*** Updated posts on Boo Cho can be found here and here. Another update, Boo Cho's new owners have decided to change the name of the restaurant. So Boo Cho is no more. An updated post on Dae Jang Keum, which replaced Boo Cho can be found here.
We have been touting Boo Cho on Chowhound since 2003. Probably the only charcoal Korean barbeque in San Diego, and with a very tasty Kalbi and Bulgogi marinade, Boo Cho was a personal recommendation for anyone who desired Kalbi in San Diego. We have not made this a regular stop on our rotation, due to the prices - $20 for Kalbi, $16 for Bulgogi, not something you can have every night. Coming from Hawaii where you can get a decent amount of Korean food for under $12, it was quite a shock when I moved to LA and saw some of the prices.
I had heard that Boo Cho went under a ownership change recently, and I was curious to see if there had been any changes in quality or prices since our last visit. So 2 friends and I decided to give Boo Cho a shot for dinner.
Everything looked the same as we entered other than the usual congratulatory plant arrangements at the front door. One thing I did notice was that it was really empty, but that could have been the recent heatwave or the long daylight hours we're experiencing. We were seated and our order placed. Like I said, this place in my opinion is for Korean Barbeque, so I ordered Galbi - unmarinated ($20.99), Galbi ($19.99), and Bulgogi ($15.99). Soon our panchan arrived, and I could tell a "difference" immediately. Along with the usual panchan, rice paper wrappers and the "mesclun" salad, garlic paste, and other condiments were delivered as well. A sure sign that this place was changing to a "duk bossam" style restaurant. That is you place the mesclun, daikon slice, barbeque, etc... in a little pile, place a wrapper on the top, grab it with your chopsticks forming a little dumpling and eating it. The panchan at Boo Cho has always been unspectacular, and it was no different on this visit, though the Baechu Kimchee (Napa Cabbage) was fairly tasty.
All faded into the back ground as the charcoal and brazier was delivered, and we were readied for the meat.
The first item to reach the table was the unmarinated Kalbi. I had always enjoyed this for the tenderness, and thought that maybe with a garlic slice and salad, that this would be the perfect dish for this style of eating, but today the meat was rather tough, and not as tender as I remember it being. Also, much of the usual nice meaty flavor was missing - not a good start. Next up was the regular Kalbi, mysteriously under marinated as you can tell by the photo, this made the dish somewhat uneven, as the well marinated portions tasted good, but the unmarinated portions had no flavor. The last dish was the Bulgogi. This dish was very good, just as flavorful and as soft and tender as I remembered, falling apart and cooked to a delicious slight char in a second. It's quite ironic that the least expensive of the dishes was prepared the best!
I felt quite embarrassed at the uneven preparation and taste of the food, but my companions, not being regular Korean Barbeque eaters, thought all was fine, especially the bulgogi.
As we left, only 3 tables were filled, on a Saturday evening, this doesn't bode well. I also noticed that the dishes seemed a bit smaller than I remembered. I think that changing to the duk bossam style was possibly a strategic business decision to allow for smaller portions, I hope that I'm wrong. Boo Cho has long been one of our favorite restaurants, I'm hoping that this is just a "little bump", and that when (if) I return everything will be as it was in the past.
Some notes: Don't wear any clothes that you don't want smelling of charcoal, when the restaurant starts filling up, smoke will fill the restaurant, no matter how good the ventilation is. Service here has always been very friendly, accommodating, and helpful. For parties of 5 or larger, reservations are requested.
Boo Cho Restaurant
7905 Engineer Rd
San Diego, CA 92111