San Francisco’s glorious melting pot of Asian populations and culture yields incredible culinary options, and much of it gives rise to incredibly convivial dining. Korean barbecue, for one, offers one of the best shared experiences. Sweet and spicy marinated meats — from kalbi/galbi short ribs to brisket, chicken and pork belly — get dropped on a tabletop grill for you and your party to flip and cut while it cooks. Then all manner of flavors join the party in banchan (Korean sides), lettuce wraps and sauces galore, before topping it off with copious amounts of Korean beer and soju. Anyone else getting hungry?
While the Sunset and Richmond districts have historically offered the best Korean BBQ options in San Francisco, there are can’t miss KBBQ destinations — both of the all-you-can-eat and a la carte variety — throughout the city to discover. Check out our picks for the best Korean BBQ restaurants in San Francisco below.
The traditional Korean BBQ spot that reigns supreme for most locals, Han Il Kwan is a classic. The open dining room has tabletop gas grills with very large vents above each table, so it’s less smoky than you’d expect from a place with over a dozen grills going at a time. Most items are served a la carte and the marbled marinated ribeye is the sneaky winner on this menu; although all of their meats are especially high quality. For the complete experience, go with a group and order the menu sets that feed either six to eight people. Be sure to ask for the soondubu soft tofu stew and fluffy steamed egg that comes with it, even if you might be running out of room on your table with this complete KBBQ service.
Korean BBQ by its very nature is great for group dinners, but YakiniQ, with its long dining room and large tables, is especially good for bigger parties. That’s because YakiniQ takes away the guesswork with their straightforward all-you-can-eat menu for $30. Spend a little bit extra, and you’ll get premium cuts like beef tongue, and spicy pork bulgogi too. For a Korean joint, the Japantown vibes are high when you look out the window at Hotel Kabuki across the street. It’s a smoky room, but the stools have a jacket compartment under the seat, so not all of your clothes smell like delicious galbi and pork belly. It’s a nice touch. And while It can get loud here, it’s what KBBQ joints in Seoul skew towards more often than not.
At the helm of three-Michelin-starred Benu, Corey Lee is one of the most highly regarded chefs in San Francisco. With San Ho Won in the Mission District, he sought to explore the cooking traditions of his Korean roots with modern techniques. Along with chef, co-owner and Benu compatriot Jeong-In Hwang, they’ve leveled up literally every aspect of the Korean BBQ experience. Instead of galbi, San Ho Won serves prime double cut galbi short ribs. Instead of the usual accompanying jjigae stew, they serve the dish 6-Year Doenjang and Clam Jjigae. And rather than using straightforward charcoal, Lee and Hwang grill on a central BBQ with solid lychee wood charcoal produced exclusively for the restaurant. You get to the idea, right? Everything here is at the pinnacle of KBBQ. You’d be wise to make a reservation ahead of time.
This Inner Richmond neighborhood KBBQ spot is really a catch-all for AYCE style. There are over 30 meat options, from classic beef and pork preparations to even scallops and baby octopus — all for less than $40 per person. It’s a vibrant place when busy, with big-screen TVs showing sports, endless flavored soju carafes and extra cold beer towers with dry ice vapors for effect. Party on.
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While not in San Francisco proper, this San Bruno institution is worth a short jaunt down El Camino Real, especially if you’re finding yourself at a hotel near SFO Airport for the night. That’s because SK (stands for Seoul Kalbi) boasts “ranch to table” American Wagyu beef and Duroc pork for all of their dishes on the $45 all-you-can-eat menu. Since they opened in 1991, all meats are cooked tableside over mesquite charcoal in a rustic-style grill that packs a punch. There’s even a vegetarian AYCE BBQ menu option for under $20 a head.
The heartbeat of one of only three Nihonmachi (historical Japanese communities) in America, there’s hardly a more fun place to explore Asian culture in San Francisco than the Japantown Mall. On the ground floor of the West Mall, Beque Korean Grill is a go-to spot for a lively Friday or Saturday night. They offer both all-you-can-eat and a la carte options that get cooked on their tableside gas grills. Also, don’t sleep on their weekday BBQ lunch platters with a choice of BBQ chicken, ribeye, house marinated pork and even galbi, all checking in at under $20.
While it’s not open until 3 a.m. anymore like it was before the pandemic, Wooden Charcoal Korean Village still offers legit charcoal-style KBBQ tableside in an old-school setting. The BBQ short rib is memorable here, as is the cuttlefish if you’re feeling like change of pace. For the adventurous eaters, their honeycomb tripe and small intestines are especially delicious cooked over their charcoal grills. As far as the sides go, the seafood and green onion pancake is a great choice and there are more stew options (like crab, soft tofu and kimchi) here than at most other spots.
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