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Gen Korean BBQ: the other KFC

Is it the Asian “togetherness” thing? Or just the universal family thing? I think it’s a beautiful marriage of both.

Eat till your drop: the dishes keep on coming.
Eat till your drop: the dishes keep on coming.

Is the world going Korea-kerazy? Might could be. Not just K-Pop. Also KBBQ. Everywhere I look, there’s another Korean barbecue joint popping up. “Missy wants to go there,” says Maggy on the phone. “It’s good for crowds, because everybody eats everything. You cook your own stuff. And you get these beer towers where you pour your own. It’s awesome!” Missy is Mag’s daughter. She has just graduated with an MA. Whole family’s gathering on this one.

Place

Gen Korean BBQ

10765 Westview Parkway, San Diego

So here we are in the Mira Mesa Market Center, across the 15 from the Miramar Reservoir. Mid-Sunday afternoon. About 20 people lining up outside this large post-modern entrance next to Mens Wearhouse. Gen staff with iPads flit among us. Wow. Quite a production. Up until recently, it was all outside-eating under big stretched canvas canopies. But now you can go in, too. And most are choosing that. We join the line, and before you can say Jack Robinson, we’re filing into this midnight blue-lit space. Wow. One of crew says the restaurant’s name, “Gen,” is all about “next generation.” And I can believe it. It’s like going in to a show, and as soon as we’re in that blue world, the place erupts. People yelling, a DJ blaring about “Happy birthday! Let’s hear it for Bon Jovi!” (That’s what it sounds like, anyway.) Everyone cheers. Couple of guys usher us to a long table with white cushion-backed benches. Place is mostly full, even though it’s mid-afternoon. And the music is all loud and hip-hop and rap. But somehow it works, making the chatter and birthday cheers feel cool. Looks like this is where everybody comes to celebrate. Successful? They have a time limit of 90 minutes per customer for a reason.

Meats, before and after.

So, let’s get to! One of the server guys is right onto us about drinks. The other one is lighting the cooking flames in the middle of the three tables.

“Oh yes!” says Daniel. He’s the type of guy who wears his baseball hat backwards and covers his arms with a blurred sea of tats right down to his wrists. The kids (and there are quite a few running round) love him.

He’s done this Gen scene before. “Many times!” he says. “Mess of ’Q and the towers of power! We’ll have the Blue Moon,” he says to the server.

The idea here is so simple: all-u-can-eat. Pay $24.99 and chow down. Each person chooses one of the 31 main items, from KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) to Seoul Fries (sautéed kimchi and spicy aioli over fries) to spicy samgyubsal (pork belly).

Post-covid, you can still get the free Korean appetizers - banchan - like edamame, kimchi, but you have to ask for them.

Of course, if you’re a kid, it’s cheaper. Love their way of deciding how much of a kid you are. If you are under 40 inches tall, you eat free; 40-50 inches, pay $9.99; over 50 inches, sorry pal, full size, full price. This gets over all age debates. It measures you by your obvious capacity. Brilliant.

Talking of tall, Daniel and Denny, who are twins, are going for the 3-liter (6-plus pint) beer tower ($34.95). Me and my buddy Nathan go for the 2-liter model of Sculpin Elysian Space Dust ($24.95). Comes out to 4-1/4 pints, so maybe $6 per pint. They have other beer choices too. And boy those towers arrive lickety-split. Beautiful, orange-colored beer swirling around an inner ice-filled tube. Makes you long to drain the whole thing in one glug.

What this place is for: Missy, Daniel. The emotional moment when the loudspeaker calls her name

Since the pandemic, they haven’t been serving all those free side dishes — things like edamame, kimchi, and potato salad — that you usually get alongside Korean meals, but they do give you the banchan (snack) list and you can request as much as you like from it, free. Then, we each have to choose from the list of main dishes. Some of the guests, like Karen and William at the next table, are deciding between items like spicy pork bulgogi (“fire meat”), pork cheek, Hawaiian pork belly (marinated samgyubsal with pineapple slices), Jap Chae (sweet potato starch noodles stir-fried with vegetables), spicy baby octopus, and hey, Volcano Chicken. It has a Warning! sign: “Fried and marinated chicken with Extremely Hot Sauce.” I’ve already ordered (smoked garlic pork belly), or I swear I’da gone for this, just to see how real the heat scare is. Plus I was sort of interested in the last one, item #31 (same number as the number of company stores they have franchised throughout the west in six short years): Soondoboo. It is a spicy soft tofu stew.

But in the end, the dishes just keep on coming, and you forget which was yours and which wasn’t. The sizzling continues. They’re all delicious, and the great thing is, everyone’s being the cook. We’re all busy chopsticking away at rolls, bacon, flaps of meat, or salad, or snipping chunks of raw chicken with scissors and grilling them over the blue flame. Early on, I realize my plate has collected the spicy chicken, beef brisket, Hawaiian pork belly, beef bulgogi, and lots of onions, and I haven’t lifted a finger. And Lord! More arriving!

So the talk and the arm-reaching is non-stop. It’s great. Feels just like family in your grandma’s time. Except grandma didn’t have hip hop thumping out and the whole building cheering someone like Missy, who’s celebrating her graduation. She stands up to recognize the cheers, resplendent in her robes, mortarboard hat, and blue silk sashes that say “academic.” For a moment, she can’t stop crying.

Man. This feels so good. Is it the Asian “togetherness” thing? Or just the universal family thing? I think it’s a beautiful marriage of both. Whatever, I certainly could do more of it. Only problem: our 90 minutes are up, and there’s still a line outside. And dang. You can’t take leftovers home.

I shoulda talked less, eaten more.

  • The Place: Gen Korean BBQ, 10765 Westview Parkway, Mira Mesa Market Center, 858-800-1157
  • Hours: 3pm-10:30pm, Monday-Thursday; 11:30am-11:30pm, Friday; 11am-11:30pm, Saturday; 11am-11pm, Sunday
  • Prices: Dishes e.g. spicy pork bulgogi, Hawaiian chicken, spicy baby octopus, Gen signature galbi (short rib), $24.99 per customer; draft beer, e.g. Sapporo pint, $4.95; two-liter tower, $24.95; three-liter tower, $34.95
  • Buses: 20, 110, 237, 921, 964
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Westview Parkway at Mira Mesa Market Center (20, 964); Mira Mesa Blvd at Black Mountain Road (110, 237, 921)
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Eat till your drop: the dishes keep on coming.
Eat till your drop: the dishes keep on coming.

Is the world going Korea-kerazy? Might could be. Not just K-Pop. Also KBBQ. Everywhere I look, there’s another Korean barbecue joint popping up. “Missy wants to go there,” says Maggy on the phone. “It’s good for crowds, because everybody eats everything. You cook your own stuff. And you get these beer towers where you pour your own. It’s awesome!” Missy is Mag’s daughter. She has just graduated with an MA. Whole family’s gathering on this one.

Place

Gen Korean BBQ

10765 Westview Parkway, San Diego

So here we are in the Mira Mesa Market Center, across the 15 from the Miramar Reservoir. Mid-Sunday afternoon. About 20 people lining up outside this large post-modern entrance next to Mens Wearhouse. Gen staff with iPads flit among us. Wow. Quite a production. Up until recently, it was all outside-eating under big stretched canvas canopies. But now you can go in, too. And most are choosing that. We join the line, and before you can say Jack Robinson, we’re filing into this midnight blue-lit space. Wow. One of crew says the restaurant’s name, “Gen,” is all about “next generation.” And I can believe it. It’s like going in to a show, and as soon as we’re in that blue world, the place erupts. People yelling, a DJ blaring about “Happy birthday! Let’s hear it for Bon Jovi!” (That’s what it sounds like, anyway.) Everyone cheers. Couple of guys usher us to a long table with white cushion-backed benches. Place is mostly full, even though it’s mid-afternoon. And the music is all loud and hip-hop and rap. But somehow it works, making the chatter and birthday cheers feel cool. Looks like this is where everybody comes to celebrate. Successful? They have a time limit of 90 minutes per customer for a reason.

Meats, before and after.

So, let’s get to! One of the server guys is right onto us about drinks. The other one is lighting the cooking flames in the middle of the three tables.

“Oh yes!” says Daniel. He’s the type of guy who wears his baseball hat backwards and covers his arms with a blurred sea of tats right down to his wrists. The kids (and there are quite a few running round) love him.

He’s done this Gen scene before. “Many times!” he says. “Mess of ’Q and the towers of power! We’ll have the Blue Moon,” he says to the server.

The idea here is so simple: all-u-can-eat. Pay $24.99 and chow down. Each person chooses one of the 31 main items, from KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) to Seoul Fries (sautéed kimchi and spicy aioli over fries) to spicy samgyubsal (pork belly).

Post-covid, you can still get the free Korean appetizers - banchan - like edamame, kimchi, but you have to ask for them.

Of course, if you’re a kid, it’s cheaper. Love their way of deciding how much of a kid you are. If you are under 40 inches tall, you eat free; 40-50 inches, pay $9.99; over 50 inches, sorry pal, full size, full price. This gets over all age debates. It measures you by your obvious capacity. Brilliant.

Talking of tall, Daniel and Denny, who are twins, are going for the 3-liter (6-plus pint) beer tower ($34.95). Me and my buddy Nathan go for the 2-liter model of Sculpin Elysian Space Dust ($24.95). Comes out to 4-1/4 pints, so maybe $6 per pint. They have other beer choices too. And boy those towers arrive lickety-split. Beautiful, orange-colored beer swirling around an inner ice-filled tube. Makes you long to drain the whole thing in one glug.

What this place is for: Missy, Daniel. The emotional moment when the loudspeaker calls her name

Since the pandemic, they haven’t been serving all those free side dishes — things like edamame, kimchi, and potato salad — that you usually get alongside Korean meals, but they do give you the banchan (snack) list and you can request as much as you like from it, free. Then, we each have to choose from the list of main dishes. Some of the guests, like Karen and William at the next table, are deciding between items like spicy pork bulgogi (“fire meat”), pork cheek, Hawaiian pork belly (marinated samgyubsal with pineapple slices), Jap Chae (sweet potato starch noodles stir-fried with vegetables), spicy baby octopus, and hey, Volcano Chicken. It has a Warning! sign: “Fried and marinated chicken with Extremely Hot Sauce.” I’ve already ordered (smoked garlic pork belly), or I swear I’da gone for this, just to see how real the heat scare is. Plus I was sort of interested in the last one, item #31 (same number as the number of company stores they have franchised throughout the west in six short years): Soondoboo. It is a spicy soft tofu stew.

But in the end, the dishes just keep on coming, and you forget which was yours and which wasn’t. The sizzling continues. They’re all delicious, and the great thing is, everyone’s being the cook. We’re all busy chopsticking away at rolls, bacon, flaps of meat, or salad, or snipping chunks of raw chicken with scissors and grilling them over the blue flame. Early on, I realize my plate has collected the spicy chicken, beef brisket, Hawaiian pork belly, beef bulgogi, and lots of onions, and I haven’t lifted a finger. And Lord! More arriving!

So the talk and the arm-reaching is non-stop. It’s great. Feels just like family in your grandma’s time. Except grandma didn’t have hip hop thumping out and the whole building cheering someone like Missy, who’s celebrating her graduation. She stands up to recognize the cheers, resplendent in her robes, mortarboard hat, and blue silk sashes that say “academic.” For a moment, she can’t stop crying.

Man. This feels so good. Is it the Asian “togetherness” thing? Or just the universal family thing? I think it’s a beautiful marriage of both. Whatever, I certainly could do more of it. Only problem: our 90 minutes are up, and there’s still a line outside. And dang. You can’t take leftovers home.

I shoulda talked less, eaten more.

  • The Place: Gen Korean BBQ, 10765 Westview Parkway, Mira Mesa Market Center, 858-800-1157
  • Hours: 3pm-10:30pm, Monday-Thursday; 11:30am-11:30pm, Friday; 11am-11:30pm, Saturday; 11am-11pm, Sunday
  • Prices: Dishes e.g. spicy pork bulgogi, Hawaiian chicken, spicy baby octopus, Gen signature galbi (short rib), $24.99 per customer; draft beer, e.g. Sapporo pint, $4.95; two-liter tower, $24.95; three-liter tower, $34.95
  • Buses: 20, 110, 237, 921, 964
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Westview Parkway at Mira Mesa Market Center (20, 964); Mira Mesa Blvd at Black Mountain Road (110, 237, 921)
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