Manna Korean BBQ Opens Banchan Buffet in DTLA
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a bit obsessed with all you can eat buffets. Whether it’s Chinese food in Hollywood, Japanese food in Little Tokyo, Brazilian meats in Culver City, or Japanese/Chinese seafood in West L.A., I’m always down for a good challenge. I like all you can eat Korean BBQ as well (obviously), although I do enjoy the standard steam table set up of a good buffet. The quantity. The variety. The challenge. It’s like a 3 round UFC title bout. Me vs. The Buffet. It’s why I was willing to pay an unheard-of-for-me $17 (!!?!?!) to eat at Hansong Buffet in Koreatown. It was a lot to shell out, but I can confidently say that place has not made money on me.
That being said I’d rather not make a habit of eating at $17 all you can eat Korean buffets… so when my good buddy Matt told me that a new Korean BBQ place had opened Downtown with a $9 all you can eat lunch buffet, only one thing came to mind. Oh baby, you know what I like!
Located on the 3rd Floor of the Little Tokyo Galleria on Alameda btw 3+4th, Manna Korean BBQ is a pretty standard but modern all you can eat BBQ place. They have two levels of all you can eat BBQ goodness for $18 and $25, plus ayce Shabu Shabu as well for the same price. And they have a typical menu of Korean lunch offerings from 11am to 3:30pm, including dolsot bibimbap, naengmyeon (cold noodles), soups, stews and meats. Everything falls in the $8-$14 range, but the real thing that sets this place apart is their buffet of banchan and other assorted Korean(ish) goodies.
The buffet comes free when you order a dinner entree or any of the all you can eat options, and when Manna first opened a month ago they offered it as a $2 add on to any of the lunch specials. But like a casino that realizes a new table game is bleeding money, they quickly rescinded that offer. (Boy would I have liked to be a member of the M.I.T. buffet team who recognized the flaw in that rule and swooped in to take advantage!) Now the buffet is available as a stand alone lunch option for just $8.99. Don’t mind if I do…
The size is what I would classify a small scale buffet, with only one station. There is a cold section, with a mostly standard selection of banchan plus fresh veggie summer rolls and bibim naengmyeon made with buckwheat noodles.
And a jealousy inducing selection of items that are meant to be used by those who ordered the all you can eat Korean BBQ.
The warm half of the station sports fried rice, glass noodles (japchae), sauteed rice sticks (dukkboki), small vegetable pancakes (pajeon), a sauteed meat dish, plus a nice selection of tempura. There were also four different soups, some tuna fish kimbap (Korean sushi), and inari (or as I like to call them, football rice.) And for “dessert”? Sticky sweet potato cubes. Sure it’s mostly throw away items you get for free, or super cheap, at many Korean restaurants, but it was a nice selection. And the size of the buffet made it real easy to implement my standard buffet first plate strategy: a little bite of everything.
With dishes like this it’s tough be blown away, but everything was fairly decent to decent. The banchan was a solid B, as was the fried rice and japchae. And the dukkboki did its job. Sadly, though, a steam table isn’t the best place for Korean pancakes (they get super soggy), and the bibimim naengmyun was a bit too sweet for me (too much fruit) but neither issue made the dishes inedible. The only real miss was the super tough spicy sauteed beef, which will be a big problem for people looking to load up on meat. Even a middling bulgogi instead of that bad beef dish would have gone a long way to making this one go from a B to a solid B+, A-. (Maybe they change it up day to day?) Basically this buffet is firmly on the vegetarian friendly side of things.
On the plus side, there were a surprisingly varied number of tempura options including egg stick tempura (hello!) and onion tempura, which is essentially all you can eat onion rings (very exciting.)
And if you like Korean soups, their versions are on par with the ones you get for free at most decent ayce Korean BBQ places.
I’m sure there will be a lot of people who can’t bring themselves to pay $9 for so much stuff that you normally get for free at decent Korean restauarants, and an equal number of people will have to put that grill in the middle of the table to good use- after all, $17 might be out of my price range, but it’s a perfectly reasonable amount to pay for all you can eat Korean BBQ. But if the idea of paying $9 for an all you can eat lunch of dukkboki and japchae (and onion rings!) gets you excited, then get excited. Because Manna has just changed the game in all you can eat Korean lunches. And if we want it to last, we’ve got to support!
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- $17 ayce Korean BBQ is too much meat for lunch… their $9 buffet is perfect!
- I love all the filler dishes at Korean restauants: japchae, dukkboki, fried rice.
- All you can eat onion rings!
- All you can eat kimchi jiggae? I’m in.
- I think banchan is the best part of any Korean meal… banchan buffet sounds right up my alley!
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Where’s the beef!? The one meat dish on the buffet was pretty bad. I need some meat!
- There’s no way I’m paying $10 for something you normally get for free!
- None of the stuff is really that good. I’d rather go to K-Town and eat at one of the $10 ayce BBQ places
Manna Korean BBQ, 333 S. Alameda St. 213-617-0306