Is bibimbap the best meal… in the world? LA’s Korean restaurants certainly make the case for it. Hear us out. The simple, traditional dish is one of the country’s most popular, involving nothing but rice, seasonal vegetables, some sort of protein (think seafood or marinated grilled meats), plus a spoonful or two of spicy gochujang chili paste. Each component is prepared separately, like bean sprouts or zucchinis cooked on its own, or bulgogi made ahead of time, which translates into a literal palette of individual flavors that, all shine equally bright. Since proteins and ingredients can be swapped out according to what’s available in the region, there are many variations of the simple rice dish, like ones made with spicy octopus, served over barley rice, and topped with a fried egg. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here are 5 of the best bibimbaps in LA.
Gamja Bawi is a tiny stall inside the Koreatown Plaza mall, a destination in its own right and a place that feels like you stepped into a time machine and got off somewhere in the early ’80s. Neon signage, light-up elevators, and synchronized fountains - it’s a sensory dreamland that’s only heightened when a steaming pot of Gamja Bawi’s heamul dolsoat bebeembap hits your table. Filled with a variety of fresh seafood ranging from squid to shrimp to giant clams, we absolutely love how the brininess of protein pairs with the sweet and spicy gochujang sauce mixed in. That said, the best part of the meal comes at the end, when you get to scrape off the thin layer of crispy rice that’s been slowly cooking at the bottom of the pot, and mix it with whatever’s left in the bowl. It’s a secret second meal that’s absolutely worth finding room in your stomach for.
This tiny Ktown restaurant is an absolute classic - so dedicated to the art of the Korean rice dish, they changed their name on Instagram to @bibimbap_la. So, your focus should be on the galbi dolsot bibimbap - a short rib-filled bibimbap that arrives at your tiny table in a piping hot stone bowl. Eating it does require a bit of patience because you’ll want to let the rice get nice and crispy on the stone before diving in. Luckily, they’re generous with the included banchan (you’ll probably get a couple of soups, maybe a pancake, plus potato salad and kimchi) so you can snack while you wait. For $16, you’ll have enough food to feed a small family, though we like to use this place for a solo lunch (and hoard the leftovers for ourselves). They currently have a large patio set up in their front parking lot.
While no order at this Koreatown restaurant is complete without their namesake knife-cut noodles, make sure to focus on their other dishes as well. Namely, their yulmu bibimbap. It’s a unique dish - instead of white rice, you’ll get a heartier barley grain, then a mountain of yulmu, or young radish, kimchi, and spicy clam soup. It turns into quite a soup-y dish, which you might not be used to with bibimbap, but is thoroughly enjoyable - like your handsome, seaward husband just returned from a trip on his boat (we’re thinking Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse vibes) and prepared this meal with all his findings. What? We can dream, can’t we?
Yuchun is known for their refreshing, cold naengmyeon noodles (which is why we head there whenever LA does that thing where it’s 90 degrees every day for three months), but if the temperature hasn’t yet hit scalding levels yet, try their bibimbap. Their dolpan version is quite traditional - served in a sizzling, hot stone pot, and topped with bean sprouts, kimchi, and fresh cabbage (which will soften nicely once mixed with the other warmer ingredients). But what makes this bibimbap stand out is their protein, pork bulgogi. It comes slathered with gochujang, and is the perfect complement to the otherwise mild-tasting bowl of rice.
There are a few rice dishes on Seongbukdong’s menu, a pared down restaurant housed in the same strip mall as Sun Nong Dan, but our favorite is the nakji dolsot bibimbap. It’s a hot, spicy, red-hot version of the bibimbap, that’s served in a stone pot, creating a layer of crispy rice on the bottom. Little pieces of octopus have been cut up and seasoned with sesame oil, salt, and gochujang, and you’ll get hit with a wave of seaweed scents as soon as it hits the table. It’s a one-way trip to feeling like you’re eating a meal in a small sea town in the middle of Korea, even though you’re just on 6th Street and haven’t been to the beach in months.