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I don't do buffets or All You Can Eat (AYCE) much but when it involves Korean BBQ, I'm suddenly more open to the idea. Taegukgi Korean BBQ House happened to be my first AYCE KBBQ in San Diego and I found myself back for lunch two years later! My only other two KBBQ visits were at Manna BBQ in Mira Mesa and the original Manna BBQ in Convoy. I'll eventually get around to exploring others...
The restaurant is in the same plaza as Zion Market and has plenty of parking, plus you can get your asian grocery shopping on afterward! Dennis and two coworkers joined me during their Tuesday AYCE lunch special.
The restaurant is very spacious with a covered patio area that would be ideal for summer time. They sell macaron ice cream sandwiches from this middle stand and often have fresh made taiyaki, fish-shaped dessert with red bean in the evenings.
We walked through the patio to reach the hostess stand. As we entered the main building, I found it amusing that the whole staff greeted us loudly, which reminded me of the "fresh bread" announcement at 85 Degree Bakery! Inside, there were long tables with a grill per every four seats. The vents were super low with just enough clearance to cook the meats. The staff could raise the vents up and down like a periscope to help control the smoke from getting everywhere. It was probably the first time we left a kbbq restaurant without a super strong bbq smell on our clothes but there was still some trace of it.
For Tuesday lunch, the AYCE was discounted to $15.99 instead of $19.99. There were 8 meats to choose from and you could order up to 4 at a time. It didn't sound like much compared to a typical kbbq dinner but this was plenty for lunch. I noticed on Mary's post from 2013 that they only had 5 items so at least the selection increased! Our server helped us with suggestions on what to order.
We liked how they shaved down the slices of the beef meat, which allowed it to cook super fast to get nice and crispy with a slight char.
We were happy with the two dipping sauces provided during our meal. One side was a sesame oil over coarse sea salt. The other side was a more ponzu style dipping sauce which I thought was slightly sweet and quite delicious. The non-marinated meats kept ending up in there.
The beef bulgogi was already marinaded so no need to dip that one. From my Manna experience, I was dreading chewy meat but these were softer with a balanced flavor. This was one of the meats that we liked best.
The pork belly cut was just a little bit too thick. It took a while to prepare because you had to cut it up. Dennis thought the pork belly tasted great. He liked it crispy on the outer edge but the meat was a bit firmer than we had hoped though we may have overcooked it slightly. Flavorwise, it paired well with the sesame oil / salt mix since it wasn’t seasoned.
For round two, we ordered a couple of half sizes. We hadn’t even finished cooking all our meat from round 1 so we didn't want to over-order (AYCE rules say they will charge you for leftover food)!
We went with two half orders of the chicken bbq flavor and the spicy chicken. The chicken bbq marinade was subtle, not too salty or sweet so I enjoyed this version. As for the spicy chicken, it had a pleasant heat overall but some pieces kicked me a little harder than others! That's coming from someone who doesn't do much spicy though.
Taegukgi Pork Ribs
The pork rib was an interesting choice. It came with chunkier strings of meat hanging off the bone. We cut the meat apart over the grill. These were fiery red in color but I think the chicken pieces seemed spicier! We cooked these just right too which kept the pork moist.
Pork Neck Meat
I was really surprised when this small triangle of meat came out! Once on the grill, it cooked quite fast, within 2-3 minutes. The unmarinated pork neck was firm and definitely needing the sesame and salt dip. The waiter said it was like pork chop which seems about right! We probably wouldn't order this again though.
A small assortment of banchan and salad (not pictured) were served before we even placed our meat order. My least favorite was the japchae noodles, which didn't have enough sesame oil for my preferences. The spicy cucumber, fishcakes and beansprouts were decent and I had refills of that. I did not try the kimchi or side salad so have no idea how they were. I was saving room for the meat!
Also with our meal came a slightly salted steamed egg which I liked.
We arrived for a later lunch and it didn't seem that busy, but interestingly enough, more people came in towards the end of our meal. Besides our server, there seemed to be multiple people that came by to bring our orders or clean up. We had our grill changed out twice and several refills of side dishes. I wasn't a fan of the grill changing process though. Someone always asked when we were in the middle of cooking and either we’d need another couple of mintues to finish first, or they’d patiently hold up the dirty grill while we brushed off our meat onto the new one. The grills took a while to heat up though and were a bit "sticky" without any oil. With the bigger grills here, the process felt more cumbersome than our experience at Gyu-Kaku.
Despite these minor details, everyone seemed to enjoy the lunch selection and we'd probably go again in the future. My biggest curiosity is which of the full menu items we are missing out on!
*edit* I finally got to try their macaron ice cream sandwich! The color of the macaron indicates the flavor of the filling only. The macarons taste the same otherwise! Not bad for a snack but Blush Desserts across the street is next on my list!
Taegukgi Korean BBQ House
7655 Clairemont Mesa Blvd #501
San Diego CA 92111