After what felt like an eternity to open, the Irvine branch of Kang Hodong Baekjeong went live to the masses on June 30. We dropped in over the holiday weekend to see what the hype was all about, since a failed attempt at visiting the K-town outpost last month ended with us dining at Quarters instead (which we found out later happens to be the same ownership). For those who want to acquaint themselves, here's a rundown of sorts. We'll leave the formal review to E.
First and foremost: this is not AYCE. We repeat, don't expect an all-you-can-eat experience. They just aren't, so head to All That Barbeque/Gen if you plan on griping. You're paying for the quality of the meats. Also, the standard at this 37 table dining room is to have your server do all the cooking. However, they'll allow you to DIY if you make the request— good to know for us control freaks. If you're going to pay more in general, we say take advantage of this service.
If you order a combo, it comes with extras of veggies, cheese corn, your choice of soup and an egg souffle. We chose a beef ($60) option over pork, and it didn't disappoint. There was a handy dandy diagram on our table that offered up how to create the perfect bite. It involved wrapping the meat up in pre-cut squares of nori, pink radish and such. The beef on its own was fine, yet the salt and crunch of our additional layers kept us from craving rice. Although we did decide to try an order of their fried dumplings. They came out nicely browned and piping hot. We'd easily come back for more of these with another super-sized glass of beer. Our server was fantastic. His efficient, friendly service made for a smooth experience. Bonus: adjustable ventilation prevented us from announcing to the world what we had for dinner.
Our criticisms were few, but we wished there were a few more peppers in our setup. There was literally a single piece of green pepper, a piece of red and a couple other bits. They looked like an afterthought in their designated compartment. Also, our eggs wouldn't cook fast enough. They didn't firm up until much later in the meal, when we were already starting to suffer the meat sweats. And about the cocktail napkins. We don't get why they don't offer full-sized ones, but maybe we need to start a petition (or just BYO in the future— we're not above having a few stashed in our purse)?
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To locate KHB, head to one of the very few plazas not governed by the Irvine Company. Your nearest freeway is the 5, and the closest exit is Culver. It is within the same plaza as CVS and Ralph's, but on the side closer to Bank of America. Or if you're a local, it's where Denny's used to be. If you plan on checking Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong out, carve out enough time to wait. While early reviews indicate they use an app that you can access to monitor your place in line, it wasn't working when we visited. Expect quotes of at least an hour, unless you get there right when they open.
Our advice to deal with the wait (unless you like sitting on a chair lined up outside like it's the principal's office): make the most of your time. They will text you shortly before it's time to be seated. Scope out dessert in the plaza, since they don't serve any. Wander the aisles inside Daiso. Heck, keep a cooler in your trunk and get some grocery shopping done at Mitsuwa. You certainly have the time to spare.
Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong is located at 14160 Culver Dr, (949) 559-9678; www.678usa.com.