One of Howard County's old-school Korean places, Shin Chon remains casual and friendly. The old place was a bit quirky and dominated by televisions. Now, there seem to be more seats, and there certainly are more tables with built-in grills. The crowd still looks like the optimal ethnic restaurant: Most of the crowd is Korean, but the atmosphere welcomes anyone.
I don't know enough about Korean cuisine to notice any change in the menu or the food. As I wrote in my original post, your dinner with start with a spread of small dishes. Those are banchan: 5 to 7 room-temperature snacks that you can eat as appetizers and to accompany the meal. Tofus, pickled vegetables, kimchi, even potato salad. They change every visit, but the
mixture makes a Korean dinner one of my favorites. Because we order only two entrees, we tend to return to the basics like bulgogi and kalbi (marinated meats) or dolset bi bum bop, which is a mix of rice and vegetables toped with an egg. Jump at any chance to go with a person who knows Korean food or with a large group so that you could try a few dishes.
(Update: Normal orders of bulgogi are served with lettuce leaves, and you make little rolls with meat, rice and a spicy sauce wrapped in lettuce. Shin Chon also has rice noodle squares that they normally serve with the barbeque specials -- mixtures of meat sized for 3-5 people. You can ask for the squares, and they're a nice alternative, as I wrote here.)
You should enjoy spicy food and meats if you're going to really love Korean food. Other than a distaste of spicy food, you're going to have a fine time because you identify almost everything by sight. (We once had a conversation about what we thought was in a banchan that looked like potato salad. We asked, and the waitress said, "Potato salad.") Some of the stews have organ meats, and there is a banchan of dried tiny fish that I have never loved. But the menu is clearly translated, and the waitresses are eager to help or answer questions. As long as you relish a little heat on your tongue, you could feast at Shin Chon for a long time.
(Update: Shin Chon made my 2009 list of the best restaurants of Howard County.)
If you like Korean, try Mirocjo farther west on Rte 40 or create your own take-out dinner from the panchan and meats at Lotte supermarket in the same shopping center. If you visit Shin Chon, check out La Boulangarie Bakery or Thai Aroma across the parking lot in the Lotte shopping center.
Shin Chon Restaurant
8801 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21043
NEAR: The far end of the Lotte shopping center on Rte 40 just east of Rte 29.