11 am-2 am Monday-Saturday, 2 pm-midnight Sunday. $ Inexpensive.
[KOREAN] Walking in here is like getting an unexpected, welcome hug. Anchoring a strip mall in bleakest suburbia, JCD (short for Jang Choong Dong) looks off-putting from outside, but indoors is a tiny universe of delight. A few wooden booths populate the dimly lit cafe; it’s charmingly decorated, with antique-papered walls, faded paintings, basket lanterns and one big TV near the cash register, broadcasting Asian game shows. The world’s sweetest couple run the kitchen: She takes orders, he cooks and occasionally peeks out to see whom he’s cooking for. It’s a low-key, simple place, and you might not expect to be blown away by the food. The banchan (a variety of appetizers included with the meal) will set you straight. They include shining examples of kimchi, thinly sliced fish cake, and golden cubes of solidified heaven called gam ja—braised potato seasoned with honey and sesame. Those potatoes alone could turn a bad day around. But it couldn’t hurt to order a scallion-seafood pancake ($9.95). JCD’s version is the best I’ve had, with a hot and crisp crust around a dense, custardy middle, filled with chunks of green onion, peppers, tender shrimp, oysters and squid. Other good choices for mood elevation include japchae ($9.95), a comforting dish of sesame noodles, beef and veggies served over rice, and bulgogi (marinated barbecued beef, $10.95), which JCD presents with elemental simplicity. BECKY OHLSEN.
Ideal meal: Banchan, japchae and a scallion-seafood pancake.
Best deal: Lunch-box specials ($7.95-$8.95) are a satisfying way to go.