At Shilla, marinated meats caramelize on grills right in front of you.

Shilla Korean BBQ in Norman is the metro area’s first all-you-can eat Korean-style barbecue

Diners take control of their meal by attending to meat on a sizzling electric grill at Shilla Korean BBQ in Norman. (Jacob Threadgill)

Diners take control of their meal by attending to meat on a sizzling electric grill at Shilla Korean BBQ in Norman. (Jacob Threadgill)

Oklahoma-based businessman Liming Zhang is no stranger to bringing new food concepts to the Sooner State.

Zhang has experience owning Chinese and Japanese restaurants in the region and recently expanded by opening Freezing Cow, a Thai-style rolled ice cream store in Tulsa with plans for one in Norman too, and Shilla Korean barbecue, which opened at 2164 24th Ave NW in Norman three months ago.

Shilla Korean is the first all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue restaurant in the Oklahoma City metro area. Diners order from a choice of marinated meats, including squid and baby octopus, and cook the meat on an electric grill.

Diners have control over their own food, but they can also eat as much as they want during a 90-minute window from a variety of marinated beef, pork, chicken and seafood.

American dream

Zhang said he first encountered Korean barbecue while working in New York

and saw its popularity rise there. After relocating to Oklahoma in 2004, he started somewhat of a regional restaurant empire.

He opened his first restaurant, a Chinese restaurant in Mustang, in 2005 at the age of 24. He later expanded to Japanese food, which he learned while living in New York, and had as many as 10 Japanese restaurants before selling off a few in recent years.

Zhang currently owns Japanese restaurants in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma in addition to new and upcoming restaurants in Tulsa and Norman.

He traveled to Fresno, California, where his friend operates a pair of Shila Korean BBQ restaurants, earlier this year.

“I wanted to open the same kind of business here because there is no one else [doing all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue] here,” Zhang said.

Shilla Korean BBQ opened in August. (Jacob Threadgill)

Shilla Korean BBQ opened in August. (Jacob Threadgill)

His friend served as a mentor in opening Shilla in Norman. He came out to Oklahoma for a month, going over marinade recipes and preparing the staff, and Zhang returned the favor by naming the new restaurant after his friend’s California eatery and adding an “L.”

Zhang, a Chinese native, takes his success in cuisine in stride. He first worked in a Chinese restaurant before moving to New York to learn the Japanese art of sushi and teppanyaki. He has expanded to Korean barbecue and rolled ice cream, which originated in Thailand around 2009 before spreading across Southeast Asia.

“Korean food is similar to Chinese food, but the flavors are different. We make all of our own sauces and marinade for the meat,” Zhang said.

The beef bulgogi, a marinade traditionally consisting of soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar, is among the most popular items on the menu. It’s equal parts sweet and savory. Other popular choices include boneless short rib and spicy pork bulgogi. The all-you-can-eat service is $12.99 per person at lunch and $22.99 at dinner, which adds New York Strip steak, marinated short ribs and squid to the expanded evening menu.

Meats sizzle on the grill as they caramelize, and the diner has control over how well to cook each item, which has meant a learning curve for some patrons. But Zhang said he has been surprised how many people have tried Korean barbecue in Dallas.

Zhang said business has been strong in the first few months, but they might add sushi to the menu soon, just to diversify the appeal of Shilla.

The only constant is that Zhang will remain a busy man. Construction of the Freezing Cow location in Norman is underway, and Zhang anticipates opening an additional few restaurants in the coming months.

Print headline: Grill-out; Shilla Korean BBQ in Norman is the metro area’s first all-you-can eat Korean-style barbecue.

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