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Review: Miss Gogi does Korean barbecue without the gimmicks

Before driving to Miss Gogi in the Peachtree Pavilion strip mall in Doraville, I tried to do a little research. I knew, of course, to expect the salty sweet pleasures of tender bulgogi, the Korean barbecue dish referenced by the name, but I wanted to figure out what they were doing differently.

You see, Korean barbecue restaurants are thriving in metro Atlanta these days. This Korean barbecue boom has seemingly led restaurateurs to try to stand out from the competition, some in increasingly excessive ways. At Ari Korean in Johns Creek, gilded steakhouse affectations dominate the interior design and mood. At Char in Inman Park, the owners have cultivated a cocktail-driven nightlife crowd while selling tiny portions of wagyu beef. There are, of course, old classics, including Honey Pig in Duluth, which opened well over a decade ago and still courts a loyal following, and Iron Age, where the low-budget all-you-can-eat price seems to be the main draw.

The two best destinations for Korean barbecue around Atlanta — 678 and 9292 — have more in common than just the fact that they have numbers for restaurant names. They use real wood charcoal for the tabletop grill and source quality meat.

The large, casual tables make for a messy but flavorful meal at Miss Gogi. CONTRIBUTED BY WYATT WILLIAMS (For the AJC)

So, it was somewhat perplexing that I could not, at least at a cursory glance, figure out what Miss Gogi’s “thing” was before visiting the restaurant. What was the gimmick? I wondered. The restaurant has no website and very little presence online outside of the typical listing and review sites.

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On my first visit with a friend, we walked in not quite knowing what we would get. We found, well, a Korean barbecue restaurant. Maybe that seems obvious. After all, Miss Gogi bills itself as a Korean barbecue restaurant, but it strikes me as distinctly surprising. At a moment when it can seem like every other restaurant in town is trying to be a “Korean barbecue but cocktail bar” or “punk dive karaoke but Korean restaurant” or “steakhouse but Korean to some degree,” Miss Gogi isn’t trying for a gimmick. My meals since that first have only confirmed it. As it happens, there’s just one (somewhat large) difference at Miss Gogi.

If you’ve had Korean barbecue before, the menu will be very familiar. For roughly $30 a person, the all-you-can-eat option includes about a half-dozen meats, including thin ribbons of beef brisket, slabs of pork belly, gochujang-marinated pork shoulder, chicken bulgogi, beef bulgogi, and so on. More choice cuts can be found among the combo meals, which run as high as $179.99 (for five or six people) and offer extravagances like a tomahawk-cut steak with a long, eye-catching rib bone still attached.

The massive tabletop griddles at Miss Gogi allow multiple meats to be cooked at once, with good and bad results. CONTRIBUTED BY WYATT WILLIAMS (For the AJC)

When you order, the table will be filled with a familiar selection of banchan: romaine and scallion salads, rice wrappers and pickled radish slices. If you haven’t noticed already, your eyes at this point will be drawn to the one thing that seems to distinguish Miss Gogi from the rest of the Korean barbecue crowd. Namely, the griddle at the center of your table, the place where Korean barbecue really happens, is gigantic. It is neither a gas nor charcoal grill, but a wide flattop griddle roughly double the average size and surrounded by little labels that warn: “VERY HOT!!”

Instead of beginning with meat, the servers here warm up the grill with massive piles of house-made kimchi, bean sprouts, onions, a few veggies and a dish of corn and cheese.

Once the flattop is smoking hot, I’ve found the service here to be a little closer to a Japanese hibachi experience. With all of that cooking surface, multiple meats can sizzle at once (rather than one at a time on a smaller grill) and be quickly moved to the side to make room for, of course, more meat.

In practice, though, this means that flavors here can get a little muddled. If you’re looking for a place where the distinct flavor subtleties of bulgogi marinade sing through in the little charred bits of beef, well, Miss Gogi is not going to deliver. If, on the other hand, the idea of piling up some warm kimchi, chewy pork belly and bean sprouts into a pickled radish wrapper for a kind of everything-at-once fatty food bomb is appealing, then you won’t be disappointed.

The servers at Miss Gogi finish the tabletop-cooked fried rice with a confetti of nori and cheese. CONTRIBUTED BY WYATT WILLIAMS (For the AJC)

As you might guess, the menu’s most impressive flavor bombs don’t come in all-you-can-eat portions. If you visit with just two people, I’d recommend choosing the combo for two, if only because it includes a decadent portion of fatty, marinated galbi (short rib) that plumps up, rich and flavorful on the griddle. You don’t get that with the all-you-can-eat option.

A bowl of soybean paste soup, which arrives boiling with slivers of squash and mushrooms, is a fine option for a side, but not as interesting as the fried rice. At the end of the meal, a server will take whatever leftover salads are in your bowls, dump them on the griddle, mix in an egg and rice, and finish the concoction with a confetti of seaweed and shredded cheese. It’s a messy, almost silly dish, the way it takes every available flavor on the table and dumps them in the kitchen sink. If you believe there’s a time for that kind of indulgent approach — and I certainly do — then Miss Gogi is your place. 

MISS GOGI

11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Sundays. 6035 Peachtree Road, Doraville. 770-220-3003, Facebook: Miss Gogi.

Recommended dishes: Galbi, fried rice, bulgogi, soybean soup.

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