The South Bay has long been a bastion of Korean dining and culture — for proof, look no future than Santa Clara’s suburban Koreatown, where restaurants old and new serve tender braised short ribs, bubbling tofu stews, spicy rice cakes, and more. But even considering the already-rich Korean dining landscape, a new restaurant promises to be a big, smoky sensation.
Baekjeong, one of the world’s finest Korean barbecue chains, opens its first Bay Area outpost at San Jose’s Westfield Valley Fair on Wednesday, August 16. The restaurant, which was first announced in November 2021, has been a long time coming for fans. But Kijung Hospitality CEO Michael Chon says the Baekjeong team has had their eyes on Northern California for even longer. “It was a natural progression for us to go north,” he says. So when the Westfield team approached them about a space at the mall, they jumped at the chance to plant a flag at one of the Bay Area’s most bustling retail centers.
For those who aren’t already familiar with the brand, Chon says Baekjeong is about more than just great Korean barbecue. From the first U.S. location, which debuted in 2012 in Los Angeles’s Koreatown, Chon says his aim has been to bring Korean flavors and culture to the American mass market. “We try to recreate the idea of what eating in a night market would be,” he says. “Boisterous, loud. It’s a really fun environment, very lively, and it’s more than just the food, it’s the culture that we’re bringing.”
The San Jose restaurant menu ports over many of the familiar offerings that have made Baekjeong so popular at its other U.S. outposts including house-marinated galbi and bulgogi. The menu includes combos that can serve small or larger groups, plus a handful of appetizers such as japchae and fried dumplings; a selection of noodles and stews; and a list of bowls and rice dishes. Senior Director of Culinary Operations Samuel Kim says diners can expect the same high-quality meats, which staff will cook for them on the table. But they’re also pulling out all the stops for the San Jose community. “We have kind of gone more ambitious with the menu,” Kim says. “We really think San Jose is a sophisticated market that will appreciate the additions.”
That means premium ingredients including caviar, uni, and truffles sprinkled into the mix. This is also the first outpost to sport a full bar, and on top of a beverage list that spans beer, wine, and cocktails, there are also a few food items unique to the bar, where tabletop grilling isn’t an option. Diners will be able to belly up for Korean-inspired drinks such as a dongchimi martini made with radish water kimchi crafted by Los Angeles-based bartender Cari Hah to pair with dishes such as a burger topped with kimchi-bacon jam; bulgogi grilled cheese on milk bread; a galbi Scotch egg topped with caviar; and a big bone-in, slow-roasted short rib.
The space, which covers some 9,000 square feet over two levels and can seat more than 200 diners, has been designed by Sang Kim of South Korean design firm Sun Creative. Chon says he’s excited about some of the features that tie the restaurant to its Korean roots, for example, mother-of-pearl accents around the main entry, antique woodwork and furniture, and folk paintings.
As at the newest sister location in Lynnwood outside Seattle, the San Jose restaurant will offer reservations via Resy. But Chon also says they know mall-goers might want to pop in and dine at the restaurant after an afternoon of shopping — plus, the restaurant has a long history of being walk-in only — so they’ll hold about half of the 58 tables for diners looking to come in for an impromptu meal. “We just hope the diners and customers of San Jose will appreciate what we’re trying to do,” he says.
Baekjeong San Jose (2855 Stevens Creek Boulevard, #1808 in San Jose) opens for lunch and dinner on Wednesday, August 16. The restaurant will be open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to midnight on Fridays, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.