When Phil Han opened Dooby's in 2013, he hoped the Mount Vernon cafe would become a hub for the community, a place where people could stop by for any meal, all day long.
The restaurant, which borrows its name from Han's childhood nickname — not, as he jokes, because it is a marijuana dispensary — has become just what he envisioned. With an open, inviting space, personable staff and appealing, Korean-influenced menu, Dooby's hits all the right notes, and it has the customers to prove it.
Scene & Decor On a Saturday late afternoon, Dooby's steadily filled until every table was occupied with a mix of solo guests, eating and drinking with laptops open, and friends meeting for coffee, drinks or early dinner.
After placing our orders at the counter, we grabbed a table in a small dining area, up a few steps from the main floor of the cafe. Dooby's aesthetic is modern and cool, with a comfortable mix of warm wood, white tile and brick; the space feels clean and open and has an abundance of natural light.
Appetizers Dooby's menu includes breakfast and brunch items available weekday mornings and until the afternoon on weekends, and a selection of noodle and rice bowls, sandwiches and sweets designed to be appetizing any time of day.
Many of the dishes, including a terrific Chesapeake dumpling appetizer ($8), blend Korean flavors with classic American cuisine. Five dumplings, stuffed with crab, shrimp and scallops, were folded into half moons and pan-fried until brown and slightly crispy. On top, a drizzle of spicy aioli added drama to the savory bites, though even without the sauce, we loved the well-seasoned bits of seafood in their wrappers.
Entrees The Korean BBQ cheesesteak ($11.50) was a smart marriage of American format and international flavor. The sandwich was peppier and less greasy than the traditional Philadelphia version, but no less satisfying.
Like a regular cheesesteak, Dooby's version was dressed with lettuce, sauteed onions and melted cheese (in this case, cheddar, not Cheez Whiz). But the beef, already well-seasoned, was jazzed up even more with spicy chili-pepper jam and bright aioli made with scallions.
On the side, a scoop of kimchi potato salad was creamy and filling; the kimchi's funky flavor was an effective match for simple potatoes.
The spicy gochujang pork ramyun bowl ($13) overwhelmed us with its fantastic aroma — and its size. The big bowl was packed with ingredients — tons of noodles, three slabs of fatty roast pork, a sprinkling of sweet corn, scoops of kimchi and bamboo shoots, a single soft-boiled egg with a runny center, spirals of green scallion and a crispy square of nori (seaweed) tucked in the side.
Each element was fresh and distinct, adding texture and flavor to the mix. But the broth was the most thrilling part of the dish. Spiked with gochujang — a fermented Korean chili paste — the liquid was rich, heady and spicy in the best way.
Drinks Dooby's sells wine and beer all day, with cocktails available after 5 p.m. The spicy, intense flavors of our food were well-matched by a crisp, bright glass of Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier ($10).
We were less enthralled with our choice of beer. Southern Tier Brewing Co.'s Live Pale Ale ($6.50) was a floral, pleasant beer, but served a few degrees too warm, which meant it was less refreshing, and less successful with our meals than we'd hoped.
Dessert A slice of "Damn Good Pie" ($6), a buttermilk pie with chocolate crust and a crispy, bruleed top, was a sweet, not too heavy way to end the meal.
Service In response to diner requests, Dooby's recently made some changes to its service structure. Diners order at the counter, but instead of having to hover around the cash register, waiting for their food and drinks, they're given numbers to place on their tables, so staff members can deliver meals when they are ready.
Our food arrived at well-paced intervals and, though a different person brought us each course, everyone was pleasant and friendly.
In fact, guests and staff alike seemed kind and happy. Given the attractive space and its welcoming vibe, plus the distinctive, likable food, all of the smiles we spotted came as no surprise.