A better ’cue
Sacramento, CA 95825
I could begin many ways: the modern stone fountain that greets you as you enter the restaurant, reminiscent of a Las Vegas hotel lobby; how a mini octopus seems to breathe when its thrown on a hot grill; or the simultaneously gross and glorious feelings that always ensue after a successful night of all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue.
But I know your first question, so let’s get it out of the way. Is it better than Oz Korean BBQ?
In a word, yes.
With two locations, Oz has enjoyed a nearly unrivaled position at the top of Sacramento’s Korean barbecue chain for years. In turn, the wait times can be long and you’re hustled out the door within two hours of ordering to make room for the next group.
Those who will continue to prefer Oz will point to its lower prices—$22.99 on peak days and $18.99 for weekday lunch—and, perhaps, its delicious but Americanized appetizers like fried chicken, fried pot stickers and fries.
Blue House’s all-you-can-eat barbecue costs $25, or $32 if you want access to additional, top-of-the-line cuts like rib-eye steak. Even with just the $25 option, though, Blue House’s selection is more varied and interesting, and the cuts and presentations are far more impressive.
You won’t find pork cheeks, short-arm octopus, brisket or ox intestines at Oz. You won’t get traditional appetizers, like steamed egg in a stone pot, spicy tofu soup, soy bean stew or japchae, to start your meal. You also probably won’t experience the same high level of service.
At Blue House, the standouts are the nicely marbled galbi short rib and the paper-thin bulgogi—but that’s the same verdict at most places. The octopus takes on the flavor of a smoky-sweet scallop as long as you let it cook long enough. The spicy pork belly tastes almost exclusively of gochujang, which can be good or bad depending on your taste. Thin, wispy curls of brisket benefit from a dip in sesame oil. Shrimp arrive as they should, with the heads intact.
As with most all-you-can-eat places, there are some rules. You will get charged if you order a round of meat and then leave too much of it uneaten. You can only order three meats at a time. Still, the pervading vibe remains relaxed, celebratory and aesthetically pleasing.
If you don’t feel like stuffing yourself—or cooking your own meal—Blue House also offers an impressive agrave; la carte menu. I tried a beautiful, enormous pile of vegetables and squid bathed in gochujang, all inside a sizzling stone pot. It needed a touch more salt—and some pieces of squid were too chewy—but it felt like a deal at $17. The mool-naengmyeon ($13) featured a precarious stack of boiled egg, beef, radish and jicama balancing atop a ball of gray noodles, all seeming to battle for the title of thinnest food. They rested in cold beef broth that tasted light and clean with a slight tang, while ice cubes kept everything to the proper temperature.
Among lunch’s many well-priced specials, the bento boxes seem to win the crowds over. Tender chicken bulgogi, salad, dumplings, fresh fruit and a sloppy-but-tasty California roll all came out to just $10.
The banchan—the little free side dishes that come before your meal—were the only element that didn’t measure up. Across three visits, the selection changed slightly each time, but most items underwhelmed. There were some gems though, including sweet slices of fish cake and pungent, crisp kimchi.
Regardless, any disappointment can easily be remedied by another round of bulgogi.