The heat intensifies with every bite of dduk bok gi. Beads of sweat form on my brow, my nose runs and my mouth begs me to stop. I can't. The thick red spice paste that coats each chewy fat noodle, glutinous cylinder of rice cake, cabbage slice and triangle of fish cake beckons my chopsticks back. This fiery street food dish — like many others on the menu — contrasts the chipper and deceptively innocent energy at Dan Moo Ji (3230 Steve Reynolds Blvd., Nukoa Plaza, Duluth, 770-814-2310).
Entering the colorful restaurant feels like you've accidentally stumbled into a teen girl's bedroom. The walls are covered with hearts, cartoon faces drawn in marker, narrow Polaroid photos of cute girls posing with friends, and clusters of neon Post-its doodled by happy customers. Waitresses bounce around the room in microscopic jean shorts and tight white tees never missing an opportunity to shout out the traditional Korean welcome — "Anyong haseyo!" — when anybody walks through the door. An endless loop of Beyoncé, the Black Eyed Peas, and Korean pop videos layers with the sounds of sizzling, slurping and chatter to create a unique soundtrack.
Groups of fashionable Koreans huddle around tables cluttered with tricked-out tabletop burners where dishes are cooked and served by the frenetic all-girl staff. No table is without an order of kimbob, large slices of Korean sushi filled with tender curls of spicy octopus, bulgogi (seasoned beef rib-eye), or an oddly delicious creamy tuna salad made with canned tuna. Kimchi fried rice topped with unorthodox ingredients — such as melted cheese — sounds odd on the menu, but the first grease-laden bite is revelatory, and a little naughty. "This is exactly what I want to eat the next time I'm hung over," says a friend.
Towering platters of puffy and juicy chicken wings lack salt, but a swipe through the little dish of spicy sauce remedies all seasoning transgressions. Korean cold noodle fans (and naysayers) should check out Dan Moo Ji's noodle section — especially the jjol myun, a heaping bowl of Korean rice noodles finished with julienned vegetables and spicy sauce. Don't be shocked if your waitress comes over with a plastic glove to mix the concoction by hand. It's efficient and charming. The choices from the "girl's menu" may sound cutesy, but the portions are anything but dainty. The "mini" set menu includes an order of cold noodles, sundae (Korean blood sausage), any type of kimbob, and two pieces of odeng (fish cake). It's a mountain of food that takes a while to eat, but gives you reason enough to linger and let Dan Moo Ji's cheerful spirit soak in.