I nearly backed my car out of the parking lot after noticing a sign on the building that read all-you-can-eat. But after driving by this Korean barbecue restaurant in Lakewood hundreds of times, I gave it a shot.
I normally steer away from all-you-can-eat restaurants. (My experience at wasn't the greatest.) But I ended up having a pleasant experience at , nestled along South Tacoma Way next to the Mexican restaurant.
Cham Garden Korean BBQ is a cozy, mom-and-pop restaurant serving up some of the best Korean barbecue you can find in Lakewood. It rivals , which is a little fancier when it comes to interior decor.
I walked in on a relatively quiet Thursday afternoon and was greeted by owner James Pak, whose wife, Yoon Hee, and son, Danny, also work there. I ordered a sampler plate made by Pak since it was my first time.
He quickly whipped up a plate of the most popular food and explained how to make it Korean style.
"Divide the food for better control," Pak said. "Dip the beef in marinade before you eat it."
I keenly listened to his advice.
Pak placed four kinds of meat on the grill along with onions and garlic. There was pork and beef bulgogi, brisket and smoked pork jowl all cooked at the same time in front of me. The jowl looked like bacon but tasted twice as good.
Each one of the meats was tender and contained plenty of flavor. I dipped my meat in a dark-colored marinade and wrapped the brisket in a special radish wrap. I could taste the sweet and smoky flavor in the variety of meats I ate.
There are 12 kinds of meat; the boneless short rib and pork jowl are only served during dinner. And, of course, there's the kimchi -- three different kinds.
Cham Garden has been serving Korean barbecue for more than four years in Lakewood, but Pak has been in the restaurant business, starting in California, for about 25 years. He moved from a larger area on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma to a much smaller one in Lakewood.
Pak visits different businesses to purchase the restaurant's meat. While the locations remain a secret, he said the new smoked pork jowl has been the most popular meat lately.
Customers should visit at least two at a time. The booths sit four comfortably. A lunch plate costs $15 and dinner about $18. Pick your own uncooked food and grill as much food as your belly can hold.
Danny Pak said the family-owned restaurant's feel is what brings people back for more delicious barbecue.
"We want customers to feel like they're at our house," he said.
Who: Cham Garden Korean BBQ
What: Korean barbecue
Where: 10518 South Tacoma Way
Cost: $15 for lunch; $18 for dinner