I have been eagerly waiting for the opening of Manna bbq, an all you can eat Korean bbq restaurant, since San Diego currently only has one other AYCE Korean bbq restaurant (Jeong Won). The doors finally opened last month, but I opted to wait a while for them to settle down and work out any kinks.
The opening of Manna BBQ has been quite popular due to the fact that there is a popular AYCE Korean bbq restaurant in LA with the same name. However, despite many similarities (name, format), the two are not related. I specifically asked the owner for confirmation. I had my suspicions since the LA Manna does not list the San Diego one as one of their locations.
Before paying a visit, I read some yelp reviews. The reviews from yelp have been mixed. It seems the biggest complaint was how slow everything was. While Manna is AYCE, you have to order the meat, and they bring it to you. You are also restricted from how much you can order at once.
Since Manna bbq does not close between lunch and dinner, I opted to try to avoid the lunch and dinner crowd in hopes of better service. My plans were almost foiled because when we arrived, there was a sign that stated they were temporarily not serving anyone. However, we peeked inside and there were about 2 tables of customers, and they let us in as well. I think they were trying to close because most of the staff was on break (we saw them all coming back near the end of our meal), but they didn’t want to turn away customers either.
So with the restaurant almost completely empty, we got our food very fast.
Inside, the restaurant was very clean and pristine, like how a new restaurant should be. In addition to all you can eat, they have a regular menu as well.
For the AYCE, there are two options. A limited menu “A2″ is priced at $19.95 per person. The more expanded menu”A1″ is priced at $24.95. Everyone in your group must choose the same menu. The more expensive menu has seafood along with filet mignon. However, we ended up choosing the limited menu. Neither of us really cared for the seafood. BF and I both really enjoy the marinated meats, and we didn’t want to stuff ourselves silly, so we decided to go with the limited menu.
The waitress recommended two items for us to start with, the Chadol Baegi (Black Angus beef brisket cut from breast) and Beef Tongue. We decided to take her recommendation.
After placing our order, we were served some panchan dishes. I didn’t really like any of the panchan dishes other than the kimchee and the rice noodles. I thought the potato salad was way too sweet. The bean sprouts tasted too hard.I guess in a way it was a good thing because I had no desire to fill up on the panchan dishes.
We were also given a steamed egg (Gaeran Ggim). I love eating steamed egg this way. The version here was slightly too salty for me though.
We also got a large plate of salad as a palate cleanser for all the meat we would be consuming.
Our first two cuts of meat:
The meat was sliced very thinly. Our grill was also very powerful. we were surprised at how quickly our meat cooked. The previous korean bbq places I’ve been to, it always takes so long for the meat to cook. We turned down our grill a few times, but we still ended up overcooking a lot of our meat.
Every once in a while, the waitress would come and check on us and notice all the meat we kept burning. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell she was thinking that we must be new. She tried to help us out a few times. BF and I felt like such newbies even though we’ve both done this before.
I enjoyed how thin cut both orders of meat were. I was surprised that the beef tongue was so thin it didn’t even really taste like beef tongue anymore. Normally BF doesn’t eat beef tongue but he didn’t mind the one here.
Next we ordered the LA Galbi (marinated beef ribs) and Nukan sal (beef finger meat cut between the ribs)
Along with tongs, we had been given some scissors which the waitress told us we could use. But I didn’t think we needed to use it. Then when we were cooking and trying to eat the galbi, the owner came over and decided to do it for us (we really must have looked like newbies). He cut the galbi with the scissors, making it much easier to eat. He also finished cooking our meat for us and then changed our grill. I felt like a little girl getting her steak cut. Heh.
After this, to my horror, BF declared he was full. I decided to forge ahead and try two more meats before calling it quits. I ordered the Nukan sal again (by accident, I had meant to order the jumooluk) and then I also ordered the Spicy Sauce Pork Bellies (slices of pork belly, similar to bacon, in spicy sauce).
The pork belly slices were thick. It actually was pretty tasty. I didn’t think I’d be able to eat it with the chunks of fat, but we grilled it long enough that everything turned crispy.
While we were eating this, we also got some soybean stew. I love soybean stew. This wasn’t my favorite version but it was alright. I liked it better than the other panchan dishes we had.
I left pretty happy. I had been worried based on the yelp reviews. Of course I realized I got lucky with the timing. I tried comparing my experience with Jeong Won. It’s hard for me to favor one over the other. I think I would go back to either one readily depending on what I’m in the mood for.
I like the atmosphere here better. Manna is clean and has a restaurant setting. Jeong Won is set up more like a pub/bar.
I like that Jeong Won has the buffet food on display so you don’t have to wait order and rely on the wait staff. I also like that Jeong Wong offers more panchan dishes (which are pretty tasty) and ice cream for dessert. However, I think the quality of meat is a bit higher at Manna and they offer more meats and seafood options for grilling.
Hopefully Manna will be able to work out any remaining kinks with its service. I am happy that we now have another AYCE option in San Diego and hope Manna is here to stay.