The walls of room number No. 13 at Song Do Korean BBQ (3616 Satellite Blvd., Duluth, 770-497-9799) are covered in mirrors, creating that mesmerizing effect that you're in a room with hundreds of people rather than the 15 the space actually accommodates. The long table has four sunken charcoal grills and two massive exhaust fans so the room doesn't become too smoky. Like many Korean barbecue restaurants, Song Do offers all-you-can-eat barbecue, but its offerings are competitively priced, more varied and rounded out. At some barbecue restaurants, you just get a little salad, a couple of plates of banchan (side dishes) and some soup. Song Do ups the ante with a self-serve bar stocked with 14 bins overflowing with an ever-changing assortment of banchan. Basically, come hungry.
Song Do's premise is simple: Choose from one of four all-you-can-eat options named after precious gems and metals (the Ruby, Silver, Gold or Diamond). The base package, the Ruby, comes with pork belly, beef brisket, pork neck and Korean "fire meat" bulgogi. It costs just $12.99, and it's an even better deal at lunch when it's priced at $9.99. As you move upward on the price scale, the meat options increase. The most expensive, the Diamond, costs $24.99 and includes short rib "ma po style," rib-eye steak, flap steak, short rib meat, pork neck, pork belly and beef intestine. Keep in mind that at most Korean barbecue joints, just one kind of meat can cost upward of $20.
After settling on a package, you can hit the banchan bar. The quality of the banchan is a mixed bag depending on what you choose. Spicy pickled cucumbers were crunchy and delightful, and the chili-laced bean sprouts tasted incredibly fresh. The chunks of daikon radish, however, were overmarinated and soft around the edges like they'd been sitting around for a while. If our party of 13 was an indication of how much banchan is consumed, the restaurant goes through a lot — freshness shouldn't be an issue.
The raw meats are heaped unceremoniously on a platter making it hard to tell what's what. Your waitress will start the cooking, but don't expect her to cook your entire meal. This is more of a do-it-yourself kind of operation, but that just adds to the fun. The pork belly is scored making it easier to eat with your chopsticks. The marinade is sweet, salty and just strong enough so the flavors aren't buried should you wrap it in some of the pristine lettuce or ssamjang (a mixture of soybean paste, chili paste, minced garlic and sesame oil) served with the meal. Slices of bright-red beef brisket are best when dipped in a little of the salt and pepper slurry placed in front of each diner. Bubbling cast-iron bowls of doenjang jjigae (a traditional Korean bean paste stew) are spicy, supremely funky, and chock-full of tofu, broken bits of soybeans and veggies. A few spoonfuls balance the overwhelming amount of never-ending meat.
Song Do's only caveat: Everyone in your party has to order the same package. Even with 13 people, no one seemed to mind as long as there was meat and fun on the table.