All-you-can-eat Korean BBQ has become popular enough that it's referred to as AYCE. You know something's made it big when it becomes an acronym. San Diego has its share of AYCE Korean BBQ restaurants, but one of the newcomers makes quite an impression.
L.A.-based Manna opened in Kearny Mesa (4428 Convoy St., 858-278-3300) in early 2011. The restaurant is busy in the evenings with a bustling crowd of families and college-aged groups. The numerous vents in the restaurant minimize the smell, but expect to leave smelling like grilled meat.
The menu has two options: A1 and A2. A2 is $19.95 with beef and pork, along with a few extra sides you can order on top of the banchan, little side dishes including kimchee, bean sprouts and several other small plates of pickled and/or spicy vegetables. The A1 track includes all of A2, plus seafood and the option of a side dish of buckwheat noodles in soup. It's $24.95, making the extra $5 worth it for those who love seafood.
One downside to these AYCE places is that some will serve low-quality meat. Not so at Manna, where the meat is high-quality and not over-marinated. We enjoyed thinly sliced beef tongue and beef ribs along with marinated beef and pork. For the side dishes, there was steamed egg served in a cast-iron bowl. To ward off the truly gluttonous, patrons are given a two-hour time limit along with the threat of having to pay for excessive leftovers.
Enjoy your barbecue dduk bo ssam-style, with thin, rice-based wrappers provided for wrapping the meat. Every cuisine in the world has some kind of wrapper, from Mexican tortillas to gossamer-thin Vietnamese rice paper. The Korean version is almost like a very thin sheet of noodle. Along with the banchan, there's a plate of lettuce and thinly sliced onion tossed with an oil dressing. That's not a salad appetizer; it's meant to be placed in the wrappers with the grilled meat.
Manna is great for larger groups, and weeknight evenings are ideal for avoiding long waits. Service is friendly and brisk, so don't hesitate to ask for seconds.