Long ago, in Los Angeles, two Korean friends invited me to join them for a taste of their native cuisine. I had never eaten Korean food before, but something about the way their eyes rolled back in their heads and their mouths watered while talking about it convinced me to try it. Our destination was an enormous Korean BBQ buffet on Olympic Blvd. It was there that I learned the ways of cooking seasoned and unseasoned meat with garlic on one’s tabletop grill, wrapping it in lettuce leaves, applying bean paste and biting into the creation to achieve a trip to “Oh my God”sville. Though that restaurant has long since closed, the first impression that Korean BBQ achieved will remain with me till the end of my days. That being the case, I’m always on the lookout for a good Korean BBQ to reclaim that magical feeling.

Although it is my honor to write about the delights of Irvine for the good readers of Irvine Weekly, I must concede that I live elsewhere in O.C. That brings us to Korean BBQ in Irvine. “Where to begin?” I wondered. Since most of the people I know in Irvine are of Chinese heritage, I didn’t have the advantage of a personal recommendation, so I turned to Yelp. After typing in “Korean BBQ” for Irvine, the site revealed that a place called All That Barbecue had a 4/5 rating with nearly 1,800 reviews. Sounded like a winner to me! The Yelp reviews for All That Barbecue had a trend of pointing out long waits for dinner time, so lunch it was!

Photo courtesy of Scott Feinblatt

The restaurant is located at the northeast corner of the Culver Plaza, at Irvine Center Dr. and Culver Dr. At around noon, on a Monday, parking was not a problem. I walked into the restaurant and was immediately seated. So far so good! At this hour, there were about five other parties dining, and there was plenty of space left. The spirit at the various tables was lively, which helped the atmosphere; although the place was suitably equipped for its tabletop BBQ needs – with a grill and an overhead vent for smoke per table – there were no decorations to speak of.

Our server greeted my party immediately and took our drink order. He also asked if this was our first time dining there, and I gave him the short version, “I’m new in town, but I’ve had Korean BBQ before.” Satisfied that we could take it from there, he departed as my party looked over the menu. The first thing that struck me about the menu is that this was an all-you-can-eat menu. Good start for a hungry man, and the prices were not bad – $18 for lunch, $25 for dinner. The next thing I noticed was that all of the entries on the menu had amusing names, such as: Smokey The Pig, Skinny-Dipping Cow, Mini Krakens and Surfin Shrimp. Some of the dishes were available only for dinner. These included: Simply Clean (filet mignon), Umami Explosion (marinated chuck flap tail) and Not Your BAEsic Pork Belly (pork belly marinated with teriyaki sauce).

We ordered a cross-section of items and then snacked a bit on some standard sides, which included kimchi, mashed potatoes, noodles and cucumber kimchi. Our first order, Skinny-Dipping Cow (brisket point) arrived within moments. Nothing too surprising there; unseasoned, thinly sliced brisket. When dabbed with one or more of the seasonings (salt, bean paste, and I believe a sweetened soy sauce with jalapeno pepper), it was quite satisfactory. Near the end of the meal, I discovered that my table had also been equipped with thin slices of pickled daikon and rice paper as additional condiments, but somehow they wound up hidden behind my dining partner’s plate.

Next up came an order of Don’t Rib Me Off (seasoned beef meat). I placed this very large slab of meat on our grill, where it sat for a good 15 minutes, while we continued to work on the thinner – more quickly cooking – meats, such as: Tried & True (bulgogi). The bulgogi was sweet and very satisfying. After inhaling a batch of that, we ordered another and then used our stainless steel tongs to turn our Don’t Rib Me Off, which still had a ways to go.

Photo courtesy of Scott Feinblatt

Though the bean paste in our condiment tray was not the same as the heavenly one I’d experienced in the days of yore, and our table had not been supplied with large leaves of lettuce in which to wrap our meat – perhaps as a result of the recent E. coli outbreak / California romaine lettuce recall – this restaurant’s fare was keeping my stomach happy. Additionally, the waitstaff was readily on hand to refill drinks and bring fresh batches of meat. Next up, the Rice Hot Dog (meat patty in rice cake) sounded interesting and unusual; alas, the restaurant had recently dispensed with that item. “No matter, my good man. How about an order of Porky Paradise?” I asked.

Within a minute or two, a nice little slab of Porky Paradise (pork belly) was cooking on our tabletop grill. At this time, the rib meat was done, so I used the table shears to cut it into bite size pieces and then served me and my guest. The rib meat was definitely good stuff. I’m not sure it was as delicious as the bulgogi, but it was very tasty. We chased it down with the pork belly, and a half order of Speak Your Beefy Mind (beef tongue) which were both pretty tasty.

Before calling it a day the menu’s words “Finish Line” caught my attention. The description read: “Koreans always end their meals with rice. So make sure you also finish your meal with one of our delicious rice dishes.” The options included: chef’s fried rice, white rice and scorched rice. Our waiter informed us that scorched rice was a porridge. Hmmm… Well, the white rice is just white rice, so I decided to go with the chef’s fried rice. Unfortunately, as in the case of the Rice Hot Dog, the chef’s fried rice was no longer available.

Thought it didn’t take the reins of “Best Korean BBQ Ever” from my original Korean BBQ experience, All That Barbeque did provide me with good service, some very yummy meats, and a no-nonsense environment in which to consume said meats. I suppose the menus should be updated so that they do not reflect items of interest that may no longer be ordered, but everything that my party ordered ranged from satisfying to “Oh boy, is that good!”

All That Barbecue, 15333 Culver Dr. #100, Irvine, CA 92604; (949) 336-8965; www.allthatbbqirvine.com

11:30 am – 11 pm (Sun – Thur) / 11:30 am – 12 am (Fri-Sat)

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