Recent temperatures falling below 50ºF has made me and my friends wanting something warm and comforting. Knowing Korean food and its penchant for piping hot delicacies, we decided to visit Masijta Grill on a particularly cold October night.

Even though it was busy and almost all of the tables were occupied, we were still able to get a table as a big group had just finished their meal and was leaving. With almost everyone in the restaurant grilling meat at their table grills, the whole restaurant was filled with an inviting aroma that increased my appetite.

We initially planned to get barbecue to be grilled at our table too, but decided against it since the price per person was quite high ($24 for unlimited meats, rice, and side dishes) and we weren’t that hungry. The other thing is that the Korean BBQ can only be ordered for the whole table, which makes sense since it would be hard to keep track of who eats what. I've tried the barbecue here a couple of times and have been impressed.

Given that all the tables were occupied, and the kitchen was busy, it took some time for our food to arrive. I would say they must have been truly overwhelmed since the food took longer than it should have. Like most Korean places, we were served a myriad of side dishes (banchan) while we waited, along with rice. Many of side dishes featured some level of fermentation like kimchi, and there were some that were more challenging in terms of texture, like the seaweed salad. The boiled peanuts were a favorite at the table. You might not be greeted with the same side dishes, since they keep rotating them out. They have a decent selection at all times, however, so you are bound to find a new favorite.

We decided to order some dishes that were new to us and some that are my go-to at Korean places. My go-to dishes are jjajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce) and sundubu jjigae (spicy silky tofu stew) and they are my personal bar of judging how good a Korean place is. Fun fact – jjajangmyeon is the most ordered take out dish in Korea. This dish originated in China but is more popular in Korea, and is a staple in any Korean restaurant. Sundubu jjigae, on the other hand, is one of the more basic stews, but if done right can warm you right down to your soul on a cold night.

The jjajangmyeon at Masijta ($11.99) was pretty good. The sauce was silky and the noodles chewy. I could have personally used a little bit more sweetness, but others on the table preferred it, with one of my friends rating it as their favorite dish of the night. The sundubu jjigae ($10.99) was all it promised to be and more. It was spicy and hot. The silky texture of the tofu, along with the creaminess from a cracked egg with rice...there are few things as comforting as this.

The new-to-us dishes we tried were grilled mackerel ($14.99), bulgogi beef on a cast iron pan ($13.99) and kimchi jeyook bibimbap ($13.99). The grilled mackerel arrived at the table split in half with nothing more than a wedge of lemon on the side. The oily fish was grilled to perfection and it was a delight to pick off bites using a chopstick, with the flesh coming off easily. There were a few bones so you might have to be slightly careful when trying to eat it. The simplicity of the dish exemplifies how good it was and it was my personal favorite that night.

The bulgogi beef on the pan got overcooked a bit due to the heat of the pan, making the meat chewy. It was still well flavored and I would want to try slightly more fatty cuts that might handle the cast iron heat better. The bibimbap was served in a hot stone bowl with rice topped by a variety of stuff like kimchi flavored pork, fried egg, sprouts, cucumber, spicy gochujang (Korean chilli pepper paste). You have to mix it all up in particularly breaking the egg so that the yolk can make the mixture creamy. The best thing to do after mixing it, is to let it stay for some time. This will let the residual heat in the stone bowl make the rice at the bottom crispy and the rice at the top soft, giving rise to an amazing textural contrast. This stone bowl is a great option if you are going for lunch.

In my books, Masijta is still among the best Korean places in town. Whether you are going for grilling meat and getting the whole Korean BBQ experience, or you are going to just get some stew or bibimbap as the days get colder, this place shouldn’t disappoint. Definitely give the grilled mackerel a try. I also recommend also having a few soju shots with the food. The clean and slightly sweet taste of soju is a great accompaniment to funky and spicy Korean food.

Masijta Grill
202 N Race St
Urbana
10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Photos by Mayank Boob