I was thinking to myself the other day, “Self, you haven’t gone to any Korean BBQs that are patroned by a majority of non-Koreans.” Most of the Korean BBQs I’ve gone to have been frequented by Koreans, which is the best indication of quality. But out of a chance friendship at the beginning of the year, I was invited to Gen Korean BBQ for lunch in Tustin. A Korean BBQ in Southern Orange County? I was skeptical to see what the afternoon would bring.
This place is located just a few blocks away from Old Town Tustin, and though the exterior is simply a beige looking block in the middle of a shopping center, the interior is black, clean, and cool. Black marble counters welcome the patron into a cool atmosphere. Large windows allow ample amounts of natural light into the dining room floor, and huge ventilation hoods hovering over every table efficiently remove the sizzling smoke from barbecued delights. No fog of smoke will be obstructing your view of the well designed deco. It’s clean, crisp, and modern, a foreshadowing of what might be coming on for your meal.
The servers here are staffed with Koreans; however, to cater with the Southern Orange County population, the servers all speak English just as well as Korean. This is a great relief for anyone new to Korean BBQ and afraid their orders won’t be understood. The style of service is similar to those of most Americanized restaurants, which is both good and bad. The good being the ease of communication with the staff. The bad being no service button at tables. When you go to most Korean restaurants, specifically Korean BBQs, there is a service button conveniently located at the edge of each table to call for service whenever necessary. This is as important as life and death when it comes to your food! Since the staff is so busy, it’ll usually take a few minutes of hollering before you get any attention. Therefore, don’t be afraid to holler at the staff, Korean style. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting quite a while to order your next round of food.
The food here was great! They have both a selection of a la carte items to eat as well as the all you can eat BBQ selection. With 18 different items available to choose from for their lunch all you can eat menu, it’s obvious what option to choose. They have a large selection of meats, including kalbi (or galbi), which is a sweet marinated short ribs, pork belly (imagine thick, king size slabs of delicious bacon-esque pork goodness), garlic chicken, and beef brisket. They also have more exotic meats as well, such as Kobe beef tongue and intestines. Though the latter will turn off most from trying, trust me when I say the tongue is definitely something to try. Thinly sliced, incredibly tender, and marbled just right. If no one told you what it was, you would think it was one of the tenderest meats you’ve ever enjoyed. They also have ban chan (small side dishes to accompany the meal) beautifully placed on your table and ready for your taste buds the moment you sit down. They range from as simple as lightly sauteed bean sprouts to as complicated as the tangy fish cake side dish called “odeng” (cause your mouth will go, “OH DANG that’s good!”).
If you never ate at a Korean BBQ, they have these thinly sliced pickled radishes and rice paper for you to wrap your barbecued meat with. These are great and you’ll find yourself constantly going back for more and more.
Gen Korean BBQ is a pleasant and welcomed surprise to the southern Orange County area. The food is exquisite, clean, and delicious. The interior is beautiful, and the staff is courteous, albeit busy. It is a place congregated by Koreans and non-Koreans alike, and both fill the space with big smiles and full bellies. Gen is a great stop for Korean BBQ if you’re down in the Tustin area, and a great place to meet. Just remember, this place is very popular so there will be a wait and make sure you order a lot and often to get the most out of your meal. Never fear to ask for food! It’s your appetite to satiate!
Gen Korean BBQ & Yakitori Bar
13741 Newport Ave
Tustin, CA 92780