Smile Politely

Many tasty menu items at Masijta Grill

Downtown Urbana is quickly becoming the go-to for consistently good dining options. With the likes of Black Dog, Flying Machine Coffee and Pizza M, Crane Alley, Sitara, and Siam Terrace, you’re bound to find something to please your palate. Masijta Grill, Urbana’s newest addition, has been open for just a couple of months. In addition to Siam Terrace’s excellent Thai food and Sitara’s excellent Indian food, Masijta’s excellent Korean food rounds out a fairly diverse selection of Asian cuisine available within a couple of blocks.

The exterior of the restaurant is quite inviting. The signage is big, and if you’re paying attention, you might notice the super cute outdoor seating area to the left. The interior of the restaurant is a long, relatively narrow space with very tall ceilings. It’s pretty sparse in décor, and there are only tables—no booths. Most tables had a grilling apparatus built into it, which almost always makes for a good time. Because there isn’t much in the way of heavy textiles or drop ceilings, if there are a lot of people (or just one large, very enthusiastic party of eight), it can be really loud. When we first arrived, a large party at the back of the restaurant seemed to be whooping and chatting with impunity. Hey, I’m glad they had a good time. But once they left, the acoustics were much more bearable.

The staff were incredibly attentive and friendly. As we looked over the menu our waitress came over and asked if we had any questions. As we were finishing our meal the owner came over to check in, and ensure we had a pleasant experience. We affirmed that we did indeed enjoy our meal, and she made her way around to the other tables.

Masijta has a large, but not too overwhelming menu with plenty of meat and vegetarian options. You have your choice of Korean-style fried chicken wings, stews, large portions for sharing, hot stone bowls, teriyaki, hot pots for two, and BBQ for grilling at your table. Vegetarian items are noted with a big ‘V’ on the menu; if you’re still wondering about vegetarian options, there is a large chalk board on the right wall as you enter with a list of vegetarian-friendly options.

My group of five people ordered a significant amount of food; we wanted to try as much as possible. To start, we ordered six fried veggie dumplings ($5.99), six fried pork dumplings ($5.99), and eight chicken wings in a spicy sauce ($9.99). Before these items arrived, we were given little iceberg salads with an orangey-ginger dressing. Light and crisp, this was a refreshing way to start the meal.

The dumplings were not deep fried, but appeared to be pan-fried. The dumpling was fairly thick and didn’t give way when I picked it up and bit into it. Both veggie and pork dumplings were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The veggie dumpling filling had a nice consistency and texture; the veggie filling was good, bur didn’t commit to one particular flavor. The dipping sauce added some needed saltiness and umami. The pork dumplings were a little more flavorful. The sweetness of the pork was matched with some earthy herbs. The chicken wings were beautiful: the bright orange-red sauce was marked with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. The wings were perfectly crispy, and the sauce was more tangy than it was spicy. The five of us happily worked through the appetizers, as they were delicious.

The dumplings and chicken wings were a promising way to start the meal. I ordered the Dolso – Hot Stone Bowl with tofu ($12.99). When the hot stone bowl arrived, it was piping hot and huge and full of food. On the bottom of the pile of food was white rice, and on top of the rice were bean sprouts, tofu, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, some leafy green, slices of seaweed, and a fried egg. It was beautiful. Everything inside was perfectly cooked, and at the perfect temperature considering the heat of the stone bowl. When the food was brought out the waitress also brought some hot sauce, which I generously squeezed onto my food.  (It was spicy and tangy and totally delicious.) The tofu pieces were perfectly diced, and the texture was lovely. Everything in the bowl (prior to the hot sauce) was a little sweet and smelled and tasted of sesame oil. The amount of sesame oil was appropriate, though, because it wafted nicely on the nose and wasn’t too much in the mouth. I figured there was no way I was going to eat all of the food in the bowl, especially considering the appetizers. I was wrong. I ate every last bite. It was awesome.

In addition to our individual dishes, we also ordered some kimchi fried rice to share. This, too, was tasty. The kimchi added a depth of flavor to the rice, and the addition of some pork made it a little more substantial. The kimchi fried rice, unlike the side of kimchi, wasn’t all that spicy. It was actually pretty sweet.

Perhaps one of the more fun elements of the meal was the variety of sides and accoutrements that were brought out. There nine little dishes: spicy pickled radishes (deliciously crisp, incredibly spicy); pickled eggplant; fish cakes; bean sprouts; pickled radishes (also crisp, a little sweet); zucchini (crunchy and a little salty, but tasty); kimchi (really delicious, also quite spicy); and some pickled peppers and sausage.

A friend ordered the bul-go-gi, sweet marinated beef stir fried with vegetables (lunch portion $10.99). The plate of food was more than generous. The beef was tender and sweet, the vegetables crisp-tender. The rice—like all of the rice we had—was perfectly cooked and just slightly sweet. After she finished what she could, the rest of us took to her plate like vultures. My husband ordered the jae-yuk dup-bap, spicy pork stir fried with vegetables (lunch portion $10.99). Like the sauce on the spicy chicken wings, this pork was a rich chili-paste red-orange with flecks of green vegetables mixed in. The portion was huge, but as a group we had no trouble eating all of it. The meat was tender and the vegetables were cooked to crisp-tender. The mixture was well seasoned, and even though it was spicy, it was still flavorful, and not all that tangy.

My other two friends ordered the bul-go-gi dup-bap and the bi-bim-bap (lunch portions $10.99 and $9.99, respectively). The bul-go-gi dup-bap was served in a hot stone bowl, and where my bowl had tofu, this had a generous portion of sweet marinated beef. The bi-bim-bap was served in large stainless steel bowl and filled with rice, vegetables, ground beef, and topped with a fried egg.

We had a delicious spread of food, and the bill totaled $113.59. For five people to eat as much and as well as we did, $23 per person was well worth it. (Had we been drinking, the bill would have been much higher.) An entrée will cost you between $10 and $16, with fish entrées ringing in on the higher end. The lunch portions were pretty large, and certainly more than enough for lunch. I’m eager to try more items on the menu, and to sit on the lovely patio, so I’ll be visiting Masijta Grill again soon.

Masijta Grill is located at 202 North Race Street in Urbana. There is a city parking lot across the street from the entrance. The restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.


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