiting for your food, it pays to be observant. Your food will come to the counter and the cook will yell the order, in Korean. The small dishes (read below) will come in a tray just before your actual orders. When in doubt, you may want to ask if that is your order. After your meal, you'll want to bus your trays to the cart in front of the kitchen door.
Over my (frequent) visits at Dong Yang, I've tried about seventy percent of the menu. The bibimbap ("rice in hot stone bowl," $9.99) is excellent; in particular, they tend to give a large quantity of one ingredient, the bellflower root/fern stems (I'm not exactly sure what a bellflower root is, but I'll find out) which adds a tough, crunchy texture to the mix. Their hot sauce is also not too watery but not too thick, which means it evenly spreads throughout the rice mixture (see additional picture).
While the bulgogi ("sliced beef") is reasonably priced at $9.99, flavor (salty/not as much flavor) and quantity tended also to be inconsistent; sometimes, there was a greater proportion of onions versus beef. The japchae ("clear noodles with vegetables," $9.99) was also not a standout. Unlike other restaurants, there was also more vegetables than noodles sometimes, which took away from the dish. The noodles tended to have less flavor and were drier as a result.
That said, Dong Yang is probably my favorite Korean restaurant so far. The quantity is usually quite generous, and if you experiment off the menu, the results tend to be great. My mom's favorite was the noodles in black bean sauce ($7.99); the dish is very similar to another Taiwanese dish. In general, the sauce contains chopped pork, onions and carrots slathered in the dark sauce over noodles. (Warning: if your taste depends on your food's appearance, don't order this dish.) The dish is probably a acquired taste, as the noodles became less sticky and the sauce a little bit more flavorful the second time.
Another notable dish was the seafood pancake ($9.99). Typically, most Korean restaurants create a circular, crepe-like patty with squid, shrimp and onion decoratively placed in a circular design. Dong Yang's rendition, by these terms, was radically good. Think a 9"x13" rectangle cut into 2"x2" squares. Each square is filled with squid and green onion, like the others, but more so. The batter (I believe cornstarch-based) that holds it together is deep fried and served with a soy sauce and sesame seed-onion dipping sauce.
Finally, the mackerel in spicy sauce ($11.99) is a slight misnomer. It's not all that spicy, and it doesn't just contain mackerel. Rather, it is a mackerel covered in a spicy-sweet sauce that goes well with plain rice. Large chunks of daikon and carrot, also marinated in this sauce, surround the dish. It had a complex flavor that I got seconds for.