This is the first of my blogs on local, NoVa/DC, food establishments. I could think of no better place to start than my favorite bakery, Shilla’s.
As many of you already know, my roommate is of Korean descent. What you may not know is that Northern Virginia has a really large Korean community, the third largest in the US, right behind LA and New York.
One of the perks being a suburb of an internationally transient city like DC, is that folks from all around the globe settle here, and thankfully they bring their wonderful food with them. Annandale, VA is the largest Korean community in Northern Virginia, so much so lots of of the signage is exclusively in Hangul (the Korean alphabet), and is considered the area’s unofficial “Koreatown”. No wonder Shilla Bakery and Cafe first opened their door in this part of the region. But it didn’t take long for them to expand to their now 6 locations, including 2 in Maryland.
Our favorite location is a little further out west in Centreville, VA. Centreville also has a large Korean community with Korean grocery stores, restaurants, shops, and karaoke bars, and of course… bakeries. Shilla isn’t the only great one around, but we love it best of all.
Sometimes there’s not much to do here in the ‘burbs on the weekend, especially if funds are a little thin. Shilla’s has turned into a sort of weekend ritual in our house. We get to take a bit of a drive (about 30 minutes away), hit our favorite Thrift Store in Centreville (where I once found a Coach purse for $5!!!), then walk down to Shilla’s to fill our tummies with the vast array of samples they put out, get a few treats to take home, and one of the tastiest beverages ever – Boba.
If you’ve never had Boba, you haven’t lived. It’s kind of like bubble tea, but better. Shilla’s Boba is a sweetened smoothie that comes in a wide range of fruit flavors, and then has the most wonderful surprise in the bottom – large black tapioca pearls that you suck up through an oversized straw. The first time you try it it’s a little weird, but then it becomes absolutely addictive! The tapioca is soft and sweet, and they become these little jewels of chewy goodness at the bottom of your cup.
Boba is only the first of many tasty treats you can find at Shilla’s. Another dessert they’re famous for is Bing Soo – a shaved ice dessert that’s covered in a mountain of toppings. Traditionally it includes sweet red bean paste, but can also be found with green tea, yogurt, and ice cream. Then there’s a myriad of additional toppings including fresh fruit, rice cake crumbles, corn flakes… it goes on and on. What results is a bowl the size of a large baby’s head that simply has to be shared. Only those capable of competition-level eating could polish off one of these alone. And that’s part of the charm of Bing Soo, the fact that it’s a communal experience, shared by a table of friends or family.
First and foremost, Shilla is a bakery, so there’s a HUGE variety of baked goods to choose from. Pastries made from airy cake with lightly sweetened cream fillings. Red Bean buns that will have you swearing off jelly-filled doughnuts. Quickbreads that are moist and packed with flavor. Cakes stunningly decorated, and breads that put what you buy at the supermarket to shame. It’s hard to go wrong with anything you get there, but best of all is you never have to buy blind. As I mentioned before, Shilla’s always has lots of samples out, so you can try most items before you commit yourself to buying anything.
Another treat of note is their Black Sesame Tofu crisps. I’ve never had anything like them in my life, and it’s impossible to describe just how tasty they are. A perfect snack for anytime – long rectangular strips of slightly sweet, perfectly crisp chips dotted with black sesame seeds. If you buy them you have to get at least a few bags, you’ll kick yourself later if you get only one. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Lastly, I have to mention their bread. The bread at Shilla’s simply makes the most perfect grilled cheese sandwiches EVER. It’s a little more dense than the breads you’ll find at the grocery store, and is less airy so when you toast it in the pan it gets this perfectly uniform golden buttery crust that can’t be beat. And the flavor is something that the Gods themselves would be happy to eat. I don’t know exactly how they make their bread, but it’s simply sublime.
If you live in the NoVA/DC area and haven’t been to Shilla’s, I’d suggest you make it a point to find the nearest location and run, don’t walk. And if you ever find yourself visiting the DC area be sure to make Shilla’s part of your itinerary, right along with the Washington Monument and Smithsonian museums. And don’t forget to try the Boba!