Ask 100 Marinites what their definition of barbecue is, and you will get 200 different answers. But however you define it, we’ve got some fine barbecue in Marin, in flavors that span the globe. Here are a few to try.
There are no bells and whistles at this RV park deli better known for its California Reuben and Atherton Club sandwiches than its Korean barbecue. That needs to change. From a tiny, gas-fired grill, Korean-born chef-owner James Jung grills beef for garlic-and-vinegar seasoned bi-bim-bap and for stuffing into tofu sushi, among other treats. Though the kimchi isn’t grilled, it’s a must-try. “This restaurant is my retirement project,” Jung says and laughs.
1530 Armstrong Ave, Novato; 415.897.5770
The go-to dish at owner Ali Mobasser’s Persian barbecue restaurant is the koobideh. Seasoned with grated onion and seven spices, including turmeric, saffron, sumac and white pepper, the meat is “koobidehed” (meaning, beaten with the spices) before grilling. While the outside is charred, the beef’s skewering allows for even internal heat and easy turning during cooking, locking in flavor. “It keeps the juices from spilling out,” says Mobasser.
555 E. Francisco Blvd, San Rafael; 415.256.9878
“By the fireside” is how Robata translates its name, reflecting the centuries-old tradition of open-fire cooking in Japanese coastal villages. Though Mill Valley no longer permits traditional clean-burning binchotan charcoal at restaurants in town, head chef Shinji Kawasaki manages to extract maximum flavor from the grilled Japanese steak, chicken teriyaki, corn and broccoli, yellowtail collar and more on the restaurant’s expansive menu.
591 Redwood Highway, Mill Valley; 415.381.8400
Minced fine to stick to the skewer, lamb shish is seasoned with cumin, coriander, paprika and fenugreek before it makes its way into the 400°F tandoor, India’s traditional grilling vessel. Tandoori chicken rests in a marinade of spices, degi mirch chile and strained yogurt before it, too, hits the grill at 450°F. “It’s not the masala but the time and temperature,” says owner Paul Sroa, of how the perfect auburn-tinged char on the chicken is attained.
812 4th St, San Rafael; 415.456.5808
Marin native Chris Stafford moonlights as a pit master, pulling his portable rig to gigs (including regular stops at his Uncle Matt and Uncle Joe’s Indian Valley Brewery in Novato) to serve up what Stafford calls central Texas style ‘cue. A Brandt brisket cut is his signature dish with little more than salt, pepper, Lawry’s Seasoning Salt and time to smoke over oak before the beef gives in to a lacquered crust and a disarmingly pink interior. It is a dish that just might make a name for Marin barbecue.
1016 Railroad Ave, Novato; 415.755.8129
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Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.