BBQ Garden’s “Oriental Cuisine” is the Best Cheap Korean Lunch West of the 405
When I visited Hungry Pocket for a falafel back in September, I remember staring lovingly at BBQ Garden- a cheap looking Asian fast food dive in the same strip mall across from Santa Monica College. I love me some cheap and dirty Asian food, but this place looked like it could go either way. The words “Oriental Cuisine” never inspire confidence, and to make things worse the menu had a strange mix of seemingly Korean and Japanese dishes (including sushi?) But when a Korean friend told me that it was probably the best fast food Korean place on the west side, that was all I needed to hear to head back.
“Best Korean on the Westside” isn’t really saying much… especially considering that outside of Gushi and Bibigo in Westwood, it’s really one of the ONLY Korean places I’ve heard about on the Westside where you can get lunch for under $10. You order at the counter, get a number and find a seat.
The most popular order seemed to be the “BBQ”. For $8 you can get beef or chicken, “beef rib” (aka galbi) will run you $11. And they’ll gladly go half and half on the chicken and beef. The chicken is typical cheap Asian restaurant chicken (otherwise known as dark meat) so if you’re not into that consider this your warning. The beef is similar to the thinly sliced brisket you get at cheap all you can eat Korean restaurants. Grilled, fairly flavorless, but tasty enough once dipped into the cup of sweet soy mixture they give you. Oh, and there’s a fried egg buried under all that meat! How great is that?
If you prefer japchae (Korean cellophane noodles) over rice, you’ll want to order the #6 (beef with vegetables) or $7 (beef and chicken with vegetables), even though neither mentions anything about noodles- and you can’t really make out anything noodle-like in the menu photo. I was a fan (fried egg FTW, again!) but you should know that they sautee the japcahe like lo mein before serving it, giving the dish a more Chinese taste compared to traditional versions.
The best things to order, though, turned out to be the rice dishes. The kimchi fried rice is really homey and as you can see also comes with a runny fried egg on top (always a good thing) and you get a decent amount for $7- especially considering that it comes with kimchi and a simple soup (guk).
Don’t love kimchi fried rice? They also make a hot stone pot bibimbap (‘hot stone rice with vegetables’ on the menu) which is always nice to find for under $10. There wasn’t a ton of beef in it, but the veggies were good, it came with an over easy egg (once again, always a good thing). Once the rice on the bottom gets nice and crispy, mix it all together with red pepper paste they give you, and it’s perfectly delicious.
Even though the owners are Korean, they offer a few Japanese dishes- like udon, oden, sushi and a surprisingly decent katsu. It’s $9, and you get your choice of pork, beef, or chicken. Don’t know what the beef is like, but I would have no problems recommending the pork and chicken.
They also make a version of Lo bok ki which does nothing to dispel the notion that this dish should only be eaten while drunk, plus a few soups which look like they might be pretty good, and spicy fried chicken wings which look as good as they sound. Is it the best Korean food of all time? Not even close. But for the Westside, it’s tough to complain. You don’t get as much food as Gushi, and it’s not as refined as Bibigo. But if I worked or went to school at Santa Monica College, I’d probably eat here at least twice a week.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I love Korean food, and it’s tough to find on the Westside
- Nothing is spectacular, but everything is made to order, and tastes like home cooking
- Almost everything is under $10 and comes with soup and a decent home-style kimchi
- Hot stone bibimbap for $8? Nice!
- I love runny fried eggs, and they put them on top of everything
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I’d rather pay more money and get some good Korean food or drive to Westwood (or even better Koreatown!)
- I don’t like dark meat chicken
- The BBQ meats are really not that good
- There’s nothing special about any of it…
- $8 for cheap meat over rice is really not that great a deal
BBQ Garden, 1707 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, 310-450-6494