Paju, a little Korean spot in Queen Anne, looks simple. The walls are a plain shade of oatmeal. The lighting is bright. The concrete floor has a huge crack in it. Instead of an actual bar, there’s a portable two-tap kegerator. It seems like the last place you’d have an extraordinary night.
But the experience at Paju is, in fact, exceptional - from your first bite of crunchy chicken wings to the friendly servers holding the door open for you on your way out.
Paju’s food makes us feel like we’re living in a country ballad - suddenly, it’s easy to love again, everything pairs well with a cold beer, and we can’t help but get emotional over the small details. Things like panko-fried asparagus with roe aioli, bulgogi with crispy quinoa and a subtle hint of truffle oil, and squid ink fried rice topped with bacon and a smoked quail egg that we daydream about whenever we hear Shania Twain’s, “You’re Still The One.” Paju doesn’t need any flashy decorations in the dining room or cocktails in ritzy glassware to keep us coming back - they just need to keep making phenomenal food.
You’ll want to come with a group so you can try as many things on the menu as possible. While some plates have smaller portions, everything is under $20 - including the hwe dup bop (a bowl of diced raw salmon and tuna marinated in a citrus soy mixture over rice) and a crispy seafood pancake that comes with Japanese mayo, sweet tonkatsu sauce, and a fistful of bonito flakes. Paju doesn’t take reservations, but if you call and there happens to be a table for five available, they’ll happily hold it. Then, you can sit down, order a bunch of dishes for around $13-$18, and have some of the best Korean food in the city.
These wings are so crispy on the outside, that, even when coated in Paju’s soy-garlic sauce, one bite makes a crunch sound straight out of the classic thriller Earthquake. You know, the scene with the earthquake.
“You’re boring” and “meh” are things that, sadly, an asparagus stalk hears every day. However, this asparagus is a rockstar. It’s breaded in a panko-sesame seed mixture and served with orange segments and a tangy roe aioli. It’s crunchy, surprisingly meaty, and we’d happily eat these by the handful at a pub chased with a pint of beer.
Sometimes, truffle-flavored things can feel like a massage in a very tiny room where your sore muscles are lathered up with warm, potent truffle oil instead of lotion. That’s not the case with this comforting bowl of rice topped with marinated beef, caramelized onions, enoki mushrooms, and crispy quinoa.
There’s a lot of fried food on this menu, so it’s important to have something light on the table. Or in this case, a delicious rice bowl topped with raw diced tuna and salmon, avocado mousse, seaweed, and citrus soy sauce. It’s refreshing, flavorful, and we’d eat the entire thing by itself if we were here alone for lunch.
The outside of this excellent pancake has a crisp shell topped with a sweet tonkatsu sauce, a creamy mayo drizzle, and some dancing bonito flakes. Also, the middle is packed with large pieces of tasty mixed seafood.
Eating this fried rice makes us feel like we’re sitting by a fire inside on a peaceful snowy day. This plate is an amazing pile of squid ink-infused rice with bacon, kimchi, and a smoked quail egg yolk. The combination of the fluffy yolk-soaked rice, the crunch of the cabbage and crispy edge bits is already f*cking outstanding, and then they go and add bacon to it.