The tabletop grills inside Dae Jang Keum will stay quiet while San Diego is under the indoor dining ban of thestate's purple tier.
Maybe it was because the purple tier was coming. Maybe we just wanted tabletop Korean BBQ. Whichever it was, we showed up at Dae Jang Keum, a.k.a. DJK Korean BBQ, feeling adventurous.
7905 Engineer Road, San Diego
Dae Jang Keum stakes the claim as San Diego’s only charcoal Korean BBQ restaurant. Which means, just like a backyard barbecue, the small grills built into the center of its tables imbue meats and seafood with smoky flavor, as opposed to the usual, cleaner burning propane.
On Tuesday November 10, San Diego was put into the state’s covid-19 purple tier, effective November 14, signaling a ban on indoor dining for the next several weeks at least. I don’t know that the news led to an uptick in people heading out to indoor restaurants — it likely had more to do with our run of cooler autumn temperatures. Regardless, every place I checked out this week, from Carlsbad to Barrio Logan, was seating customers indoors.
Whether or not customers rushed out to experience what may be the last gasp of indoor dining for the year — the ban won’t end until county covid numbers decline for successive weeks — restaurant owners definitely rushed out to buy patio heaters. Warm patios will be more vital than ever heading into this season of flu and coronavirus, and by midweek they were hard to come by.
A table of banchan set for tapletop grilling
For all of us, there were plenty of signs purple tier was coming. To be honest, I haven’t dined indoors much this year, even when it’s been permitted, but with the writing on the wall I figured it would be fun to squeeze in one last indoor meal at a place where it really counts: thus the Korean BBQ.
Dae Jang Keum isn’t exclusively a tabletop BBQ restaurant. It also serves noodle dishes, hot pot, and Korean style casseroles, and those will still be available for take-out and delivery, or dining outdoors under tents in its small Kearny Mesa strip mall parking lot. You may even get BBQ dishes such as Korean short ribs, cooked up in its kitchen.
Squid cooked over charcoal: must love squid to enjoy.
But those charcoal tabletop grills will sit dormant for a while, and with them the experience of sitting around a table, being served platters of raw meat and seafood. Of snagging bites of banchan from bowls surrounding the smoking grill.
It’s not a cheap experience — a party must place at least two orders of protein to cook at the tables, the cheapest one starting at $20. That would be the whole squid. Which sounded like a fun way to go, though I’m now forced to admit that unseasoned, grilled squid isn’t my favorite. Even with the entertainment of it being cut up with scissors at our table, and aided by a trio of dipping sauces, I regretted not ordering chicken or pork. Take that, food writer street cred!
Sesame beef sizzles to life on a tabletop grill at DJK Korean BBQ.
On the other hand, the sesame beef was terrific. Probably the best bet for a first-timer is to try the $58 combo, which includes cook at your table chicken, brisket, and bulgogi marinated beef.
Though, at this point, that will have to be a future recommendation. Till then, enjoy take out and stay warm eating outdoors. San Diego restaurants are in for a tough winter, and sadly, the first neighborhood closings have already been announced with news of the indoor dining ban this week.