Centrally located between San Mateo and San Francisco is the city of San Bruno, a suburban neighborhood not well known for destination eats but Korean Bar-B-Que House and Buffet is the tantalizing exception.
Located on El Camino Real, a busy highway connecting the cities of San Mateo county, the restaurant is easy to miss if it weren’t for the glaring neon sign blazing, “Korean BBQ” in bright red.
The outside looks like a conventional restaurant but inside are groups of people holding metal tongs and cooking food at their own tables. The humming sound from the exhaust fans above each table hangs from the ceiling sucking smoke up into the chamber while the smell of smoked meat permeates the air.
The décor is modest and plain but the main attraction are the unique tables that have a concave pit in the center where an employee inserts a tray of illuminated charcoal and cover with a grate for grilling.
In the center of the restaurant there is a refrigerated buffet with two separate sides – one for marinated meats and the other for prepared foods such as, salad, side dishes, pot stickers, and fruit.
There are many choices to choose from; chicken, center cut pork, marinated beef ribs, thin sliced beef brisket, calamari, mussels and shrimp marinated in traditional sweet, savory and spicy Korean flavors. If you feel like channeling, Andrew Zimmerman there are chicken gizzards and squid with long tentacles marinated in a spicy red chili sauce.
Korean side dishes called banchans, colorfully canvas the left side of the buffet table. The row is decorated with bright red kim-chee, a spicy fermented Napa cabbage, spicy radishes, seaweed, bright green broccoli and orange carrots, tofu and an array of pickled vegetables.
It is an all-you can eat BBQ buffet but wasteful clients will be charged if there is a punitive amount of leftovers.
For some that do not want to hassle with grilling, the menu offers the same items already cooked as well as tofu soups and other Korean classics.
“My wife works wonders making the sauces and my chef has 20 years experience in Korean cooking and is top notch – using fresh meat, ingredients (and) vegetables,” said owner, Yong Kim.
Yong Kim and his wife have operated the family run restaurant for more than 10 years. His family came to the US from South Korea in 1997.
Yong said the transition was hard at first but he learned to adapt and work hard so that he can give his family a better future.
“There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Yong. “Terrific food and cheap compared to my home in Korea.”
The access to great local produce in the Bay Area and the motivation to serve it has made San Bruno Korean Bar-B-Que Buffet House a local favorite in San Mateo County.