The Dish List: California Gogi Korean Grill

Balmore Ruano | New University

Balmore Ruano | New University

As a native of Garden Grove — aka the home of all things Asian like Little Saigon — I like to think I know a thing or two about Korean BBQ. I may not be Korean, but I can walk out my front door and smell bulgogi and kimchi like someone who lives in Newport Beach can smell the ocean.

So when I heard a few months back that University Town Center would be opening a California Gogi Korean Grill, I had my doubts.

Gogi doesn’t earn any points from me based on their interior design. It’s a small, cramped space, so the owners don’t have much to work with in terms of decorating other than installing bright fixtures to light up the simple white restaurant. Also, there are just a few booths available so plan on either standing around with your tray awkwardly after you pay or heading outside to hunt for an outdoor table.

But what Gogi lacks in terms of capacity, they make up for in service. While approaching the restaurant may at first seem discouraging — there’s almost always a line nearing the door — convince yourself to wait and you’ll find yourself paying at the register in less than five minutes. Gogi is set up bar-style where numerous employees stand at attention on the other side of all the rice, meat and add-ons, awaiting your order. The bar displays all the ingredients in organized stations so you’ll know exactly what you want without knowing what that thing is actually called. The employees are efficient in building your dream meal and they don’t skimp on the portions they offer.

The first station is “Select your style.” Here you can select the form you want your KBBQ to come in, from the classic box to the modern wrap to the unconventional taco trio and sandwich. While the box comes in handy for separating your meats from your vegetables, I personally find that the food tastes best when mixed together in a tortilla-bound wrap. All style options provide the same amount of food for approximately $6-7.

Next comes the meat station, where you can select up to two of eight different meats (if you order a taco you can select three!) if you order a box or a wrap. There are various variations of bulgogi (grilled marinated meat), shrimp and tofu for vegetarians. I’ve sampled just about every meat flavor and you can’t go wrong because all of them are sizzling hot and contain the perfect amount of spice. If you’re new to KBBQ, I suggest ordering the original bulgogi along with something different like the garlic shrimp.

Finally, to complete your meal you can select any kind of banchan (Korean add-ons) from a list of eight. This is my favorite station because it serves all of the usual banchan that you would find at a KBBQ restaurant like cucumber kimchi and marinated bean sprouts.

After completing the three stations your meal is topped off with a side of crunchy sweet potato fries — a bit of California flair to the otherwise more traditional KBBQ ingredients — and for dessert you’re welcome to pay separately (only $4) for red bean, green tea, coconut or coffee flavored shaved ice.

After taking just one bite out of my monstrous wrap, all suspicions and doubts were erased from memory. The rice was fresh, the different bulgogi styles meshed well together and the vegetables were seasoned well. Gogi is the perfect KBBQ place if you’re on-the-go or want to kill time in between classes because you can take your box or wrap wherever you go and still have some to bring home for leftovers. Although I’m pretty traditional when it comes to KBBQ, Gogi was a welcomed modernity and I can’t wait for them to expand.