As of Wednesday, August 16, the Bay Area has a hot new option for Korean barbecue: the region’s first and highly anticipated outpost of Baekjeong. The restaurant chain first announced its plans to expand to the South Bay back in November 2021 eyeing a 2022 debut. It took quite a bit longer than that to open, but at long last the restaurant fired up its grills this week, serving hundreds of diners on its first day in business.
While some might be familiar with the restaurant thanks to its six locations scattered across Southern California, plenty of diners will undoubtedly be experiencing Baekjeong for the first time in San Jose.
Here’s everything to know before you go.
What’s the big deal with Baekjeong?
If you haven’t heard of Baekjeong until now, you might be wondering what’s got people so excited. Here’s a brief history of the restaurant: Kang Ho Dong, a South Korean celebrity, started the restaurant in Korea back in 2003 and Michael Chon, CEO of Kijung Hospitality Group, brought the concept to the United States in 2011, starting with a location in Los Angeles’s Koreatown. It was a breakout hit, named among the city’s best restaurants in 2015 by then-Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold and earning high praise from Eater LA editor Matt Kang a few years later.
There are a handful of reasons why fans love the restaurant. The quality of meat (the restaurant advertises that it uses only USDA prime meats) tends to get mentioned among them. As with other higher-end KBBQ restaurants such as Cote, staff also cooks the meat for customers. Each table comes equipped with a grill and — importantly — a powerful hood that can be pulled down to just above the table to whisk away smoke and fumes. The atmosphere is also part of the draw; Chon told Eater SF the restaurant tries to replicate the boisterous atmosphere of a Korean night market.
How do I get a table?
First things first: how to get to the restaurant. It’s located at Westfield Valley Fair, which is located in the city of San Jose, though it uses a Santa Clara mailing address. You can access Baekjeong through a ground-floor entry on the southern side of the mall, near Salt and Straw and the Apple Store.
The San Jose restaurant is the second in the Baekjeong chain to offer reservations, which can be made online via Resy. As of Thursday, August 16, reservations are open through mid-October with limited availability primarily on weekdays for lunch. The restaurant does hold a number of tables available for walk-in customers — but expect a wait. On opening day at lunch, some customers were told it’d be a two-hour wait. Wait times at Southern California locations can often reach up to 90 minutes during peak hours, according to one staff member.
How much does it cost?
Baekjong is not an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue restaurant, but the menu includes combos priced for either two to three or three to four diners. The small combos, which include between three and four different meats range from $66 to $91, while large combos range from $108 to $142, according to a menu from opening day. If you choose to order meats a la carte, expect to spend between $33 and $61 depending on the selection. Appetizers and additional dishes such as noodles or rice range from $11 for the popular Lunch Box to $30 for brisket cast iron stir-fried rice.
The San Jose location also offers a full bar with wines starting around $13 a glass and cocktails priced at $14 each. The restaurant’s bar food menu, which includes dishes not offered at other locations, is not yet available.
What should I expect once I sit down?
Diners will be greeted with a spread of salads and banchan when they sit down at their table. These include two salads, a green onion salad with gochujang dressing and an iceberg salad with a mustard-based dressing. Other banchan include an apple salad, pickled cucumbers, pickled radish wraps, rice paper wraps, pickled jalapenos and tofu, kimchi, and a house sauce for dipping meats.
The round grill at the center of the table, where the staff will cook your meats after you order, also comes with a small serving of cheese, corn, and an egg omelet. Both will cook on the side once your meats get going.
What are the best things to order on the menu?
According to a server on opening day, the most popular combo is the Hodong’s Favorite Combo ($76 or $126), which includes four types of meat: thinly sliced beef brisket, boneless short ribs, pork belly, and marinated pork steak. If your table wants to go all beef or all pork, there are combo options for that as well. We ordered a la carte and tried the short ribs, which diners should note are served off the bone and grilled at the table. The marinated bulgogi does not get cooked in front of you.
Popular appetizers include the seafood pancake and japchae — but for something a little more decadent, try the beef tartare. It’s tossed tableside and comes with pickled onions and garlic, chunks of Asian pear, pine nuts, and raw egg. Sesame oil makes up the backbone of the dish, which makes a surprisingly refreshing and light — yes, light — counterbalance to the grilled meats.
For a side dish that’s specific to the San Jose restaurant, don’t miss the brisket cast iron stir-fried rice ($30). It’s cooked on a cast iron wok at the table and comes with thin slices of brisket, mushrooms, garlic chives, and bean sprouts. Staff also added sesame oil, a heady amount of black pepper and salt, and a small amount of truffle oil.