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Smell Like A Campfire, Eat Like a Champ

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When we had a craving for Korean BBQ recently, we fished around the usual sniffing spots for the lowdown on the best in town. What came up was Soot Bull Jeep, a mainstay of the genre for years now, and a consistently top-touted fave. It even made our end-of-2006 "Best of List" as one of the top ten places we didn't eat that year, but wanted to. Now, we won't profess to being experts in the field of Korean cusine, but we know a tasty piece of meat when we meet one, and our dinner did not disappoint. There's nothing in the least bit glamorous about the place, which is a comforting sign. They've got the expected melee of formica table tops with inset charcoal grills and that telltale smoky air to greet you when you slip inside the doors and try to get your eyes to adjust to the surroundings.

The menu is a straigtforward offering of meats available to grill, and are served family style--plenty to share. We opted for some marinated beef and the pork, and our grill was fired up. Out come the assorted and awesomely pickled and spicy sides--an array of what we (perhaps in our ignorance) lump under the umbrella of kimchi--fermented vegetables, like cabbage, and chili paste. Onto the well-blackened grill went pieces of meat from both of the generous platters that were delivered to our table, and soon we were generating our own mouth--and, often, eye--watering smoke. We switched up our eating style between the traditional method of wrapping the meat in lettuce and adding garlic and seasonings and just plucking the tempting pieces off the grill and popping them right in our mouths. Eating Korean BBQ is definitely thirst-encouraging, and ours was amplified something fierce. Unfortunately, getting one of the two very harried and easily distracted servers' attention is a feat unto itself. As the tables around us filled up it became harder and harder to find someone to help us, especially when it came time to pay the bill. So as a caveat, know that Soot Bull Jeep is not a prime destination when you're looking for sharp service; of course, since you're quickly presented with bountiful plates and have the duty of cooking your own meal there's little need for attention, and we surmised this is all par for the course.

But the food hit the spot, and though for the rest of the day we could smell the telltale smoke in our clothes and hair, we were overall pleased with our Korean BBQ experience. We ate like champs, yes, and smelled like a campfire. When the craving hits, we suspect we'll head back to Soot Bull Jeep, but maybe not anytime soon; after last week's fire in our apartment building we've had quite enough of the smell of smoke. But don't let that stop you from stoking your own culinary fires!

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Soot Bull Jeep
3136 West Eighth Street, Koreatown (213) 387-3865