On our first visit to Kang Ho Dong Baekjong, in the middle of our meal, the lights went out, Gangnam Style started blasting, and a waiter brought out a massive birthday cake that said SoulCycle on it.
Some restaurants are all about familiarity and comfort. Others make you say, "I have no idea what exactly the hell is going on, but it's incredible." Kang Ho Dong Baekjong, the new Koreatown outpost of a beloved Korean barbecue spot with locations in Flushing and LA, falls squarely in the latter camp.
Even if you're familiar with Korean barbecue, the Baekjong experience is something different. For starters, everything's of really high quality: from the meats and the sides, to the friendly and super helpful servers, who actually cook the food for you at the grill on your table, unlike many Korean BBQ spots where you do it yourself. Sorry DIY dabblers, go make a terrarium when you get home. Then there are also the special smoke vacuum contraptions over every table that stop you from smelling like a firepit, as well as the ring of egg omelet batter and cheesy corn around your grill, which cooks slowly throughout the meal. And of course, there's the sporadic eruption of Gangnam Style (pretty sure it's for birthdays).
The only downside are the perpetually long waits, but you can track your progress in line through an app, which gives you the freedom to check out some K-Town spots down the block while you wait. For a more refined time, check out Soju House around the corner, or for a decidedly not refined time, hit Pocha 32, where you can get liquor served out of a watermelon.
One tip: make sure to order one of the combos, or at least a selection of different meats. A big part of the fun here is the constant cooking, and if you stick to one or two items, you'll miss out on the action. Pile it on, go with the flow. Sing the words to Gangnam Style.
The owner of Baekjong is apparently a famous wrestler turned comedian, which makes a lot of sense. The guy knows how to show people a good time.
As soon as you sit down, your table will be hit with a selection of complimentary side dishes - pickled radishes, a spicy scallion salad, a green salad, soft tofu in soy chile sauce, and possibly even something seasonal like squash. Some of these are to cut the rich meats, but dig in right away. The rules aren't strict.
The Beef Combo should be the basis of your meal - the smaller version is a good amount for two people. It comes with thin brisket, which tastes like bulgogi; marinated boneless short rib, which comes coated in the sweet classic Korean BBQ sauce; and a choice of either prime boneless short rib or prime rib eye. The rib eye's more like a typical steak, while the short rib is richer and gets crispier on the grill.
The combos come with either a kimchi stew or a soybean stew. Get the soybean. You won't eat much of it, but it's unusual and delicious.
If you're a larger group, you can add on a whole Pork Combo. If you just want to add on one pork item a la carte, go with the Pork Belly.
The name here doesn't indicate some kind of lunch special. This dish literally comes in a tin lunch box. It's a bibimbap-type item with rice, egg, and spicy sauce, which your waiter will shake to mix it all up. It's a fun part of the whole production, and tastes great.