Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 6, 2022
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COURTESY OF GRETA MARAS

Maras and Park offer a comprehensive look at some of the most notable KBBQ offerings in the Baltimore area.

Korean Barbecue (KBBQ) emerged as a popular dining option in the past decade, especially in cities with high concentrations of Korean Americans and Korean immigrants. Restaurants provide raw meat — typically sliced thin — for you to cook yourself on a grill inserted in the table. 

Not all KBBQ joints are the same. Some have charcoal grills, while others use electric grills. There are restaurants that focus only on serving the best cuts of pork, while others specialize in beef. A New York-based restaurant won a Michelin star for bringing dry-aged beef to this Korean fare.

But what unites them all is that KBBQ is a group affair. There must be a “grill master” who can expertly cook the meat on the grill and cut it using scissors — knives are not a thing here — into bite-sized pieces. We need a back-up grill master who can take turns tending to the grill. Others are in for the ride. 

Enjoying the fresh off the grill meat makes you feel like you are stealing food off the stove while your mom is not looking  you know, the best bites before the actual meal. These restaurants also generally serve a healthy variety of side dishes (for free!) such as kimchi, pickled radishes, sesame oil sauce and fresh lettuce.

We are regulars at these places, so much so that one of us had our birthday dinner with 20 people at a KBBQ restaurant. We recommend it not as a “first date” destination perhaps, but as a fun destination for a group of friends looking for something different — especially if waiters bringing out fully-cooked food is getting a little tiring. Hopkins should be thankful that there are several great options nearby, mostly accessible either by the Blue Jay shuttle or public transportation.

BeOne

Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall on 20th Street and Howard Street (which is accessible by Blue Jay Shuttle), BeOne gives you the unfussy, down-to-basic, cheap Korean barbecue. You can order off the a la carte menu priced between $20 to $23. However, we recommend you go with the all-you-can-eat (AYCE) option for $33. They do not restrict how many cuts of meat you can order at a time, which evidently is an enormous blessing in the AYCE world.

Start with the brisket — a thinly sliced, tender, amuse-bouche of sorts — then move your way slowly to marinated meats. Make sure to get the pork belly. Expert tip: utilize the slant of BeOne’s grills. Put kimchi and other banchan at the lower end of the grill. Let the grease from the pork belly cook these before falling into the drip tray. 

BeOne is generous with its side dish offerings, providing you complimentary tteokbokki and fried chicken along with your classic rice and banchan. The small dining room means you are never waiting too long to catch your waiter’s eye and order more meat. To top your whole experience off just right, you get a complimentary Yakult yogurt to cleanse the palette after your meal.

Koba Korean Barbecue

Koba is a relative newcomer to the KBBQ scene in Baltimore with its $36 AYCE option. $53 gives you more premium cuts like ribeye, L.A. galbi or filet mignon. We have not tried the more expensive option, but always left satisfied with the “classic set.” Situated about 10 minutes south of Towson, Koba is easily accessible by the CityLink RED bus. While your meat choices are a bit more limited compared to other places, the meats are always top-notch and the service is generally very attentive. 

Koba has a sleek modern feel in its dining room, which is on the smaller side. Banchan is refilled generously, although they slightly pale in comparison to the more substantive BeOne offerings. 

Iron Age

For anyone looking to take a trek out of the city, Iron Age in Catonsville is a great option. The meat choices at Iron Age are extensive: they have seven varieties of pork alone. Iron Age also comes in at the lowest price of $29 for AYCE dinner. 

The restaurant’s atmosphere is lively and bustling, in large part due to the massive size of the dining room. While the enormity of Iron Age and the energy of the place can be exciting, the service leaves a lot to be desired, and we often found it hard to get the waiters’ attention. You also can only place two orders of meat — which have tiny portions — at a time, making it exceedingly difficult to eat all we can in their strict 90-minute time limit.

Iron Age also does not take reservations. When you have to drive more than half an hour from Hopkins, you do not want to have to wait another two hours in line (which is what happened to us), so go on a weekday if you can.

Jong Kak

Jong Kak, a block away from BeOne and also accessible by Blue Jay Shuttle, is a Hopkins favorite. They have an extensive list of Korean menu items and karaoke rooms on the second floor. Jong Kak does not offer an AYCE option, but they have a limited selection of $25 a la carte items. 

Jong Kak has a charcoal grill which indisputably adds intense smoky flavor to your meal. The quality of meat is fine but nothing to write home about. However, with other great AYCE options in the area, we just can’t rationalize a KBBQ order here. Spending $25 for one round of KBBQ meat will upset your wallet.

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