A few months ago, I ruffled a few feathers when I suggested that Mapo Korean BBQ in Murray Hill, Flushing, might be the best Korean BBQ in the city. A few of you kindly pointed out to me that the BBQ at Jang Tuh Sutbulgi is not only cheaper and a little easier to access by the 7 train, but indeed better than that at Mapo. Having now been to both, I have to respectfully disagree.
Not that Jang Tuh, was bad, mind you. It was actually fantastic—far better than any barbecue you can find in K-town, for the same reason that the barbecue at Mapo is good: real coals.
Like most Korean barbecue joints, cooking at your table around a communal fire is part of the meal. While Jang Tuh Sutbulgi is fitted with a gas stove in the center of each table, it gets removed and replaced by a bucket of glowing coals before your raw marinated beef or pork arrives. The beef you want to get is their kalbi, which comes in two quality levels. The better (read: fattier) stuff is a few bucks more ($27.95) than the standards. You want to opt for the better stuff. Kalbi is beef short ribs marinated in a subtle mix of soy, sesame oil, garlic, and pureed Asian pears. Here, the beef is only lightly marinated, a good thing, considering the quality of the meat. Intensely marbled and beefy, it crisps up wonderfully over the hot coals, the edges curling up and sizzling as their copious fat renders out.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Long before the beef arrives, you get a parade of banchan, small complimentary (and complementary) plates of pickles and salads. They're good (the best are the kimchi, sweet potato fritters, and spicy sliced cucumbers), but don't show the diversity of those at Mapo.
A raw beef salad ($17.95) comes seasoned with sesame oil, pungent and hot gochujang, and sweet cucumber pickles. The waitress tosses it tableside with a raw egg—Korean beef tartare. Every order of barbecue also comes with a quivering stone bowl of steamed egg custard. It's really hot, but my advice is to eat it fast. It starts tender, but can quickly get tough as it cools.
As if those aren't enough appetizers for you, just before the coals arrive, you'll also get a bowl full of spicy beef-blood soup, which sounds off-putting, but is extraordinarily delicious. The blood comes in the form of little coagulated cakes with the texture of soft braised beef and an intense flavor that is not at all irony or too salty like you'd expect blood to be. It's one of the most easy-to-eat bits of offal I've had. According to Chichi, it also reheats well (she joined us for lunch just in time to snag all the leftovers).
Back to the beef: the stuff here is served in the traditional flanken-cut style, where it gets removed from the bone then sliced very thinly crosswise into strips. The waitress makes the final cuts at the table with a pair of scissors. This is where I think Mapo specifically has a leg up—rather than flanken cuts, theirs come as larger chunks that are expertly scored in order to tenderize them while still giving you a sizeable meaty piece to bite into. With slightly more marbling, their beef is a littly more succulent as well.
That said, Jang Tuh is a couple dollars cheaper, quite a bit closer, and that beef blood soup alone might give it the leg up. Either way, you can't go wrong.
Jang Tuh Sutbulgi
13693 37th Avenue, Flushing NY 11354 (map) 718-359-1227