Jin Korean BBQ is tucked into a strip mall on one of the busier parts of Cooper Street in Arlington. But once you’re inside, you’d swear you could see the cook-it-yourself restaurant from space. There’s more neon lining the walls of this modern-looking restaurant than in all of the Stockyards’ honky-tonks put together.
The sheer volume of food stationed atop three long buffet tables –– all stocked with Korean standards (and a few dishes tempered for Texan palates) –– may appear overwhelming at first glance. The fact that diners cook their own food on a tableside grill might further intimidate the uninitiated. But don’t worry. Once you get the hang of it, the whole process actually seems a little liberating.
If you were to tell an adventure-adverse dining companion that he will be accompanying you to a barbecue restaurant, you wouldn’t be lying. There’s meat –– about two dozen raw beef, chicken, pork, and seafood options. And there are grills –– each table has a hibachi-like surface. Instead of a flattop, Jin’s convex version has slots to let the grease from the dinner you’re patiently cooking drain out. The meats range from the more recognizable beef and chicken bulgogi and pork cutlets to squid, tripe, and gopchang (marinated small intestine). The samgyupsal (pork belly), which looked like really thick-cut bacon in its uncooked state, turned out to be luscious with just a sprinkling of salt and pepper. The thinly sliced, heavily soy-steeped beef bulgogi was also a winner, albeit a spicy one. The pork loin was marinated in salt and a little garlic, and the dainty cut was seared beautifully. You’ll want to get an extra plate when you make your passes through the meat and seafood line. Otherwise you’ll end up cross-contaminating raw and cooked meat.
Jin Korean BBQ
3810 S Cooper St, Ste 130, Arlington. 817-419-2500. 11am-10pm Sun-Thu, 11am-11pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Along with the selections on the buffet, there is a list of specialties that a server will bring to the table. The menu has a stern warning about wasting food, so ask for small portions if you’re feeling experimental. Sadly, the beef tongue was underwhelming, without a hint of any discernable spice. The only nice thing about the tongue was that it cooked practically in an instant. The pork cheeks ended up being just really chewy bits of fat, which shrunk to bite-sized pieces on the grill. However, the pineapple galbi steak was well worth a full-size portion –– the tender rib-eye was infused with a mild soy sauce, and the sweet grilled fruit and salty beef combo was a pleasant counterbalance. The same was true of the LA galbi –– beef short ribs in a garlicky marinade that took only a few minutes to prepare and less time to devour.
More than a dozen banchan (side dishes) on a separate buffet line supplemented the proteins, including three kinds of rice, two soups, veggies, and, oddly enough, something that looked like egg salad. Some were forgettable. The seaweed salad was gooey and fishy, and the kimchee rice had very little flavor. The actual kimchee –– the traditional pungent mix of fermented cabbage and bok choy in a garlic and vinegary spice –– rated perhaps a five on a scale of 10 for heat. There was a dish of red pepper condiment on the buffet as well, should diners want to up the zest ante. Conversely, the tasty, crunchy radish kimchee clocked in at 11 on that same scale.
One of the more unusual sides was the pumpkin porridge, a mixture of sweet and savory that was thinner than a traditional grain-based version of the dish. While the meats were all labeled, the side dishes were not, leaving diners unfamiliar with the cuisine to guess or play Name that Condiment.
Even with a dining companion, it was impossible to sample everything on the buffet and the specialty menu. Jin Korean BBQ isn’t fancy, but the laid-back serve-yourself concept works, especially if you’re epicurious about Korean cuisine.
[box_info]Jin Korean BBQ
All you can eat dinner buffet $19.99[/box_info]