Mongolian BBQ at Food World is Neither BBQ Nor Mongolian

I’ll be honest, I have no idea what Mongolian Food is.  I don’t even know anything about Mongolia itself.  But I feel pretty safe in saying that if you ever find yourself at a restaurant in Mongolia, there will be no sign of a gigantic round griddle, and they will not allow you to pick out your own ingredients from a buffet.  If you were a soldier in the Mongol Empire, you may have eaten copious amounts of meat and vegetables off of your overturned shield, cooked over a fire and stirred with your sword, but that’s pretty much where the comparison ends.  (Although I’m not sure if I should be getting my Mongol Empire historical information from a U.S. chain restaurant website?)

Anyway, regardless of its origin, Mongolian BBQ is here, and people love it.  I’m constantly asked “Where can I find some good Mongolian BBQ in Midtown?”  Which is a tough one for me to answer, because I don’t usually eat Mongolian BBQ.  And there are four words to explain why: Pay by the Pound.  Take me to an all you can eat Mongolian BBQ (like Fire & Ice in Boston), and I’m a madman.  You force me to weigh my food and there’s going to be trouble… but for the sake of you people, I headed to Food World- the freshest looking Mongolian BBQ I’ve seen in Midtown.

What I got, Mongolian BBQ Porn, and a +/- after the jump…

I’ve seen a few Mongolian BBQ places in Midtown, but Food World is a really good combination of size, and freshness.  Everything looks really clean and good, and if you are skeeved out by normal by the lb. buffets, you can take comfort in knowing that this food is going to be cooked, *after* you remove it from the public trays, making it a lot cleaner.  Mongolian BBQ is not a difficult concept to understand, but the instructions are summed up pretty well in this photo:

At almost $8 a lb., the rules of Mongolian BBQ are very similar to the rules of the by the lb. buffet.  Big Money Items.  You gotta do it.  Nothing on the buffet costs more than $8 a lb, so no matter what, you’re getting ripped off- but by loading up on the meat and seafood you are at least getting closer to that $8 a lb price point.  Normally I would be worried taking seafood off a buffet like this, but Food World’s shrimp and scallops actually look reasonably edible- especially compared to other Mongolian BBQ’s I’ve seen.  (They hadn’t been deveined though, which I know will be an issue for some folks.)

Starch is the killer, and Food World makes it real tough, offering multiple noodle choices which all look delicious.  It was too much for me to handle, and I caved- turning my stir fry into a chow fun sauteed udon style noodle dish.  I tried to make up for it by adding more beef, and less veggies but I knew I was screwing myself.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that noodles + water + oil soaked griddle = heavy.

Once you fill your bowl, you go over to the cooking station and select your sauce.  Most Mongolian BBQ’s will add the sauce for you, but Food World allows you to add your own sauce, and mix and match as you please.  They also have fresh ginger and garlic, which allows you to really get creative based on your own personal tastes.  It can be a little overwhelming trying to choose a sauce, and adding it yourself, but it is a great perk for those who always find that places like this add too much or too little sauce.

I went with the “Ginger Sauce”, and tossed in some extra fresh garlic for good measure.  They have about ten sauces in all- so to try all of them and report back would have been too much Mongolian BBQ, even for me.  I have my limits, people.  The Ginger Sauce and garlic combo was pretty awesome- but if you have a favorite, feel free to post it as a comment below.  

With the sauce applied, we were ready for cooking.  With sword-like giant sticks to move the food around, the guy behind the sheild-like griddle moved with the quickness and efficiency of a soldier in the Mongol army.  You like that?  Actually, they just looked like guys with giant chopsticks cooking Chinese food on a giant round griddle.  Nothing Mongolian about it.

After a few minutes of cooking, I head over to judgement day.  With the over/under set at one pound, I put all my money on the “Over”, and won pretty handily:

It’s too bad nobody was there to take my sucker bet.  The meal was delicious, but I couldn’t help but think that for $6, I could have had the Beef Chow Fun at Hing Won- and it would have tasted exactly the same, if not better.  Of course, I would have missed out on all the fun of picking out my own ingredients, plus the company of any co-workers who will only go to crappy & generic Midtown delis.

I can’t say Food World is the best Mongolian BBQ in Midtown, but it is the nicest one I’ve seen.  Have you been to a better one?  Do you have a favorite flavor combo?  Feel free to post it as a comment below…

THE + (What someone who likes this place will say)

  • The ingredients all looked really fresh and good
  • The food is cooked *after* you take it out of the public trays, making it much cleaner then normal by the lb buffet food
  • The Food World Mongolian BBQ has scallops and big shrimp, both of which were delicious and as fresh as can be expected.  This makes it less of a rip off.
  • Big selection
  • I love coming up with my own food creations, so I love Mongolian BBQ

THE – (What someone who doesn’t like this place will say)

  • I am a fat man, and should never pay for my lunch based on what it weighs
  • It’s tough to get away from Mongolian BBQ for less than $9, making it a total rip-off!
  • If you want Chinese stir fry, you can get it pre-made at a Chinese restaurant for much cheaper then $8 a lb.
  • I would never eat seafood from a generic Midtown deli

Food World, 20 E. 46th St. (btw. 5th + Madison), 212-661-1110

More Mongolian BBQ photos on the Midtown Lunch Flickr Photo Page



  • You don’t know what you are talking about when you put Azure down!!! Azure is great.

  • There’s a popular restaurant chain in Russia called Elki-Palki that prepare “Mongolian BBQ.” The difference between American Mongolian BBQ and Russian Mongolian BBQ is that the Russians serve things that Mongolians actually eat, i.e. horse flesh.

  • Mmm… fond memories of Mongoloian BBQ at the dining halls in college (aka Mongo’s Grill!)

  • Not in NYC, but in the mall at Jersey City there’s a fast food place called Great Khan’s. Same concept (lots of veggies, meat, big griddle), but you pay a flat fee. Much better deal and it’s always fun to see people cramming as much as they can into the bowls. I keep hoping one will open up in the city but no luck so far.

  • Sarah – haha fiscally mostly. On most social issues, I’m way more liberal than a regular ol’ Republican. No tears. Unfortunately… most people vote w/their wallet. No worries, I did not vote for Bush, ever.
    Shall we discuss my religion (lack thereof) next? ;)

    PS Well, there IS the Hungry Cabbie who actually HAS a food blog….

  • Brian, you may want to stay away from Pranzo. A co-worker of mine ended up with a roach in his lunch……

  • I never thought I’d be tempted to go to Jersey City, but Great Khan’s sounds awesome. I’m always up to the challenge of trying to cram as much food as possible into a flat-fee container (i.e., the salad bar at Maoz in Union Square–we really need one of those in midtown). Whereas, I generally leave a pay-by-the pound place (i.e., the Mongolian BBQ at Pergola, on 39th) feeling used and unsatisfied…

  • i love the food! :D i have it once after my 8th grade graduation. but then.. amazing how i didn’t know it was mongolia food until now!

  • It took about 3 times for me to go to FOOD WORLD to actually appreciate how fresh the ingredients are at the Mongolian Grill station. Yes, pricey, but I only go here when there is a ‘mini office’ celebration. The last 2 times I went, I treated co-workers to lunch (one was about to leave for the Bahamas to get married, and another was a Temp who worked with us for 3 weeks and it was her last day). It was easy to say, “Pick whatever you want and just meet me when you’re ready.” Its good enough for the ‘mini’ celebrations because you’re not being ‘cheap’ but its also worthy of a ‘Midtown Lunch’ spot because you can make it under $10 with fresh ingredients, that are put together in your face. :)
    No, its not the best place for ‘Mongolian/Stir Fry/BBQ’ – whatever it may be, but its different and I like their big seating area downstairs as well.

  • Love Mongolian food. Great post. Thanks!

  • I went today for the first time and it was delicious. Super fresh kale, spinach, red pepper, tofu, zucchini, snap peas, bean sprouts, carrots, beef, pork, brown rice, garlic, ginger, sauce – awesome. But – $14! Will make it an every-other-week visit.

  • Food World’s Udon soup is NO JOKE! The hell with the Albanian bbq; UDON! UDON! UDON!

  • Love Mongolian food tooo!!! nice post!! nice blog!!!

  • Actually, I really don’t like this place. I skimmed through some of the comments and they make the point that I don’t like about it, the water squirting. It steams the meat, doesn’t cook the garlic or ginger properly (leading to very bad taste) and in the end they try to squirt more water to make it weigh more.

    For my money, try Cafe Variety on 48th between 6th and 5th (opposite Rockafeller center). Their food is frakkin’ awesome. The Mongolian BBQ there sells out fast, they squirt oil, cook the meat separately and get a good caramelization layer going on everything.

    They even have a shawarma station that’s decent, a pasta station that is by far one of the most generous and tastiest I’ve seen (no extra charge for fresh shrimp!) and even their sushi looks fresher than anywhere else.

    So please review Cafe Variety, you won’t be disappointed!

  • oh so tasty… but my lunch with a drink was $13. 10.50 for food 2.50 for drink.

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    “Mongolian Barbecue” is actually a misnomer. It was invented in Taiwan in the 1970s and based on what the Taiwanese believed Mongolian cuisine was like. The actual inspiration for Mongolian bbq is Japanese teppanyaki, where food is cooked on a hot iron griddle. Much more Benihana than Ulan Bator!

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