photo credit: Jakob Layman
When you walk into Yangban Society for the first time, you will be overwhelmed. Accept this as a rite of passage. At the forefront, there’s a long deli case filled with dozens of different cold dishes. A separate kitchen specials menu hangs on the wall featuring other hot plates that you won’t find on display. On the second floor is a small marketplace, selling everything from imported Asian snacks and housemade cocktails to Yangban merchandise. Seating is scattered everywhere you look—including on the communal outdoor patio.
It's sensory overload, which is why we recommend grabbing a table and a round of drinks from the upstairs fridge before making any sudden movements. Because once you do get your bearings, this Korean American deli in the Arts District will reveal itself quickly. In a neighborhood full of inaccessible, big-deal restaurants, Yangban is the perfect casual option, and so much more than a backpocket spot.
Whether you’re in the mood for cold stuff, hot stuff, or buffalo milk soft serve, you’ll need to order at the front counter. Now, if you’re already stressed about placing some 15-item mega-order for your entire table, just know there’s no need to make everything happen at once. Yangban works best when you allow yourself to sit back, hang out, and go with the natural flow of your meal. Want to drink orange wine with your favorite coworker for a few hours and grab dessert at the end? Go right ahead. Maybe you underestimated how quickly the soy-garlic chicken wings would fly off the table and you need reinforcements. Or perhaps you’re solo on your lunch break and craving some silky egg salad and thick kimchi ppang. Head to the deli case, point at what you want, and be on your way in under 20 minutes. At Yangban, the pace of your meal is entirely in your hands.
Now, with so many different roads to take, it’s equally important to arrive at Yangban with a semi-loose game plan. If we’re a party of two, we tend to center our meal around at least one large kitchen special, such as pork belly and kimchi fried rice or those chicken wings, which are among the best ever. For groups three or more, go absolutely wild on the specials and then fill out the remaining table space with banchan from the deli. Yangban’s cold case features a dizzying array of standouts ranging from chilled acorn noodles, smoked trout schear, and pea shoots to blistered snap peas, soy eggs, and twice fried potatoes. Options rotate daily though, so it’s best to not get too hung up on specific plates. You’ll pay by weight, so we recommend getting a little bit of whatever catches your eye.
At this point, when you hear the term “Arts District restaurant,” a well-deserved stereotype probably comes to mind. Perhaps you’re imagining a stark, cavernous space with exposed air ducts or a sprawling industrial patio you'll be lucky to sit in once a year. Maybe there are bright green vines swinging overhead as you eat a bowl of pasta you haven’t yet realized is $32. In contrast, there’s now Yangban Society, a laidback hangout spot with great food that allows you to roll in as you please—and roll out with set plans to come back tomorrow.
We don’t care if you’re by yourself for lunch or with eight of your closest family members, every meal at Yangban needs to include a plate of these wings. Each piece has been twice fried and coated in a sweet soy-garlic glaze giving each bite a sticky, crunchy pop. And though $26 might seem like a lot for 10 wings (you can also get a half-order for $13), just know that these babies are massive.
Kimchi Fried Rice
If the wings are our mandatory dish, then the kimchi fried rice is our favorite dish. If you’re struggling to see the difference, just do what we do, and order both. Mixed with pork belly, roasted kimchi, egg, and toasted nori, Yangban’s fried rice is special thanks to intense seaweed brine perfectly matched by the sour kimchi.
This giant focaccia-esque loaf lives in the front deli case and is one of the first things you’ll see at Yangban. If you can stare down a four-inch high loaf of bread topped with a kimchi spread and optional cheese (which you should definitely get) and not order some, then we simply have our differences. Just get this.
Chilled “Dotori” Acorn Noodles
For as much as we love hanging out at Yangban with friends at night, our favorite time to go is during the day. It’s quiet, peaceful, and these chilled noodles are an ideal afternoon snack. They’re light and nutty, but with a nice kick of salt from the shirodashi vinaigrette.
Hiding quietly under the “Extras” section on the menu, you might eat at Yangban a few times and not even notice this little dish on the menu. Keep your eyes peeled though, because there’s a decent chance these pillowy, buttery disks will be the talk of the drive home.
Have we come to Yangban solely to get a late-night cup of this slightly tangy buffalo milk soft serve that bears the texture of a silk cloud sliding down your esophagus? Yes, we have. And so should you.