The summary was last updated on July 28th, 2021. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mora and I bought a Korean BBQ grill and have had a wonderful experience using it at home. We highly recommend it for anyone with a craving for Korean BBQ. However, once it is safe, we look forward to returning to Matjoa, the best all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ restaurant in Tampa Bay, during their regular hours.
Introduction to Korean BBQ
If this is your first time learning about Korean food, then welcome to the wonderful world of Korean BBQ! I can personally guarantee you will love it if you have at least 1 of the following: a love of meat, a love of great food, or taste buds.
When dining at a Korean restaurant that happens to serve the famed Korean BBQ, one thing you should know is the cooking is done right at your table; depending on the restaurant, you may or may not be the one doing the cooking. I personally enjoy doing it myself as I can control how long the meat cooks. If you’re new to this, just keep an open mind and give it a shot.
Also, in case you aren’t aware, when 1 member of your party orders the all you can eat (AYCE) version of Korean BBQ, the rest of your table does as well. This is a common safeguard to prevent people from taking advantage of the system by sharing.
How to Cook Korean BBQ
Typically, the grills run on gas and are placed in the middle. However, at Matjoa, they are placed on the side of the table.
Once you make a choice on which option to get, the server will bring your drinks and Korean banchan (side dishes). We always choose the option with all of the meat.
Cook Unmarinated Meats First!
As a rule of thumb, you want to always cook the unmarinated meats first before moving on to the marinated ones. If you do it the other way around, the marinade will burn onto the grill by the time your other meat is ready to cook. Sometimes, hunger calls and wins the day, but this is just a tip to keep in mind to make the most of your AYCE BBQ experience.
Thinly Sliced Brisket: The King of the Starter Meats
At most Korean restaurants, you can choose 3 types of meat at a time. The very first meat I always order is the beef brisket; for those of you thinking about southern BBQ, it doesn’t taste the same or have the same texture. Being from Tennessee, I know a thing or two about how that type of brisket is cooked and falls apart out of the smoker.
The brisket used in Korean BBQ is super thinly sliced; the way you know it’s going to be amazing is if you can see all of the marbling from the fat. As soon as that sucker touches the grill, your mouth instantly begins to water.
With thinly sliced meat such as brisket, you want to make sure you are turning it over pretty quickly. Some like theirs a little less done, while others like a bit of char. While I prefer my steaks in the medium-rare to Medium range, I do enjoy a bit of char on my brisket.
Some salt, pepper, and perhaps a bit of sesame oil is all you really need for your cooked brisket; the taste is complete perfection. I also enjoy placing some in a lettuce wrap.
Is It Really All You Can Eat?
Indeed, the choices marked as unlimited offer the luxury of endless servings of three additional varieties of meat. This endless feast is only ended by the inevitable surrender to the towering pile of food we all eventually fall to. Mora and I, despite our best attempts, have never successfully navigated beyond the third wave of this delightful carnage. We always leave with same resolution: “There’s always the next visit!”
What is Korean Banchan (Side Dishes)?
Korean banchan, aka Korean side dishes, are what come with your AYCE Korean BBQ experience. The exact dishes will vary place-to-place, but you typically see kimchi, a steamed egg, onions, bean sprouts, radishes, cucumber salad, green veggies, and lettuce wraps. Matjoa even includes cheese corn! I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with cheese on anything.
Thes banchan are perfect complements to all of the different types of meat you’ll be eating. You certainly need something to soak up all of the grease & fat; Mora can attest to the fact that I’m far from a veggie lover, but they do a great job here. In particular, the lettuce wraps, fish cakes, fresh garlic, kimchi, steamed egg, and fresh jalapenos are typically used up pretty quickly.
How to Make Soju Bombs!
Have you ever heard of the drink combination known around the world as soju bombs? No? Well, you can’t have the best all you can eat Korean BBQ without having either soju or soju bombs (or both; we prefer both).
A soju bomb combines beer with soju; how strong you want the drink is entirely up to you! I myself have been known to be a bit of a heavy pour, so I apologize in advance if we ever go here together in the future. Or should I say you’re welcome?
Pro tip for women, courtesy of Mora: if you feel the original Jinro soju is too strong, you should go for the one labeled Fresh instead! It is lighter & easier to drink.
Mora & I have been absolutely hooked on this drink for the past few months. Soju bombs have such a clean, smooth, and refreshing taste, and we can’t get enough of them. We are sure you all will love them, too!
Review Time: What Makes Matjoa the Best All You Can Eat Korean BBQ Restaurant in Tampa Bay?
First of all, I’d like to preface my comments by saying this is not a sponsored post, I paid for the 2 meals Mora & I have had at Matjoa, and all opinions stated are our own. We just happen to love everything about this restaurant. And believe me; we take food very seriously in this household! I will always be honest with you guys on what we actually think of a restaurant, product, or service. I will never recommend something I dislike or have never used/tried before and loved.
Now then, on to the main question at hand: what makes Matjoa the best all you can eat Korean BBQ in Tampa Bay?
Not only are they the best in this area, but it surpasses every other Korean restaurant we have tried in the state of Florida so far. In terms of Asian restaurants, we rank Matjoa 2nd in the state, behind only Gyu-Kaku (in Orlando), a Japanese BBQ place that serves melt-in-your-mouth wagyu.
Meat Selection & Quality – 9.1
When compared to other all you can eat Korean BBQ restaurants Mora & I have tried in the US, the selection and quality at Matjoa easily reigns supreme. Let’s run through some of the major items; in addition, you can also check out a couple of pages of the menu above.
This is by far my favorite cut of meat when it comes to Korean BBQ; to make things even better, the marbling & quality here are perfect!
Ribeyes go hand-in-hand with the KBBQ experience. The fat melts right away and proves to be the perfect complement for your lettuce wrap. The quality of the steak is very noticeable.
Bone-in Korean short ribs, otherwise known as LA galbi, are marinated ahead of time. While sometimes chewy around the bone, these provide tremendous flavor.
The beef fillets are another great way to get your beef fix. While this wasn’t our favorite choice offering, it was still really good. No complaints here.
For a change of pace, throw some shrimp on the barbie to get a little seafood action. Your taste buds will need a break from beef eventually.
Marinated Spicy Pork
The marinated spicy pork was really good. It’s easy to forget about this option with how much is available to choose from, but do your best to remember to order this one.
We don’t get chicken too often at Japanese or Korean BBQ restaurants unless it’s fried, but we figured we might as well try it since it’s included. We were once again pleasantly surprised & impressed.
Last but certainly not least, if you love pork belly, you’ll enjoy it even more in a Korean BBQ setting.
Banchan (Korean Side Dishes) Selection/Taste – 8.5
Tôi được ấn tượng bởi sự phong phú và chất lượng tuyệt vời cùng vị thơm ngon từ thực đơn của họ. Bữa ăn này không chỉ hấp dẫn miệng chúng tôi bằng hương vị độc đáo từ những món ăn tươi ngon, mà còn bằng việc kèm theo súp miso, cơm trắng và bắp cải phô mai. Mặc dù vậy, với tôi, một ít bánh mỡ giòn sẽ tuyệt vời hơn để kết hợp với các món ăn kèm; tôi nhận ra đây chỉ là yêu cầu khá cầu kỳ và có lẽ là sở thích riêng của tôi, nhưng tôi thực sự thích những chiếc bánh mỡ bé xinh này. Để công bằng, họ thật sự có cung cấp món này trong phần món khai vị của mình.
Soju Selection – 9.9
First of all, Matjoa carries our favorite brand of soju: Jinro. Secondly, they offer our favorite flavor: grapefruit.
Just to give a little backstory, I typically am not a fan of grapefruit. However, when we were in Seoul one night eating chicken, we decided to order beer, Makgeolli (Korean rice wine, which Matjoa also carries), and soju; our waitress that night was super friendly and recommended we try the grapefruit soju as it’s her favorite. I am so glad I listened to her; this is one of the best, most refreshing drinks in the entire world. An absolute must-try!
In addition to grapefruit, they have original, fresh, strawberry, apple, and even make their own soju cocktails, which I think is pretty cool! Anytime I have AYCE Korean BBQ, I have to pair it with soju.
Authenticity – 9.6
Tức là, chúng tôi mới chỉ đặt chân đến Seoul, Hàn Quốc năm ngoái, nên hình ảnh, mùi vị, và cảm giác thực sự của ẩm thực Hàn Quốc vẫn ở ngay trước mặt chúng tôi. Mọi thứ ở Matjoa, từ đầu đến cuối, đều đã làm dậy lên trong chúng tôi niềm khao khát tột cùng cho ẩm thực Hàn Quốc. Cơ mà, một điểm trừ duy nhất là do món ăn ngon tới mức chúng tôi không thể ngừng nghĩ về nó (cười)! Ôi, thật là những vấn đề của thế giới phương Tây, phải không nào?
Service – 9.9
Tôi luôn tuân thủ quy tắc cá nhân là không bao giờ đánh giá một điều gì đó đạt 10 điểm tuyệt đối. Tôi tin rằng, không gian cải tiến luôn tồn tại đối với tất cả mọi thứ trong cuộc sống, dù nhỏ nhất. Tuy nhiên, thật khó khăn với tôi khi tìm ra cách mà dịch vụ có thể vượt trội hơn so với những gì đang diễn ra tại Matjoa.
Trải qua hai buổi thăm Matjoa, chúng tôi đã được phục vụ bởi hai người khác nhau, và cả hai đều đáng khen ngợi. Họ dành cho chúng tôi sự tận tâm, thân thiện, hỗ trợ, niềm nở và rộng lượng. Do đó, chúng tôi không thể không yêu mến nơi này hơn.
Other Korean Food Not Named BBQ or Banchan – 9.2
While the Korean BBQ here is mouth-wateringly delicious, they have plenty of other options as well. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to try them all just yet, but we have tried a few.
Korean Bulgogi Beef
I feel like a broken record, but they make a great bulgogi beef here as well! Between the juicy, flavorful, marinated beef to the crunch from the green onions, you will enjoy every last bite of this bad boy.
I still remember the first time I ever had bibimbap. Believe it or not, it was actually on a plane through one of my ridiculously long flight itineraries to the other side of the world.
My first experience with bibimbap was surprisingly great; I was shocked considering the majority of food when flying in economy is mediocre at best. With this dish, you get succulent, tasty beef, crunchy, julienned vegetables, rice, seaweed, kimchi, and a whole lot of gochujiang spicy sauce. If that wasn’t enough, they even give you a poached egg on top.
Ttoekbokki (Korean Spicy Rice Cakes)
One of our absolute favorite Korean snacks ever is ttoekbokki. Basically, these are soft Korean rice cakes, which stew in a spicy red sauce for hours; this dish is normally served with fish cakes, vegetables, and a boiled egg. I usually am able to convince Mora to let us opt for the spicier version whenever we order this anywhere.
Korean Seafood Pancake
Korean seafood pancakes are really popular in Korea for both locals & foreigners alike! I remember walking through Gwangjang Market in Seoul and seeing these things sell like hotcakes.
Japchae (Korean Stir-Fried Glass Noodles)
Another one of Mora’s favorite Korean dishes is japchae. It comes with beef, noodles, and veggies all stir-fried together. The noodles used are dangmyeon, which are sweet potato starch noodles; these are more widely known as glass noodles.
Next up on our agenda is the real KFC; I’m talking about Korean Fried Chicken, of course. No offense to the Kentucky colonel, but his lieutenants have taken his chickens out to the pasture by this point.
Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to try this yet, but once we do, I’ll be sure to update this review accordingly.
Likewise, we haven’t been able to try their galbitang yet either. For those unaware, galbitang is a type of soup with thick Korean short ribs that have been braised, vegetables, and glass noodles; this was actually my first meal after arriving in South Korea, and I asked for the spicy version. It was so incredible. I can’t wait to try Matjoa’s rendition of it.
Overall – 9.3 (They Really Are the Best All You Can Eat Korean BBQ in Tampa Bay)
There is a reason why I chose Matjoa for one of my first reviews. The food is so damn good! Over the course of our 2 visits, Mora & I ate and drank our hearts away. Until finally, we had to slowly make our way out the door while battling the inevitable food coma.
9.3 is a monster score and will be extremely tough to beat when it comes to Korean food in America. The way my rating scale works is anything 9 & above is an absolute must-try, meaning get your ass over to Matjoa today! Just to quickly explain the rest of the scale, 8s are great and worth traveling for. 7s are really good and worth trying if in the area. The 6s are pretty good, followed by decent/average and bad.
Not only is Matjoa the best all you can eat Korean BBQ in Tampa Bay, but it surpasses every other Korean restaurant we have tried in the state of Florida so far. In terms of Asian restaurants, we rank Matjoa 2nd in the state, behind only Gyu-Kaku (in Orlando), a Japanese BBQ place that serves melt-in-your-mouth wagyu.
Because of these reasons, when you visit, you have a very good chance of running into Mora & I one of these days. If you see us, once the pandemic is over, please come by & say hello!
For those wishing to visit, you can find them at 3580 Ulmerton Road in Clearwater, Florida. However, I recommend getting there early to get a good parking spot.
What Do You Look for in a Great All You Can Eat KBBQ Restaurant?
All you can eat KBBQ is a love of ours, so we enjoy checking out new places whenever we see them. We would love to hear from you guys and find out what you look for in a Korean BBQ restaurant. In addition, what are some other Korean foods you love?
As always, please feel free to leave comments/questions as I will be reading each & every one of them and responding. If you want to know something, ask away! Do not hesitate to contact us if you need anything at all or would like to chat! Please hit those follow, share, & like buttons; just don’t eat the apple. Until next time, stay traveling (safely)!
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