What’s in a name? In Chow Town, if a restaurant’s name includes the word barbecue, it means serious business.
But there is a world of barbecue beyond the smoked meats and sauces we know and love, one that spans the globe in ingredients and technique, with each pin on the map featuring its own spin.
Korean barbecue might be considered an inverse of its more familiar American cousin. Both styles highlight tougher cuts of meat like beef brisket, short ribs or pork shoulder, but the Korean version favors marinated or dry meats sliced thin and cooked quickly rather than large cuts cooked low and slow.
That mix of meat sizzling over fire hits you the moment you walk through the doors of Chosun Korean BBQ in south Overland Park. The newly renovated dining room is an attractive mix of stylish, dark colors in shades of gray and black, but your senses will more likely be captivated by the fragrant plumes of smoke emanating from each grill table, disappearing into the stainless steel hood vents that hover above.
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The restaurant also has standard tables, so they will ask your preference before you are seated. Likewise, the menu is more than just fire-kissed meats. There are sections for appetizers, soup entrees, noodles, combos for two and one titled “all time favorites,” where you’ll find some of the classics like stewed octopus and bibimbap.
You want to leave room for the feast to come, but dumplings are always a nice, light way to start off. The gun man du dumplings come in meat or vegetable versions.
The menu is large and varied, but most items have thorough, helpful explanations in English. There are some items, particularly the beef, with “steakhouse” prices that may surprise you at first.
With the sight of other tables filled with heaping plates of meat cooking away, I couldn’t help but be swayed toward the barbecue, so we settled on a platter of meats: beef brisket, rib-eye, pork shoulder and belly for two to three people for $59.99, a better value than ordering each individually. Other combos are priced at $44.99, $79.99 and $99.99 for varying numbers of diners.
At Chosun Korean BBQ, the meat is undoubtedly the star. But like any great production, it is incomplete without an ensemble that helps elevate it to new heights. And make no mistake; a meal here is an edible production.
Korean barbecue is a whole meal, traditionally served with a number of small side dishes, called banchan, which can vary but are usually things such as fermented kimchi, vegetables, pickled condiments and more. These are intended to be eaten with the meat to help cut through the richness and fat.
Our banchan started to show up in waves well before the meat and without any explanation of what they were. Looking around the dining room, I noticed the servers were trying to keep pace with the Saturday night crowd.
When the meat arrived, each cut was arranged on a large platter. The unmarinated brisket was sliced paper-thin and neatly folded in an attractive loop, next to thick slices of uncured pork belly. The rib-eye and pork shoulder were in two large piles, sitting in a house-made marinade fragrant with garlic, soy and sesame oil.
The server arranged the pieces of brisket, which cooked nearly instantaneously, around the dome-shaped grill before proceeding with the marinated cuts. The grilled meat can be moved to the bottom sides of the grill if it is overcooking or just to stay warm. This makes it easier for a group to continue to take servings without scorching the meat.
Though I’m a fan of pork belly, I was slightly underwhelmed with this version. It did have flavor, but the quick cooking didn’t bring out the nuances of fat, meat and texture that make pork belly such a lovely cut.
The beef was a different story. The marinated rib-eye, called bulgogi, and the brisket were both fine displays of Chosun’s quality beef, as was a thinly sliced, decadently marbled beef tongue I had on another visit. Each seemed ideally suited to this cooking method and a great way to share with a group.
Our banchan side dishes consisted of a mild, accessible version of kimchi that was not overly pungent or funky; steamed broccoli in sesame; steamed kale served cold; mung bean jelly cubes in soy, and a dish of radishes and scallions that were slightly overseasoned in a miso-like soybean paste called doenjang. The mix of hot, cold, fermented and fresh items paired well with the strong meat flavors, touching on every part of the palate.
On my first visit, the server failed to bring our table the customary lettuce to wrap meat and sides in, despite repeated requests. I imagine this had to do with the busy dining room, though it is a small and important element that detracted somewhat from the meal overall. Thankfully, this wasn’t repeated on a follow-up visit where the server was as thorough and helpful.
Barbecue is a big part of Chosun Korean BBQ’s appeal, but you’ll find a nice selection of rice, noodles and soups on the menu. Bibimbap is a common dish of rice topped with an assortment of vegetables and generally an egg.
Dolsot bibimbap is an amped-up version served piping hot in an earthenware bowl and topped with barbecued meat and vegetables. My order was heaped with bulgogi, onions and scallions but sadly missing the egg on top mentioned on the menu. Luckily, it had the perfect base of crunchy rice formed along the bottom of the sizzling bowl.
Among the soups and stews, there are a fair number of choices, with options to suit most tastes. There are indulgent meat and seafood options such as oxtail soup with glass noodles and brisket or fresh codfish and vegetables with tofu. I’m always a sucker for a bowl of kimchi jjigae, a spicy stew made with fermented cabbage, pork belly, tofu and vegetables, and the version here is a good value at $10.99.
The soft tofu soup with beef was decent but not particularly memorable. I would opt for the vegetarian version if I ordered it again, as a number of the soups can be made vegetarian on request.
I nearly got whiplash while leaving on one visit, as I walked by a table with a pot brimming with octopus, seafood and vegetables bubbling away, sitting atop a portable gas stove. The hot pot options are on the special combo for two menu, and even though I was already full, it looked delicious.
Korean barbecue is meant to be a lively, interactive and communal eating experience, and Chosun Korean BBQ brings a nice taste of that spirit to the Kansas City restaurant scene. Overall, the restaurant seems to still be ironing out some of the wrinkles that come with big changes, including renovations and new management, but it’s definitely worth a trip for a night of feasting with friends or family.
Tyler Fox is a personal chef and freelance restaurant critic who lives in Kansas City. To reach him, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chosun Korean BBQ
12611 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park
Food: Two and a half stars. At Chosun, meat is the star and the selection of marbled beef cuts doesn’t disappoint. The Korean barbecue items, cooked on the gas grill tables or ordered individually from the menu, come with an assortment of fresh, pickled and fermented side dishes and sauces, making for a fun, interactive dining experience. The menu also features nice takes on a few classic Korean soups, noodle and rice dishes.
Service: Two stars. Korean barbecue is not all that widely found on the Kansas City dining scene, so first-timers shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions about the menu or ingredients. The servers bounce from table to table, assisting in cooking and cutting meats for diners, though this can also lead to slower and sometimes inconsistent service as the dining room fills up. On busy weekend nights, don’t be surprised to find a wait for your table.
Atmosphere: Two and a half stars. While some of the cuts of meat, and prices, may have you thinking “steakhouse,” the recently renovated restaurant feels like a tasteful neighborhood spot, polished but not stuffy. The dining room heats up on weekends, bustling with groups seated around the fiery grill tables communally feasting, making it a prime place for a night out with friends or family.
Star code: One star: Fair, Two stars: Good, Three stars: Excellent, Four stars: Extraordinary.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily. .
Entree average (including nightly specials): Under $20
Vegetarian options: There are a number of vegetarian options such as dumplings, rice bowls and some soups in addition to a selection of meat dishes that offer vegetarian versions. There are also a couple of dishes available to cook on the grill table. Ask your server if you have any questions, as the menu has some items that appear vegetarian- friendly but have bits of meat or meat broth in them.
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Kids: No separate set kids menu, but the kitchen is willing to make something special.
Noise level: Moderate to high. It can get loud when the restaurant is full, as conversations compete with the sounds of the grills cooking and hood vent systems at each grill table. But that is part of the charm of a communal dining experience.
Code of ethics: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant. When required, reservations are made in a name other than the reviewer’s. The Star pays for review meals.
What to drink
Korean barbecue is classically paired with good beer. Unfortunately, Chosun’s beer selection is somewhat limited, with domestics and a few imports such as Tsingtao and Ichiban. However, the owners plan to expand selections and add wine. The restaurant does feature the Korean staple soju, a pleasingly strong, fermented rice liquor that falls somewhere between wine and vodka.
Gun man du (vegetable or beef dumplings), $7.99
Dolsot bibimbap (sizzling rice bowl with meat and vegetables), $14.99
Kimchi jjigae (kimchi and pork belly stew), $10.99
Bulgogi (marinated rib-eye) barbecue, $19.99
Chadol (unseasoned brisket) barbecue, $19.99