Newsday food writer Andi Berlin visits Won KBBQ, a family-owned, all-you-can-eat Korean barbeque restaurant in Carle Place. Credit: Randee Daddona

“Is this your first time here?” It's a typical question servers like to ask. But the answer is more important when you sit down at one of the many restaurants in this entirely new genre, which we'll call the “all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue and hot pot” spots.

This new class of restaurants, which is currently blossoming across Long Island, brings two distinct styles of cuisine together, with a touch of  pandemonium.

First, there is the centuries-old tradition of Korean barbecue, a communal eating style that's more recently become a raucous social event fueled by Korean beers and fruity spirits like soju. But the interactive nature of tableside Korean barbecue also appeals to families. So in the past few years, a new crop of all-you-can-eat KBBQ spots has opened across the country, giving budget consumers a way to try the vast range of thin-cut and marinated meats and side dishes called banchan. 

Then there's the hot pot, another social style of eating renowned in the Sichuan region of China, known for its feisty chile spices and zingy peppercorns that make the tongue buzz. (Countries across Asia have their own hot pot traditions, but the style here is mainly Chinese.) In this custom, the emphasis is on the potent broths and pungent dipping sauces of raw garlic and fermented leek flower. 

KBBQ and hot pot have barely anything to do with each other, but it's easy to see why they've come together in the tristate area, with such robust Korean and Chinese communities. Both eating styles push diners to the limit, pummeling your face with hot smoke, filling your belly with savory meats and delighting your senses with beautifully presented vegetables.

By many accounts, KPOT was the trendsetter. Now a nationwide franchise outlet with dozens of locations across the East Coast and Texas, the chain started in 2018 in East Brunswick, New Jersey. The first Long Island location opened this December at the Samanea mall in Westbury, and just a few weeks ago, a second near the South Shore Mall in Bay Shore. Similar concepts such as the Long Island-based JBBQ and the buffet style K-CITY BBQ cropped up, each boasting sprawling industrial dining rooms. But you'll find a higher quality (and slightly pricier) experience at the brand-new Won KBBQ in Carle Place, which ditches the hot pot for a Seoul-style Korean barbecue experience set to loud K-pop music. 

There's so much going on at these places and the rules are so complicated that the server's explanation can last several minutes. And even that won't cover everything, so here's a game plan on how to order, and how to get the best bang for your buck. 

Meat, seafood, vegetables, soy beans, noodles and rice served with...

Meat, seafood, vegetables, soy beans, noodles and rice served with the hot pot at JBBQ & Shabu Shabu in Bay Shore in 2021. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Appetizers are an afterthought, unless there's sushi

A typical Korean barbecue meal is not a plated three-course evening. The appetizers tried at all four of the establishments aren't anything special. Skip it altogether and focus on the meat. The exception: K-CITY Barbecue in Levittown has an entire buffet of freshly made sushi rolls. Of course it's not prepared with the highest-quality fish, but you knew that already.

Now for the meat: Thick cuts go on the grill. Thin cuts are more flexible 

Every restaurant has a different ordering system. JBBQ gives diners a menu with the Korean barbecue items on one side and the hot pot dishes on the other while Won KBBQ and KPOT involve looking at a QR screen. Once the food comes out, it can get confusing what's supposed to be for what. Tip: If the meat is sliced thick — and you're going to want to order these cuts, like boneless kalbi short ribs and pork belly — it goes on the grill. It's not going to cook if you put it in the broth. Thinner slices of meat can either go on the grill or in the bubbling hot pot. 

Lettuce is your best friend 

Order a side of green lettuce and also a side of kimchi, which is a fermented cabbage dish from Korea that's the perfect companion to all that salty meat. Once your meat is grilled, wrap it in a frond of lettuce and place a little kimchi on top. Give it a quick swipe in whatever sauces you have on the table and you've got the perfect eating vessel that's much less filling than white rice. 

Other veggies and noodles go in the hot pot

Chinese hot pot is typically a communal meal, but these restaurants provide individual hot bot bowls at each corner of the table. This makes it difficult to share the hot pot, so you'll probably want to go for the most flavorful broth and skip the plainer options … so spicy chile it is. The fusion broths just never seem to hit as hard. 

Once you have the broth picked out, here's your chance to load up on veggies and noodles. Enoki mushrooms? Check. Seaweed knots? How cool. Lotus root? Yes, please. 

Don't stress the time limit, and save room for dessert 

When you sit down, the server might inform you of a 90-minute time limit. This feels more like insurance than a hard rule. Don't let the clock scare you into over-ordering on the first round and getting pummeled by 50 million options at the same time. Slow and steady wins the race.

Most likely, you'll be pretty full by the time the 90 minutes rolls around. But even if you are, who can resist one of those free ice cream desserts from the cooler? Wedged inside their paper cups, they taste like fudgy wax paper, but in a good way? An even better option is at Won KBBQ in Carle Place, which sells Korean ice pops like Melona for an extra charge. The green bar tastes so fresh and light after that savory meat fest.



Carle Place 

Newly opened near Roosevelt Field mall, this cavernous party spot is a top pick for Korean barbecue. At $42.95 a person it's a few dollars more than the other restaurants, but that's worth it as the meats are of higher quality and the servers grill them for you on a massive cast iron grill that takes up most of the table. Make sure to order a side of steamed egg. 

More info: 125 Old Country Rd., Carle Place, 516-226-3282,

Won KBBQ in Carle Place on March 26. The all-you-can-eat...

Won KBBQ in Carle Place on March 26. The all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ and sides cooked in an oversized case iron pot. Credit: Randee Daddona



This newish restaurant offers a massive buffet that fails to differentiate between the Korean barbecue and the hot pot ($36.95 a person). Nevertheless, it's a thrilling experience where anything goes. 

More info: 3056 Hempstead Tpke., Levittown, 516-520-0888,

JBBQ & Shabu Shabu

Bay Shore, Smithtown and Commack

With the same owners as Kashi, this local chain is the best option of the KBBQ and hot pot combo restaurants as the meat quality remains high ($37.99 a person). The angus steak was the best bite of the night, but there are also some fusion meats like cumin lamb and red sausage. 

More info: 11 E. Main St., Bay Shore, 631-647-7777; 41 Route 111, Smithtown, 631-656-0630; 200 Jericho Tpke., Commack, 631-343-7252,

The offerings at the table grill at JBBQ & Shabu...

The offerings at the table grill at JBBQ & Shabu Shabu in Bay Shore in 2021. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.


Westbury, Bay Shore and coming soon to Lake Grove

With locations in dozens of states, this is the largest chain on the list and is known for its gigantic restaurants that fill up most nights of the week. The meat quality is a little lower than the other spots but at $31.99 a person, it's also the best deal of the bunch. 

More info: 1500 Old Country Rd. #102B-2, Westbury, 631-228-3668; 1701 Sunrise Hwy. Suite A1, Bay Shore, 934-888-6161,

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