I sure am not the first person to jump on the Korean BBQ in Buenos Aires bandwagon, but I also won’t be the last. As my friend Diego joked at dinner Friday night, “What’s with this trend of cheto expats hiking out to Bajo Flores for some kimchi?” He’s right, it seems like all anyone can talk about these days is heading to Koreatown. But there’s plenty of merit to this buzz, and you won’t even have to beg a cab driver to take you too out of your way. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s talk BBQ Town in Barrio Chino.
Part of the reason I think most extranjeros (or adventurous Argies) are so amped up about Korean barbeque is because it’s not the norm here in Buenos Aires, and it provides a fun, unique experience with flavors you don’t just stumble upon on a regular basis. I had read a bazillion great things about BBQ Town, and had been trying to drum up interest among my local friends/meal companions. The hunger pangs I endured throughout the day as I made room in my tumtum for the meal were well worth it.
We walked in to the brightly-lit and spacious restaurant around 10:30 on a Friday and though it was only about half full, the tables were buzzing with friends and families chattering above the sizzle of grilled meat and octopus. It’s definitely one of the nicer establishments in Barrio Chino – not as grungy or rundown as other places. One thing I realized the minute we walked in – we gonna stank after this meal. No extractor could do the work required to suck up all the smoke/food smell, so be prepared for that. But whatever. Some people (myself included?) enjoy smelling like smoky meat.
Our waitress was a space-case but friendly enough. Another waiter – not sure if he was Chinese or Korean – was very friendly and helped us figure out all the dishes. Suddenly a flurry of little bowls were being scattered around our table as we waited for the grill to get fired up. Some of the items we missed, but with a little deductive reasoning you can figure out more or less what they are.
I was with three Korean bbq virgins, and while I’m no expert, it was kind of fun to explain the process to them. They hid their unease well (especially at the sight of the spicy tripe, which I have to say was really good. This coming after a traumatizing tripe experience years back). Diego – our weekend asador – took well to his role of Korean grillmaster.
Side note: beware of the hot-ass grill that is working its magic underneath your table. A stray bit of charcoal flew out and kind of burned my friend’s leg. Not the end of the world, but a little unexpected.
Of all the little bowls that were brought out, my favorites were the fried tofu topped with some sassy spicy bbq sauce, the mandu (like gyoza), the tempura sweet potato and the INSANELY LARGE OYSTERS. Hello, oysters on steroids. I ate two and would have had more but probably wouldn’t have had room for the rest of the meal.
When we started up our grill-fest, I was basically in overdrive. So many dishes to try, new flavors, different kinds of spice, noodly things, and a huge tray of various meats at our disposal. It was like Christmas morning. Really. I was that excited. I thought the octopus was the best (I have a thing for tentacles), but there was a spicy meat (pork? beef? not sure) that had such incredible flavor we were all fighting for the last bits.
We fried up the panceta and the huge prawns … I have to admit that I didn’t make the bulgogi (sort of like lettuce wraps) because I have a weird aversion to eating lettuce in restaurants. It’s weird, and stupid, I know. But food poisoning is one of my most irrational fears and I didn’t want to ruin my oyster-binge for a piece of lettuce.
We got creative instead and used the seaweed paper (deliciously crunchy) and stuffed it with rice, panceta and other bits and had really good lumps of sexy Korean culinary delights.
After a good hour of stuffing our faces, we were ready for a little break. The waiters were all very attentive and kept checking back to see if we needed anything. When they brought out my soup (I ordered the spicy version) I was in heaven part 2. So. Good. It was really well-spiced with some kind of amazeballs chili oil and the tofu and shellfish were nice chunky additions. The non-spicy soup looked ok, sort of like miso soup but with more greens. The spicy soup definitely won.
By the time our waiter came back and asked if we wanted dessert, we were ready for the check. I think it was a combination of food coma + late Friday night + smelling like a meat truck that made us ready for a little bit of fresh air. I was sad to cut the meal short, so to speak, but it was probably for the best; dessert may have put me (and my panza) over the edge.
We paid (cash only, FYI) and it turned out to be a tad more than AR$100/person. The lunchtime price is AR$80 and is just AR$85 for dinna.
I would definitely go back to BBQ Town. It’s a fun place to visit with a group of friends when you’re tired of the same old, same old. Be prepared to be a little stinky when you leave, but you can just throw your clothes on your balcony to air-out overnight. Before I foray into the wilds of Bajo Flores, I’ll definitely be heading back to BBQ Town for another gluttonous lunch or dinner experience. Any excuse to eat more grilled octopus is fine by me.