Big Wok Mongolian BBQ
250 N Sepulveda Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
The Big Wok Mongolian BBQ is a very popular “all-you-can-eat” Mongolian restaurant located along a busy strip of Sepulveda Blvd in Manhattan Beach. Customers collect chicken, beef, lamb and veggitables into a bowl then add sauces and spices before bringing the bowl to chefs to cook on large grills before your eyes. The building is a freestanding structure with parking on three sides. Parking can be problematic and lines can be quite long during busy times. The business hours can catch you by surprise so I have listed them here. For some reason Yelp does not list them:
The Big Wok – Mongolian BBQ Manhattan Beach CA
The overall experience is fun if you’re in the mood to be active during your meal. Once seated you have your choice of a variety of soups, Spring Rolls, Won-Ton etc but the real attraction here is the all-you-can-eat buffet. The waitress will bring you beverages and send you on your way to the double sided buffet line. The trick here is to pick the fast side so you don’t get stuck behind a bunch of slow people. I break the slow people into three categories:
1) The “Newbie” – these first timers aren’t sure what to get, spend a lot of time talking about the choices and generally are stumped when they get to the BBQ sauce, ginger water, garlic water and cooking oil at the end of the line.
2) The “Pack Rat” – these folks somehow believe that the higher they stack their food – the better it will taste. Using techniques not seen since the construction of The Great Pyramids, they pile food 6 inches above the bowl line. This process requires manual hand mashing and generally leaves a trail of food that falls off the mountain.
3) The “Double Bowler” – if one bowl is good, two bowls must be better right? The Double Bowler usually packs one bowl full of meat and the second bowl full of noodles and veggies. This does give you a good bang for your buck as you can really cash in on the more expensive meat choices. Since you can go back for free, The Double Bowler really is just saving time.
The trick here is to spot these folks and go to the other side. It’s not easy to spot them but if you look for clues: two bowls, confused looks etc. you can hedge your bets.
Once in line, you grab your bowl – or two bowls if you choose the life of a “Double Bowler” – and start piling on the raw food. The first stop is thinly sliced selections of frozen chicken, beef and pork. These don’t look too appetizing but you’ll soon pile on veggies, noodles and sprouts so you don’t have to look at it very long. The last stop before cooking are the oils and spices. At this station you use the printed guide to add ladles of BBQ sauce, ginger water, garlic water and oil to taste.
From here you make the jump to the cooking area. This is where things bog down a bit but at least you have something fun to watch. When it is your turn the cook takes your bowl(s) and dumps them on a round, flat BBQ grill. The cooks walk around the BBQ flipping and rotating the food until it is cooked and ready to return to the customer on a clean plate. As you leave the cooling area there is a tip jar for the cooks. I like to put a few dollars in this tip area since these guys do most of the hard work for your dinner. Time to head back to the table and enjoy!
Typically by the time you get back to your table your drinks, a bowl of white rice and a basket of “Chinese Biscuits”. Personally, I would pay the $12 just to eat a pile of those biscuits – man those things are good – especial when warm.
The food is tasty and, depending on what sorts of choices you make, fairly predicable – in a good way. You pretty much get what you make. On this occasion I loaded up with chicken, onions, bell peppers, a few bits of pineapple and I went with a medium BBQ sauce. It was perfectly cooked and filling. In the end I was so full, I did not go back for seconds.
To sum it all up, The Big Wok is not a bargain restaurant at over $12 but it truly is a great value and a fun experience. The staff works hard but is pleasant every time. Go in off-peak times and you’ll be in and out easily. A family favorite and we will be back again and again…….