Images / K-Town BBQ
Korean BBQ is the sort of restaurant experience that is highly dependent on in-person dining because it’s multi-dish, family-style eating. It’s exactly the sort of experience so many of us are craving right now. Perhaps like myself, you miss dining out – the warmth, laughter, and delight of reaching across the table for sauces or sides with people you dearly treasure, and piling your plate high with different flavors and sensations.
Eddie Choi, owner of Fremont’s K-Town BBQ, is setting out to give customers that exact experience, only it just looks a little different. Instead of having servers grill the meat before you, he’s packing up customers with grills, stoves, and extensive meal kits to create their own magical Korean BBQ experience right at home. In light of modern Korean cuisine, Eddie’s flexibility and resourcefulness makes sense to me; like many other cultures, some of South Korea’s most famous dishes came to life from pure necessity.
Ingenuity Lives and Breathes in Korean Cuisine
Eddie educated me on some of the historical roots of certain Korean dishes, many of which stem from a need for resourcefulness during times of financial duress. He talked about how brisket, a cut of meat that isn’t particularly tender, was prepared in specific ways, so as to prevent the meat from getting dried out or stringy. Koreans would either slow cook the brisket, or slice it paper thin and then grill it.
A lot of today’s popular Korean dishes also come from historical events, like the Korean War. When American G.I.’s occupied South Korea, they’d get care packages from back home, and often sell off these packages to local peddlers. These packages contained all types of American cuisine, like spam or fried foods. South Koreans would take these materials and implement them into their own dishes, like putting spam in kimchi soup or developing Korean style fried chicken.
The Heart of Korean BBQ
I asked Eddie why he wanted to open a Korean BBQ place in Fremont back in January of 2016, and he responded, “ Well, I may be a little biased. I have to eat Korean food at least once a day.” Eddie spent years in New York, working in restaurants, beginning with his mom’s diner. His mom had a restaurant that served a cornucopia of cuisines to the people of Jamaica, Queens. She’d serve $3 breakfast plates and during lunchtime, Soul Food. The biggest draw though, were the Korean dishes she incorporated into the menu, like short ribs or oxtail Korean style.
Along with his love for Korean food, he also explained that there weren’t many Korean BBQ places in the area to begin with. Eddie felt like he could bring a unique dining experience to the city.
I personally don’t have the most extensive Korean BBQ experience, and I was curious to know what Korean BBQ meant to Eddie.
He explained, “ Korean BBQ is about eating and drinking with people that you want to be around. It’s grilling meat, drinking soju or Korean beer, and having a good time.”
The focus of Korean BBQ is the meat choices. Popular meats include: bulgogi, thinly sliced ribeye marinated in a sauce, chadolbaegi, thinly sliced brisket dipped in various sauces, fresh pork belly marinated in sauce, and short ribs marinated in sauce. Many of the marinating sauces have a soy/garlic base and are considered lighter than Teriyaki sauce. These meats are inherently versatile and have been used in other cuisines to create unique fusion experiences like bulgogi tacos, burritos, and burgers.
Bridging the Culture Gap
Eddie prides himself on bringing a different type of Korean BBQ experience to his customers. In his eyes, it’s not just about providing the best quality meat, it’s also about making diners feel at home, even if they’re unfamiliar with Korean cuisine. He feels that it’s important for his restaurant to bridge the gap between American and Korean culture by giving a more accessible experience to the general public. When people dine (or will eventually dine) at K-Town BBQ, Eddie doesn’t want them to feel intimidated or like they don’t belong.
In spite of current limitations, it’s incredible to hear how a fully dine-in restaurant has transformed the way it brings Korean cuisine to its diners strictly through takeout. In addition to the grilling kits, K-Town BBQ also offers à la carte menu items that are cooked as normal. There’s plenty of options for anyone looking to enjoy Korean cuisine.
Like many restaurants, K-Town BBQ is hopeful to make it through these difficult times. In spite of their lost revenue and running the restaurant with just a few employees, they’re dedicated to still providing the best service possible to diners.
When I asked Eddie what he’d say to his local community, he said, “I wouldn’t give a customer anything that I don’t give to my own family. I’d also encourage people to try Korean cuisine if they haven’t.” I echo Eddie’s latter sentiment; one of the most meaningful ways of experiencing a culture is through their food, and the rich flavors of Korean cuisine absolutely warrant a must-try.
Location: 5890 Mowry School Rd, Newark CA
Hours: 12pm-2pm, 5pm-8:30pm for takeout only
Call: (510) 656-1001