Café U&I

Location: Annandale
Yelp review: http://www.yelp.com/biz/cafe-u-and-i-annandale

An alternative to the rooms at Ara, Café U&I rents private rooms by the hour (prices based on room size). The smallest rooms are a bit snug, but get creative and dance on the couches if need be.

The largest room is equipped with a projection TV in addition to a small monitor on the opposite wall for reading lyrics while facing the crowd. The doors in all of the rooms have a glass window, so be prepared to have some patrons glance in while walking by. I like to think of it as my musical debut.

Woo Lae Oak

Location: Tyson’s Corner
Website: http://www.woolaeoak.com/

Woo Lae Oak is a more modern and upscale take on Korean dining, with high-quality food in a subdued atmosphere. While the usual panchan is missing from the tables, a Korean BBQ is built right in.

Be aware that the waitress will stand at the table and tend to the BBQ, but the norm is to keep eating and chatting. If you’re lucky like me, you might see a traditional wedding rehearsal dinner taking place in the back room.

Spa World (jimjibang)

Location: Centreville
Website: http://www.spaworldusa.com/

Spa World has two sections: one separated by gender and another a communal area. The first section is a locker room and bathroom, complete with bubbling pools and sauna rooms. Fair warning: you’re required to be naked here. My tip would be to shower thoroughly before entering the water since Korean women tend to keep on extra eye on the etiquette of non-Koreans.

Afterwards, throw on the orange outfit provided by the front desk and enter the communal area. This large room has a bunch of flat-screen TVs showing Korean talk shows; spa-goers sprawl across the floor on large pillows and a restaurant/snack bar is available.

I would suggest visiting each of the poultice rooms where temperatures can reach more than 170 degrees. Later, do as the Koreans do, and grab a traditional hard-boiled egg with salt. The $35 entrance fee lasts for 24 hours, meaning guests can stay in the women’s or men’s sleeping room and hit the spa first thing in the morning.

Massages cost extra and are usually only provided between 10AM and 11PM.

H-Mart

Location: Falls Church
Website: http://www.hmart.com/

Are you craving kimchi or chilsung? If so, make your way to H-Mart, a fully-stocked Korean grocery store. This chain store provides everything from dried seaweed to live abalone.

Conveniently, many Korean dishes like yubu chobap (rice in a small bean pita) and dokbokki (spicy rice cakes) come in easy-to-make kits, although some directions are only in Korean.

If the thought of making these dishes becomes too overwhelming, just sit down at the small restaurant bar inside some of the stores; various Korean and Japanese dishes can be ordered on the spot.

Community Connection

Did you know there are also lots of Koreans in…Mexico City?