The Korean summer dish naengmyeon isn’t something you ponder too long - usually because it’s so delicious that slurping it up quickly is the only way to go. When a large, refreshing silver bowl full of hearty beef broth, buckwheat noodles, brisket, boiled egg, and assorted veggies lands on your table, the first spoonful is the antidote to hot weather. As you stir it up, the ice cubes make the broth frostier, meaning as you go, it becomes even colder.
Originating in what is now North Korea, there are two types of naengmyeon: mild mul (water) naengmyeon, and spicy bibim (mixed) naengmyeon. The bibim naengmyeon has the addition of gochugaru and gochujang, or a custom special house spicy sauce made for naengmyeon, depending on the restaurant. Both usually include some variation of pickled Korean mu radish, cucumber, and onions. While both are refreshing, the spicy bibim naengmyeon is a jolt to the senses during a sluggishly hot summer. Here are eight great naengmyeon spots around LA.
A few things to keep in mind: Your noodles can be buckwheat, kuzu, sweet potato, or some combination thereof depending on where you go. The soy sauce, spicy mustard, and vinegar on the side at most naengmyeon spots are serve-yourself condiments - so if you want to let the spice, salt, and sour flow, go for it. At almost every spot, the server will offer to cut your noodles - an offer you should take up unless you’re a noodle-slurping pro or don’t mind splattering red broth all over the front of your shirt. Do slurp your noodles up, and do pick up your bowl at the end to drink as much of the refreshing broth as you want, since some spots don’t offer a spoon with your meal, just chopsticks.
Garden Grove is a Korean stronghold, where the shopping plazas are lined with Korean bookstores, chess shops, grocery stores, and barber shops. But the biggest line you’ll find here is at Mo Ran Gak, where people will wait for an hour outside every day (or even two on weekends) for some of the best samgyupsal and chadorbegi in the LA area. So it’s no surprise that the naengmyeon is excellent here - and it’s even beautifully presented, with a neat mound of buckwheat noodles topped with long julienned mu radish and high-quality beef in a succulent beef broth. The bibim naengmyeon leans toward sweet rather than too spicy, though the broth is pleasantly red, and comes with pollack. If you’re torn, order the large bibim naengmyeon and get a free mini mul naengmyeon on the side. For takeout orders, you can grab a combo meal of naengmyeon and kalbi for $22.95.
This casual Koreatown spot is LA’s standard for the best naengmyeon because of its kudzu noodles that stay chewy in a tangy beef broth topped with just enough sesame oil. While other restaurants may skimp on that all-important ingredient, Yu Chun uses just enough sesame oil for you to really taste it, and that flavor makes a huge difference. Heap some of the pickled radish served on the side into your bowl, season with mustard and vinegar, and dig in. Though Yu Chun can go a little light on the noodles, you can always order another pile of noodles to add to your leftover broth.
This Korean import serves Ham Heung-style spicy bibim mul naengmyeon featuring sweet potato noodles, but both the spicy and not-spicy versions are great. Though known for the bibim naengmyeon, it’s the mul naengmyeon at this Koreatown spot where you can really focus on the chewy noodles and the depth of the beef broth. Another advantage is the flavorful beef, which is always cooked perfectly here. If you ask and they have it, sometimes you can also get raw skate as a topping instead of beef. An order of spicy galbitang pairs well with the mul naengmyeon, while an order of regular galbitang pairs well with the bibim naengmyeon. Get an order of each with whoever’s lucky enough to join you here and share it all.
It’s hard not to feel an indecisive pull when driving up to this plaza with some of San Gabriel’s best Korean and Chinese restaurants, including a Bonchon fried chicken and the famous Hui Tou Xiang Noodles. But stay focused and head for Yuk Dae Jang. An outdoor tent lets you sit outside to sweat it out and savor the cold, sweet broth in the hot weather. A Korean chain from the motherland, this place’s specialty - yukgaejang - has an influence on its naengmyeon. Instead of brisket slices, this naengmyeon is topped with long, shredded strands of beef that resemble pulled pork. Mu radish is sliced extra-thin and spicy here, and the ice is plentiful in the broth.
If you’re only heading to this famous plaza spot for its namesake knife-cut noodles, kalguksu, you’re missing out on the milmyeon, a noodle that combines wheat and potato starch. Born out of necessity when Korean War refugees in Busan lacked buckwheat, this wheaty alternative is thicker and chewier. This white noodle has more of a pasta feel, but comes topped with cucumber, egg, and mu radish in the semi-sweet broth, and it’s freshly made at this noodle spot (while most places serve frozen milmyeon). Plus, you can choose to get this dish spicy or not.
While this unglamorous Valley cafe is a reliable option for a well-priced, convenient kimchi jjigae or bulgogi plate, the real one-two punch is an all-day meal deal that pairs bibim or mul naengmyeon with a plate of tasty barbecued kalbi. The buckwheat noodles may come a bit messy here, but they’re topped with nicely arranged slices of mu radish and topped with a downward-facing hard-boiled egg. Afterward, you can stay cool in the air conditioning by belting out K-pop at next-door Carnival Karaoke.
Seollongtang, a restorative ox bone broth perfect for hangovers, might be the more beloved dish at Han Yang in Buena Park. But on a hot summer day, naengmyeon is what we go for at this roadside spot with plentiful outdoor seating. Chopped lettuce and a liberal helping of roasted sesame seeds make this a more special bowl of naengmyeon than the usual, with a rich, springy flavor. You’ll also find a larger portion of meat here than at other spots, which alone makes it a cold bowl worth seeking out.
The food at A Ri Rang Tofu House in San Gabriel is all about restraint. Their bibim naengmyeon is just sweet enough without going over the top, and even the Korean mu radish that’s been mandolined into thin three-inch-long slices thrives by not going overboard with vinegar. Julienned cucumber, half a boiled egg, and some beef brisket complete the package. The banchan selection here is also incredible: salads of broccoli, seaweed, mung bean sprouts, and Korean potato, along with sliced cucumber kimchi, odeng, and bright red cabbage kimchi that’s surprisingly mild and perfect for swirling into your broth.