A Texas BBQ restaurant in Korea? I have to be honest, given the failure of basic “international” foods like pizza and nachos in Korea, we were not convinced a restaurant like Manimal could produce authentic tasting barbecue. We weren’t convinced any place in all of Korea could make good Texas-style barbecue in general. It’s hard enough finding Texas BBQ outside of Texas, let alone in Seoul. Let’s not forget that not only are we food snobs, but we are food snobs from Texas. We like our barbecue a certain way – dry rubbed, smoked, and served with a bottle of peppery, tomato-based (not sugary molasses N.Carolina), sauce.
you can’t quite tell but this is the smoker
When one of Sly’s work buddies invited us to dinner at Manimal, we gave him such a hard time. Even after we agreed to go, there were threats made along the lines of, “This better be good or else we’re never trusting you again,” and “If this sucks, we’re no longer friends.” Poor Work Buddy. He was only trying to help.
I was on the fence about going to dinner because even though this place was highly rated, I couldn’t quite trust those ratings. Even the fact that Manimal imported an oak-burning (no hickory or mesquite?) smoker from Texas did not necessarily convince me. Sometimes, people who have never had good bbq – REAL bbq (and by “real” I mean TEXAS-style, duh) – will rave about a place just because there’s a lot of meat on the table. The point is, even Americans don’t know good barbecue.
Before agreeing to dinner plans, I made sure to scrutinize the menu on the Manimal website. Were their ribs drenched in thick molasses sauce? Did they have brisket? Did the brisket have a char? How did they cook the meat? Were there non-Korean sides? Did they serve ranch dressing with their fries? Obviously, all very important things to concern oneself with given the state of the world.
I’ll cut to the chase – we were pleasantly surprised.
As for the technicalities of it being “Texas BBQ,” there was still some room for improvement, though to be fair, Manimal never claimed to only serve Texas bbq. Yes, it has the TX smoker, but it also served three different types of bbq sauce on the side (which is the correct approach), one of which was the appropriate, Texas, sauce and the others which had no place on the table next to all that glorious meat. A few slices of sliced white bread and plain (not sweet) pickles, as well as the option of extra-moist brisket, Dr. Pepper, and banana cream pie would have taken our meal to the next level. On the other hand, I rarely ever order barbecue chicken at a barbecue joint, but I found it to be surprisingly tasty at Manimal, maybe even over all the other meats.
Overall, it was quite the tasty meal. The bbq was really good. Our friend can remain our friend. Lucky him.
Manimal Smoke House | CUISINE: American BBQ | NEIGHBORHOOD: Itaewon | COST: Moderately Expensive | DESCRIPTION: There are two popular bbq places in Itaewon: Manimal Smoke House, and Linus’ Bama Style BBQ. I’ve never been to Linus’ BBQ, but the fact that it claims to be “Bama Style” is enough to make me never want to visit on my own. Texans don’t let other Texans eat bad bbq. The selling point, and perhaps gimmick, of Manimal is that they imported a smoker all the way from Texas (the smoking aspect is not the gimmick, I just question if the smoker needed to travel all the way from TX when many a Texas bbq has been cooked in an inexpensive, tricked out oil drum) and somehow managed to cram it into a tiny Korean restaurant space. Smoked barbecued meats served with several types of sauces. You can order platters that include your choice of chicken, brisket, pulled pork, and ribs, as well as a choice of Southern style sides like jalapeno mac and cheese. Check the board for daily specials. On the night we visited, they ran out of one of the sausages and subbed in the special of the day, homemade pastrami. We ordered the “Pit Master Platter,” which I don’t see listed on their online menu, but you can see the menu listing in the photo above. For four very hungry people (three guys, and one pig/me), it was a pretty good value considering how much food we got. We were all super stuffed and had to force feed ourselves the last bits. The dining room is rather small and is usually full. Even on a weeknight, you can most likely expect to wait, especially if your group is larger than four people. | VERDICT: When it comes to eating American/Southern food in a foreign country, the big question is always, “Would you eat at this restaurant if it were in your home country/state?” If this restaurant existed in Texas and was maybe a neighborhood spot convenient to where I worked or lived, I would eat there, but otherwise, there are just too many 10/10 mind blowing bbq places to eat at in Texas. Texans are obsessed with bbq in the same way that Japanese are obsessed with ramen – it’s all about the craft. Would I eat at this restaurant if I found it in a state in the US outside of Texas? Most likely. Would I eat at Manimal again the next time we’re in Seoul? Absolutely. Admittedly, I have very specific regional expectations when it comes to eating bbq (see above mention about being a food snob). For people who just want to delicious plate of smoked meats then Manimal is a solid Southern bbq place that I would definitely recommend.