Korean Barbecue is a joyous dining experience. You sit around a table and share in the visceral thrill of cooking delicious meat over fire. You hunted down this wild beast (aka schlepped to Koreatown after work) and now you are going to wolf down.
But here’s the thing: There is so much more to Korean cuisine than K-BBQ.
Next time you’re seeking out eats in K-Town, we’ve got some suggestions that don’t involve the communal grilling of meat.
Come to this little hole-in-the-wall primarily for their dolsot bibimbap – a steaming stone pot of rice, julienned vegetables, beef, and a fried egg. And don’t miss the refreshing cheongpomuk served cold alongside the kimchi and other banchan – white mung bean jelly noodles topped with soy sauce and scallions.
This is a cramped, bare bones restaurant in a strip mall. The slightly-sweet galbi jjim (braised short ribs) is as tender as Passover brisket, but the must-order is a spicy octopus bibimbap. First, because we haven’t had anything else like it, and second, because it’s delicious. Seongbukdong shares their parking lot with a Korean pub and a karaoke bar that are both intimidating and bit overpriced, but well-worth wandering into if you’re game for the night turning into an adventure.
Is the name a reference to weed, the restaurant’s hot pot dishes, or the idea that Roy Choi’s cuisine relates to the melting pot of Los Angeles? Yes, yes and yes. Is the food here authentic enough to be called Korean? Most of it is, sure, but debating authenticity, heritage, and preservation of culture within food is not why you come to POT. The hot pots are the heavyweights on POT’s menu, but the best reasons to come to POT are for the sea urchin fried rice known as the “Beep Beep”, the duck confit fried rice and the charred-in-all-the-right-places glazed pork chop.
Hidden in the back corner of a strip mall, this sushi bar looks straight out of an ‘80s low-budget action flick. Boongho has private rooms if you want to go for an expensive multi-course sashimi dinner, but the move is to grab a seat at the bar and order one thing – hwe dup bap, an enormous sashimi & salad bowl. Dress it with a squirt or two from the squeeze bottle of chogochujang, a vinegary version of the red pepper sauce you’re used to pouring over bibimbap.
Open since 1983, Kobawoo specializes in bo ssam: a platter of sliced steamed pork belly, served alongside some other items, like pickled cabbage and kimchi. You don’t want to miss out on their savory pancakes – the kimchi pancake (Kimchijeon) is the star.
Mapo Galbi is a run-down restaurant on a boring block of Olympic Blvd., where the staff doesn’t speak much English. Fortunately, all you need to be able to say is DAK GALBI, and you’ll get a chicken stir-fry unlike any other. Each table has an enormous shallow cast-iron pan in the middle, where chicken, rice cakes, cabbage, perilla leaves, slices of sweet potato doused in sauce get cooked together. It’s sweet, spicy, and savory,and a little peppery. It’s also delicious as hell. Give our regards to the fried rice they make with your leftovers.
This place is intense. Have you ever walked into a restaurant where every single patron is wearing a single white glove? Here’s your chance. Once you’re finished making OJ/MJ jokes, you can move onto the food, because grilling seafood over hot coals (that’s what the glove is for) in this smoky room is an unforgettable experience. Your best bet is Combination C: Lobster, shrimp, clams, oysters mussels, scallops and more – all fantastic.
This is a Korean BBQ place, but wait, before you complain about us violating the stringent rules of these recs, trust us, it’s different! Here you grill slices of duck at your table. We don’t actually love the grilled duck here on its own, but the outrageous second act is dazzling. At the end of your meal, the servers come over and prepare kimchi fried rice with your meal’s leftover duck meat and rendered duck fat. It’s decadent as hell, but unbelievably good. No cows or pigs or goats were harmed in the making of this killer fried rice.
There’s nearly always a line stretching out the door to eat here, a place with nightmarish bathrooms and arguably the worst service in Koreatown. Why? The dwaeji galbi, a hulking pile of sizzling chargrilled pork ribs. Some of the ribs are so big they give you scissors to cut them, but you can tear into them with your teeth like the top of the food chain boss that you are.
Another Korean-Chinese joint, head to this windowless drab spot for their Jajangmyeon – a massive bowl of thick noodles covered with a gloppy black soybean sauce, hiding tiny bits of cooked-down onions, meat and zucchini. It struck us as bland the first time we tried it, but we keep coming back for this enormous pile of damn fine noodles and gently savory sludge.
There are plenty of Korean tofu joints in around town, but the sundubu jjigae here makes the others feel like flat, inferior renditions. The steaming pot of tofu stew will arrive looking like a volcano on the verge of eruption, at which point your server will crack a raw egg into the bowl where it will cook. Once the tofu looks ready, you can either spoon it over rice or just eat it right out of the bowl.
When you’re sick and need a break from Greenblatt’s matzoh ball soup, but still need the medicine of chicken noodle soup, the dak kalgooksoo at this Los Angeles outpost of a Korean chain is stellar. The large bowl comes with thick noodles, four pork dumplings, ground chicken meat, and julienned zucchini and carrots. Order a side of steamed dumplings to go along with your soup. They’re open ‘til 2am, 3am on weekends. Other terrific chicken noodle soup spots for your Koreatown soul? Ma Dang Gook Soo and Olympic Noodle.
Corner Place makes dong chi mi gook su, a cold, clear noodle soup with a secret-recipe broth. When it’s 100 degrees outside and every food you can think of seems too heavy or rich, this marvelous bowl of chilly comfort with slivered scallions and cucumbers is what you’re looking for.
Through a tiny doorway on 5th Street that you don’t notice driving up Western, you’ll find a bare bones soup shop – emphasis on the bare bones. Pretty much everyone in here is devouring the same thing: a bowl of the sul lung tang, a milky white ox bone soup, served with your choice of beef, which you’re tasked with seasoning yourself. Hangover: cured.
You could come here for bibimbap, mandoo or a sizzling platter of galbi. And you would be happy. But it’s their namesake mul nengmyun we like best: a cold noodle soup, composed of beef broth, arrowheat noodles, sliced pear, kimchi, and a hard boiled egg. Slurp these noodles on a hot day in August and you’ll be refreshed like nothing else.
This bar feels like a run-down version of a ‘70s sitcom’s drinking hole, and it serves incredible spicy chicken wings. You’ll be sweating so hard you look like you’ve just done bikram yoga in a manner of minutes. To combat this, you’re going to need a pitcher of Korean beer.
Yes, the name. Don’t worry, this isn’t a hangout for fetishists. Toe Bang is a bar in Chapman Plaza, which on summer nights feels like a Fast & Furious movie that hasn’t been made yet. Toe Bang is all about anju, which are Korean pub snacks. Get a plate of mayo- and cheese-topped corn, as well as kimchi fried rice and meat skewers.
This slightly-subterranean bar is an institution. Every few years, it becomes a hot spot, and then fades back to what it is: a relic of another era when it was one of the fancier restaurants in town. The Prince is first and foremost a bar, but their kitchen is decent. The fried chicken and kimchi pancakes are good, the cocktails are a time warp, and their beer is cold. Grab one of their leather booths before catching a show at the Wiltern. You might miss the opening act. But you’ll make it in time for the headliner.
Also not too far from the Wiltern, this is a noisy dive bar with graffiti on the walls. Provided you can find your way in (the tiny entrance marked by a green doorway is in the back alley, which you enter through a parking lot north of Wilshire), DGM’s worth checking out at least once for a beer and soju with DGM’s Korean regulars. The food menus won’t be in English, but the servers are all happy to help guide you and make recommendations. The pretty good food won’t blow your mind, but DGM’s chicken wings, rice cakes, cheesy corn, and kimchi pancakes all beat the crap out of a typical dive bar’s food offerings. You might witness some crazy moments here, to which we can only comfort you with, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Koreatown.”