Yeh Won Is for Lonely Stomachs
If you go alone to Yeh Won during the lunch or dinner rush hour, expect everyone inside to stare. Your ethnicity isn't the reason for the raised eyebrows, but rather because you're not with a group of friends. No one in his right mind goes alone to this neighborhood diner—in fact, if you drag your sad sack of a solitary self to Yeh Won, the owner will probably sit you at the restaurant's sole single table, as the rest of the booths are inevitably packed and the other tables in the middle of the room invariably pushed together to host the latest group of toasting diners.
Yeh Won is one of those restaurants that never earns widespread buzz, but is always packed—though never so much that there's a long wait. It's the type of place frequented by middle-aged men looking not for a pub, but rather for a long parade of cauldrons of soups, bubbling soontofu, sizzling cast-iron skillets of Korean barbecue, platters of dumplings, and enough tall bottles of Hite and Cass beers to fill up a recycling bin. Service can be slow—it's just a husband, wife and their 20-some-year-old son—but the customers don't care, as they either seem to be unwinding after a long day or catching up on the week. The trilingual menu (English, Korean and Vietnamese) itself is a greatest hits of Korean comfort food, usually with dueling options. Although the marquee outside flashes "BBQ," the better meat choices are from the sea, from pan-fried crispy squid and baby octopus to steamed angler and cod, meat nearly turned to pudding. While the cold soups excel, stick with the rejuvenating potages, those believed by Koreans to offer restorative powers: black goat soup, gamy and gorgeous; soybean-paste soup that reeks of rot but tastes of yummy earthiness. To address all the choices, Yeh Won lists a bevy of combo deals, even a dinnertime bento box. And, of course, there's the solar system of panchan—even the smallest order (a boiling pot of soft tofu and rice) will come with six, from powerful kimchi to potatoes sluiced in chili powder to sweet beans that resemble piquinto beans but taste sweeter.
And if you do show up by yourself? Expect kindness. The owner might place you front and center, but he'll carefully place everything in front of you as though you are royalty. Other customers might hand you a shot of soju or raspberry wine, or offer tips on how to eat certain dishes in a style that makes it easier. No one should eat alone at Yeh Won—and you never will.
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