LAReview

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Mapo Galbi image
8.4

Mapo Galbi

Korean

Koreatown

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsCasual Weeknight DinnerImpressing Out of Towners

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A meal at Mapo Galbi is a bit different than what you find at other meat-centric spots in Koreatown. The simple space is small and sparsely decorated—though each table has its own grill and vent above, this isn’t going to be a smoky BBQ showdown. The menu is tiny (with only six items total), and essentially decorative; when the first word out of your server’s mouth is “Chicken?,” it’s not really a question. It’s a command. One that you obey.

And then you wait. Marinated chicken, garae-tteok (cylindrical rice cakes), and sweet potatoes are added to a giant, in-table skillet, followed closely by a heaping pile of cabbage and ggaenip, a minty Korean herb. As it all starts to cook down (a process that takes about 15 minutes, but feels like a Gone With The Wind double feature when you’re hungry), servers will walk by with squeeze-bottles filled with spicy red chili paste - encourage them to put as much into the stir fry as possible. When the plate of shredded cheese is dumped on top (an add-on that’s a requirement in our book), you’ll know it’s time for your meal to begin.

Mapo Galbi image

photo credit: Jakob Layman

For a dish as straightforward as Mapo’s dak galbi—and you know that because you just watched every ingredient go into it—the intensity of flavor is mind-boggling. The savory chicken cutting through the spicy chili paste, the fragrant ggaenip balancing out the thick layer of melted cheese—it’s a perfect plate of food and one that, despite the immense complexity of flavors and textures, feels like home cooking.

But the meal’s not over just yet. Once you’re about halfway through the dak galbi, someone from the staff will push the remaining stir fry to the side and slap down the second course you never knew you needed: a huge helping of nori-topped crispy rice slowly simmering in all the flavors left over from the galbi. In all the times we’ve been to Mapo, we’ve yet to finish this—it’s basically waiting to be boxed up and taken home.

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