When a restaurant is as talked about as Manimal is, you’re faced with the inevitable question: Can it live up to the hype? Expats in the know can’t help but make the comparison to its neighbor and predecessor, Linus BBQ. Some claim that Manimal takes the throne from the original king of American barbecue in Seoul, while loyal Linus fans relentlessly defend the former’s title. After hearing so much about the debate and being bombarded with Manimal’s seductive food porn on SNS, we decided to do a little hands-on research.
Manimal doesn’t take any reservations and minutes after they open their doors, it’s already a full house. If you can ever manage to get past the crowds of people in line, you might notice logs of Korean oak stacked against the stairway. These logs kindle the heart of the restaurant—a seven-foot-long custom built smoker brought from Houston by Texas native and recipe mastermind, Ki Kang. He started the place with three workout buddies, John Kim, Jeff Kang and Kim Dae-young, who all have different roles as co-owners.
Jeff cures the meats and then slaves away at the smoker slowly cooking the brisket and pulled pork over low temperatures for around ten hours. His efforts result in a tender brisket with burnt ends just pink around the edges with that coveted smoke ring and well done in the center. Served 200 grams at a time, the taste of the four lean and fat slices leave little room for dissatisfaction. Another talked about meat on the list is the lemon and herb marinated boneless chicken leg. One order means two leg quarters at a time and as far as poultry served American style in Seoul, this chicken is by far one of the juiciest. For extra flavor, ask for either the spicy mango or raspberry chipotle sauce. Although quite tasty and creative in its own right, traditionalists might prefer the tang of the more conventional barbecue sauces at Linus’.
Recommended sides include the cheddar cornbread, the chipotle lime potato salad, the grilled parmesan broccoli and the green chile mac and cheese. While we thought the cornbread could use a little more cornmeal, the mac and cheese was indeed as good as all the praise suggested. Blended with a combination of pepper jack, cheddar and roasted chili béchamel, the elbow macaroni is cheesy with a spicy punch.
Before we leave, we tell John we want to ask him a sensitive question. He smiles knowingly. “Ah, I get it at least once a day. About how we feel being compared to Linus.” He tells us that they’re actually quite close and points to a bottle of Bourbon gifted by its competitor. “A lot of us restaurant owners in the neighborhood are just good friends who like making good food.” As mere spectators to the restaurant industry, the lack of rivalry is almost disappointing but in truth, underscores the family feeling of the restaurant.
Does Manimal live up to the hype? Yes. But will there be a fight for the title as king? We guess not.