3.5 out of 5 stars
When in Riverside, you don’t always expect to see diverse foods outside of the campus area, so it’s always great when you discover the hidden places Riverside has to offer. Koreana Grill Barbecue Buffet is a great example. This is one of the few all-you-can-eat, do-it-yourself Korean barbecue places in Riverside and even just one of the few Korean places that Riverside has to offer.
For about $20, (not including the student discount) Koreana makes every bite worth your buck. Sure you could go to Koreatown in LA for much better meats, but nowhere can you match the value that Koreana has to offer. They have all the basics (including bulgogi, galbi and brisket) and go even further to include beef liver and various seafoods. Serving all kinds of unlimited side dishes, desserts, miso soup, cooked foods and even sushi, Koreana still keeps the meat and seafood fresh and tasty. This place is also unconventional, with its buffet style different from the traditional ordering system at a Korean barbecue, where you look at your menu, tell your server the meats you want and then they are brought to you.
In the meat department, in addition to the previously mentioned items, there was also pork belly, intestine and other meats marinated in teriyaki and spicy sauces, which definitely gave a feeling of good variety. Everything I grilled was delicious and marinated very well. A surprising amount of seafood was included in the price, including squid, octopus, scallops, shrimp and fish — but I don’t recommend the fish only due to the fact that it stuck to the grill very easily.
A good amount of side dishes are available for customers to choose from: bean sprouts, sesame leaves, fresh seaweed, cucumbers and kimchee. In addition, various desserts are available such as jello, fruit slices and an amazing soft serve ice cream machine with caramel, chocolate and strawberry sauce — all of which made my ice cream dreams come true after a great Korean barbecue meal.
The dumplings, vegetable tempura, calamari, fried noodles, fried fish and fried rice completed my full dining experience at Koreana. The sushi, while not offering much of a selection, was still a nice addition to the already huge menu of food that Koreana offers. I only wish that they would restock some things faster on the buffet islands. But after asking them, they brought it out immediately and we were back to eating some delicious Korean barbecue.
The food itself was adequate — nothing less and nothing more than some good old Korean barbecue meat. Sure, there are much better places out in Koreatown or even closer in the San Gabriel Valley area, but there is something to be loved about this place and the variety at such a low price. The bulgogi at this place was good, but not as memorable as many of the marinated meats. The beef liver is something that you either love or hate, but I love it and I am certainly glad it is on the menu here, as it is not really seen elsewhere. The seafood, while probably not the freshest, was also quite good and definitely very surprising to see included on the menu. As mentioned before, soft serve is one of the best parts of the meal. It is seemingly nothing special, but there is just something about its soft texture with the variety of drizzle sauces that makes it well worth the end of a good Korean barbecue meal.
The restaurant itself was very standard: Nothing too flashy, but definitely not a hole-in-the-wall place either. The place seemed half-remodeled, with combinations of newer and older seats throughout, giving me a feeling that it is not yet done. Classic ‘90s rock plays on the speakers and the overall vibe and decor do not really match up with the modern, K-pop-playing Korean barbecue restaurant. Koreana feels somewhat like a typical American diner, which is refreshing — who wants to go to the same restaurant over and over again anyway?
While this restaurant doesn’t give the traditional or modern Korean vibe, that doesn’t mean that the food isn’t good or authentic. If you are in Riverside and craving Korean barbecue, Koreana is definitely the place to be.