Finally, a Korean BBQ restaurant in K-town serving bbq that lives up to the standards of what my father calls “LA BBQ”. (For those who are not in the know, many Koreans believe that LA BBQ is even better than what’s served in Seoul.) Kang Ho Dong Baekjong, a Seoul-based chain owned by a famous comedian and former pro wrestler, is on a different level than most of the old guard places on 32nd St, overrun with stern ajoomas who could care less that you need some water refills and tsk tsk you if they feel that you’re being cheap.
I would say that most of these Manhattan bbq spots get the job done, but not much more than that. Normally the marinade and seasonings are decent, but the quality of the meat is average. I’ve never had that melt in your mouth sensation that top notch, wonderfully marbled grass-fed beef might have, and I usually found the cooked meat to be tough, which I thought was a normal byproduct of the grilling process. But after my experience at Kang Ho Dong, now I know that Korean bbq can be tender and delicate.
I also love how this place is so operationally efficient. As soon as your table is available, everything is ready to go. The ban chans are all there, the famous corn and egg appetizer is already cooking, the dipping sauces are set up, and you’ve got a bottle of water in a very Korean looking plastic canister. There are clear instructions on how to use the sauces in case you find all the little bowls overwhelming. The staff actually cooks the meat for you to a certain doneness, as compared to the other places, where the ajoomas might place the initial pieces on the grill for you, but you’re really on your own after that. And they are so responsive when you need more water or ban chan, which is a rarity at a lot of Korean restaurants.
The wait times at Kang Ho Dong Baekjong were pretty reasonable. We probably waited about 45 minutes for our table on a Sunday night, although I imagine it might be much longer on a Friday or Saturday. But I’m willing to suck it up, and in K-town, the wait goes by fast. This 24 hour town has so many distractions, soju, beer, karaoke, cafes, that before you know it, the 2 hours are up and you have a seat at the best Korean bbq place in town.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjong
1 E. 32nd St (between 5th and Madison Ave)
New York, NY 10016