If you dine often enough at the Korean barbecues in our county, you’ll learn that banchan—the cluster of small side dishes that accompanies virtually every meal—is just as important as the entrée. With the quality of each piece of meat inspected down to the last millimeter of marbling, it’s a restaurant’s banchan that separates the best from the rest.
Fullerton’s Mr. BBQ takes a maximalist approach. The glitzy restaurant serves more than 20 types of banchan. There’s potato salad, glassy japchae (a sweet potato noodle stir-fry), gently pickled cucumbers, and plain sliced tomatoes. There’s kimchi, too, as well as a heaping green salad. These little plates quickly crowd the table, each an endlessly refillable and crucial component to the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat experience.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong is just the opposite. The new and wildly popular outpost of this Korean chain offers a more curated banchan experience. Before you order a single piece of meat, the table is set: a saucer of thinly sliced pickled radish, sweet-and-spicy kimchi, hunks of boiled potato slicked with sugar and soy, a salad of chile paste-spiked bean sprouts and green onion, and a cold, soupy water kimchi. This banchan selection is designed to complement every one of the restaurant’s premium meats.
The venerable Cham Soot Gol strikes a happy medium. About a half-dozen dishes arrive in the first wave of banchan, among them crunchy radish kimchi and addictive slices of fish cake cut to resemble noodles. There are chewy sheets of rice paper, too, into which you can stuff some blazing-hot bulgogi and perhaps a dash of the bean sprout salad. This is how you make those plates of rosy meat into a full-fledged meal.
When you’re not craving Mr. BBQ’s all-you-can-eat meat, try the restaurant’s sundubu instead. The roiling tofu soup is perfect for cooler days and nights, but its menacing-looking red broth isn’t quite as spicy as it appears. Slurp it down carefully to be warmed inside and out.
305 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
5171 Beach Blvd., Buena Park
Cham Soot Gol
8552 Beach Blvd., Buena Park
9252 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove