Step into Iron Age on a Friday night and you might think you’re partying in Seoul. The Korean restaurant, which opened at the end of November, is a sensory overload: Surreal K-Pop videos play from massive screens on every wall; music thumps unapologetically from the sound system; and large groups of hungry diners, packed shoulder-to-shoulder into spacious banquettes, clink glasses of beer and soju as the smell of fire-kissed meat wafts in the air.
Those unfamiliar with Korean barbecue should be warned that the food is a match for the ambiance: aggressive, a little funky, and likely to leave you in a daze the next morning. Iron Age is an all-you-can-eat concept, and $25 per guest yields an endless parade of protein. Think of it as a steakhouse with a DIY ethic. Guests choose from more than a dozen types of meat preparations, and each cut is delivered on a massive platter to be cooked on built-in grills at the table. Just be careful not to overdo it. Unchecked gluttons could consume an entire cow in a single visit, but two or three selections should be enough to leave even the most voracious appetites satisfied.
We began with thick slabs of honeycomb pork belly, neatly scored so that the fat rendered out over the flames. (Tip: scissors at the table are meant for cutting meat into bite-size nuggets.)
What’s left are caramelized strips of meat reminiscent of French lardons. Four types of condiments are provided for every guest; a simple swish through toasted sesame oil with salt is the traditional option.
Brisket arrives in the form of tissue-thin shavings of rosy pink meat. Give each slice a minute or two on the grill, then dunk the still-sizzling beef in a simple soy dipping sauce. Or try the ssamjang, a fermented miso paste—it’s an acquired taste for some, and a glorious umami bomb for others.
These two cuts require a special perforated grill plate, so order them together at the start of the feast. The remaining selections require an intermission so that a server can replace your cooktop with a traditional metal grate, which provides a satisfying char on your meat. A safe bet for first-timers is bulgogi, or shaved ribeye, which can be ordered two ways: with a traditional soy-garlic marinade, or Hawaiian style, which employs pineapple juice as a sweet tenderizer. Grilled pineapple rings gild the lily.
Palates that can handle heat can opt for spicy pork or chicken, which are bathed in gochujang, or red pepper paste. Seafood lovers aren’t neglected, either. Grilled squid is a popular choice that demands an ice-cold brew to wash things down, and shrimp come whole, in the shell, for maximum flavor.
Banchan, or complimentary side dishes, include a colorful array of pickles: some sweet, some spicy, and all vinegary—the perfect foil for all of those rich proteins. Sliced raw garlic and Korean chili peppers (compulsory additions to the table) should be tossed on the grill to mingle with your meat. Sides include japchae (slippery glass noodles), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), and a savory, scoopable steamed egg custard known as gyeran jim. No need for a crash course in Korean—the staff leaves a menu on the table for the entire course of the meal, so you can just point and chew.
For having 244 seats, service here is surprisingly quick and efficient. Tables are set up with a spread of banchan before you are even seated; this way you can dive right into grilling. And servers, clad in all-black, come and go to adjust flames, flip meat, and deliver fresh plates at the same quick tempo as the K-pop blasting in the background.“Where’s the beef?”is a question that will never be uttered.
Iron Age is a Georgia-based chain; the Glenview location is its tenth in the United States, with an additional restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand. On one hand, its arrival is no surprise—this corner of the village thrives with a mix of Korean mom-and-pops and franchises. One could even argue that the Korean food scene is better in the suburbs than it is in Chicago proper (where another Iron Age opened last year).
But what makes this opening particularly exciting is that it fills a void in what is otherwise a non-existent late-night dining scene (sorry, drive- thru tacos don’t count). Iron Age is open until midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s the kind of restaurant that one would expect to find in the buzzing Koreatowns of Manhattan or Los Angeles. If the North Shore community shows it some love, perhaps it will be a harbinger of more exciting things to come.
Iron Age is located at 4513 West Lake Avenue in Glenview. For more information call 847-813-6029.