When my husband and I were house shopping a few years ago, a flyer at an open house in Barclay mentioned its proximity to Baltimore’s Koreatown. As a Los Angeles-area native whose favorite L.A. neighborhood is Koreatown, this piqued my interest. I had no idea Baltimore had a Koreatown!
Miniscule compared to Koreatowns in L.A. or New York, Baltimore boasts a small collection of Korean restaurants and bars in Charles North/Old Goucher, about a 15-minute walk from Bolton Hill. (Disclosure: I am white, I’ve never visited Korea, and most of my knowledge of Korean cuisine comes from cooking Maangchi recipes. I do not purport to be an expert.)
The Korean population in Baltimore City thrived from the 1970s to the 1990s. The city’s first Korean grocery, Far East House, was on North Avenue. (Unfortunately, no Korean market remains nearby). As of 20 years ago, Koreans were the largest non-white, non-Black ethnic group in Baltimore City, and the Korean immigrant population constituted 9-16 percent of the neighborhood in question. Since then, many people of Korean descent have settled in the suburbs, especially Howard County. U.S. Route 40 west from Baltimore to Ellicott City – which state officials have designated “Korean Way” – features many restaurants and markets (including the popular Asian supermarket, H Mart).
Baltimore’s “K-town,” or Little Korea, is bounded by North Avenue on the south, N. Howard Street on the west, 24th Street on the north, and N. St. Paul Street on the east. However, most establishments I am aware of are centered around N. Maryland Ave. and N. Charles Street, between 20th and 22nd Streets.
All the restaurants offer traditional Korean recipes including soups, casseroles, and rice dishes – as well as alcohol, such as soju. Be-One Korean BBQ, Jong Kak, and Kong-Pocha also have Korean barbecue options. Jong Kak provides charcoal tabletop braziers for barbecue. Kong Pocha – which only recently added a sign identifying itself – also specializes in fried chicken (original, butter & lemon, or spicy).
A few of the restaurants boast karaoke rooms and stay open late – Be-One and Jong Kak are open until midnight on weekends, with Kong-Pocha staying open until 3 or 4 am. Nam Kang operated a separate karaoke and sports bar behind the restaurant. It’s one of the older Korean restaurants in town – on 22nd Street, but it’s unclear if it remains open. Finally, there is the Crown, which includes Karaoke, DJs, and live music nightly until 2 a.m. I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard wild stories about its late-night revelry!
Baltimore’s small Koreatown offers a filling, fun and late night out, only a short hop from Bolton Hill.
– Andrew N. Dupuy