Korean BBQ have been a hot trend for a while now, with the unmistakably smoky and savory flavors of bulgogi sweeping through Los Angeles, New York City, and Houston like a delicious wave. If you haven't been to a KBBQ joint yet—or even if you've been a few times—this is your guide to the ins and outs of this beloved tradition.
From marinades to grilling techniques, marinated beef bulgogi has become a staple at dinner tables throughout America. Whether you're already an enthusiast or are just getting started with this exciting cuisine, we'll give you the run-down on why Korean BBQ is taking over the country. Read on for traditional recipes, the stories behind some of the most popular restaurants in NYC and LA, and tips for mastering your own KBBQ dishes at home.
Introduction to Koreatown and Korean Cuisine
Korean food is becoming increasingly popular in cities like New York and Los Angeles—but why? Well, part of it is the exciting flavors and textures. Korean cuisine has been around since ancient times, reflecting a complex interaction between the natural environment and nomadic and agricultural lifestyles. It’s full of fresh vegetables, marinated meats, pickled flavors, and plenty of garlic.
Think bulgogi (marinated beef), kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), mandu (Korean dumplings), bibimbap (mixed rice), to name a few. These dishes are becoming especially popular in the larger urban centers across America like LA, which has become home to hundreds of Korean restaurants. And when it comes to NYC, you can find everything from traditional Korean restaurants in K-Town to trendy spots serving up fusion dishes for all palates.
What Is Bulgogi and Where Did It Come From?
If you’re looking for a new way to experience Korean cuisine, look no further than Bulgogi. Bulgogi is the iconic Korean dish of thinly-sliced beef marinated in a unique blend of sauces and spices.
Harnessing flavors from thousands of years ago, Bulgogi has its origins in the Goguryeo era (37 B.C. to 668 A.D.), when Korea enjoyed an era of culinary innovation. The name itself, which translates roughly to ‘fire meat’ in English, reveals a lot about the history of this dish. Bulgogi is derived from two Korean words: ‘bul’, meaning ‘fire’ and ‘gogi’ meaning ‘meat’.
Today this popular dish is enjoyed around the world in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and even Las Vegas! With its exploding popularity, it’s easy to see why so many are turning to Bulgogi as their go-to Korean food choice—it offers a delicious and unique flavor that goes beyond just your standard Korean fare.
Reasons Why Bulgogi Has Become So Popular
There are a few simple reasons why Bulgogi has become a staple in Korean barbecues in the US and beyond.
Firstly, the taste of Bulgogi is generally considered to be delicious. The combination of sweet and salty flavors makes it hard to resist. Bulgogi is usually marinated in an array of ingredients including soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, onion, sugar and pepper.
Another factor that makes Bulgogi so popular is its versatility. Not only can it be served as a main dish but also as an appetizer or side dish. For example, you can serve Bulgogi over rice or on warm lettuce leaves with some kimchi and pickles; the options seem endless.
And lastly, but not least: Bulgogi is the collective symbol of Korean cuisine. It has become a representative dish of Korea that can be globally enjoyed by people from all cultures. Its global popularity continues to grow rapidly as more countries embrace this traditional recipe!
Korean BBQ is also known for its distinctly sweet taste
Korean BBQ not only packs a flavor punch thanks to its amazing mix of ingredients, but also because it's got a unique sweetness that you won't find in many other cuisines.
The sweetness comes from an amazing combination of flavors that includes brown sugar, vinegar, ginger, and soy sauce. This sweet-and-sour kick helps balance out the heat from the chiles making it an irresistible treat for your taste buds.
Korean BBQ can also include some surprising ingredients like strawberries, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar — all of which combine to give Korean BBQ its distinctly sweet flavor profile.
Whether you're dining out or whipping something up at home for dinner tonight, Korean BBQ's sweet and spicy flavors make it an amazing option for anyone looking for something new and exciting.
New York City’s Koreatown + the Best Spots to Visit
Koreatown in NYC is gaining notoriety and attracting food lovers from all over. It's quickly becoming a top destination for passionate foodies—especially for Korean barbeque (bulgogi, anyone?).
Located on 32nd Street in Manhattan, Koreatown has become an attraction with a nearly 24-hour restaurant and nightlife scene. From The Kunjip to Her Name Is Han, you'll find lots of restaurants to try. Joomak Banjum has been around for over 20 years and is still considered one of the best spots for traditional Korean comfort foods. Baekjeong NYC has become a favorite spot for their incredible meats, sides and drinks. Plus, Wonjo Korean BBQ gives you an awesome experience with great-tasting food cooked in front of you.
If you're visiting NYC, don't miss out on experiencing what Koreatown has to offer.
Los Angeles’s K-Town + Restaurants You Can’t Miss
If you're in Los Angeles and looking for the best Korean food, there's no better place to go than Koreatown. You pretty much can't make a wrong choice when dining out here—there are 20 exceptional Korean restaurants that have been popping up over the last several years. In fact, eight of them have been named as real LA foodie hotspots!
In case you're wondering, the one dish you absolutely can't miss when visiting K-Town is Soban's ganjang gaejang. It's an incredible combination of raw crab and a soy-based marinade, served with rice and vegetables. Just be sure to ask for extra napkins—it can get messy!
For other dishes, hits include spicy kimchi jjigae stew at Ddong Ggo, flavorsome bulgogi at Joon Gun, and black bean noodles at Mapo Galmaegi. Plus, to wash it all down, you’ll find plenty of high-quality soju and makgeolli that are definitely worth a try.
It's no surprise that Los Angeles has become a mecca of fabulous Korean eats. So if you haven't already—venture into K-Town and explore the wonderful flavors it has to offer.
If you haven’t tried Korean food yet, why wait? Pull up the delivery app, order some doenjang-jjigae, and makgeolli, and enjoy this culinary invasion in all its glory.