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Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, a Seoul-based Korean BBQ chain, opened its Manhattan location recently; as of this writing, it is less than a month old, and I was able to go on the second weekend. The number of people there made it seem like it was opening weekend, creating a busy, bustling atmosphere that created energy for my purposes (I was there for a friend’s birthday).

Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong caught my attention when a friend mentioned that it’s owned by comedian and former wrestler Kang Ho Dong, who, according to the LA Times, is “an ebullient mix of Jack Black and The Rock (with a tax-evasion scandal thrown in)” – not exactly typical of a restaurant franchise.

And despite already having a location in LA and Flushing, NY, this location is highly anticipated because it would the chain’s flagship restaurant in the U.S., featuring Executive Chef Deuki Hong, who, according to Eater NY, previously worked at Jean Georges and Momofuku. I had no idea of any of this, and so fortunately for you lovelies, I was able to go in with unbiased judgment.

The restaurant is brightly lit, very clean, and furnished with simple wooden tables and chairs that take up minimal space and yet still feels welcoming. The grills are equipped with ventilation tubes that could be pulled way down, which meant minimal odor on your clothes. A++ for thoughtfulness.

It may have been the inexperience of the front-of-house staff that is only in its second week, but there was very little organization in managing the horde of people who showed up and wanted tables. When we finally caught the eye of the main hostess who was taking names, she grimaced at our party size (12), and promptly ignored us, making me frustrated and confused.

We did get our seats with a minimal wait, though. And once we were seated, the servers took over, and their friendly, relaxed, and fun-loving demeanor turned our experience around dramatically. In the end, I had a good time. Pro-tip: Each table seats 6, and they pair up their tables with very little space in between, so even though our party was split into two separate tables, we felt like we were sitting at the same one. They did put our orders on separate tabs, though: one per table.

The food: pretty delicious. Unlike other Korean BBQ places, the sides were already served, meaning we sat down to a full table. I was a little overwhelmed at first, a bit confused by what all the dishes were, but our placemats had instructions, and so by process of elimination, I was able to figure out which dishes held items meant to be consumed with the meat, and which were meant as sides that could be eaten separately. Another A++ for thoughtfulness.

It was also pretty different that the grill had a little moat where the warm sides – eggs and corn with cheese – could be cooked and kept warm. The cold sides included kimchi, pickled radish soup, pickled radish, tofu, and salad. The salad, according to our placemats, could also be eaten with the meat.

We ordered two large beef combos and a large pork combo. With the beef combo, there is a choice of short rib or ribeye, so we had one of each. The servers know what they’re doing with the meat and cooked our food to what I thought were the perfect levels. I know some of us liked our beef more well-done, but no problem – we just threw it back on the grill.

The secret sauce went well with all of our meats, the marinated cuts were deliciously marinated, and the salads were tasty even when eaten on their own. By the end of the meal, I was happily full and pleased with my experience.

With its thoughtfulness and helpful servers, I recommend Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong as a place for newbies to Korean BBQ. Be warned that the place doesn’t take reservations, so get there early! We were there by [5:30], and there was already a horde on a Saturday night.

Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
319 5th Ave (entrance on 32nd St)
New York, NY 10016
212-966-9839

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