Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you think she should go next? Drop us a line.
I've often been jealous of people who are satisfied with just a salad for lunch, or even more impressive, a bowl of soup. Those dishes are nice as appetizers. But as a meal? Not for me, I've always said. But now that I've been to Koreatown's Olympic Noodle — which serves up hearty portions of noodle soups in helmet-size metal bowls — I know one wonderful bowl of soup can be enough for not just one meal, but a good two or three. Olympic Noodle doesn't bother much with atmosphere, save for some potted plants and fake leaves glued to the top half of a forest mural in the dining room. The glass front doors on Olympic Boulevard are covered in food photos, (and, yes, a good old “B”), while a tiny sign encourages patrons to park behind the building and use the back door, marked by a big green awning in the parking lot. Inside, there's no music, stiflingly bright lighting and nearly no talking. Customers here are too busy slurping soup and dipping dumplings to waste time on chit-chat.
As soon as I sit down my waitress marches over with a plastic pitcher of water and a bowl of sweet, half-moon-sliced pickled radishes. "Radishes," she says as she places them on the table. She then puts an empty little plate in front of me and points to a covered ceramic dish already on the table. "Kimchi," she exclaims. I serve myself a helping of the cabbage and bok choy in a crimson sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds and then ask her what's most popular. Trouble is, she doesn't speak much English and I don't speak any Korean, so I go with the first item on the menu: sliced noodle soup with chicken. She nods and smiles, which I take to mean I made a good choice. The restaurant can also prepare the soup with beef, seafood, kimchi or anchovy broth, and the rest of the short menu is made up of items like steamed, boiled, or pan-fried dumplings, cold buckwheat noodles, and a rogue California roll.
The food comes out of the kitchen quickly here. Most customers are just digging into their dumplings, which arrive at the table in metal steamers, when their bowls of noodles show up moments later. The dumplings-then-soup combo seems to be the way to go for most tables of two who quickly get to work doling out the perfect ratio of broth to noodles for each individual serving. There's plenty to share, that's for sure.
My gargantuan bowl of soup arrives, filled to the brim with a rag-tag pile of long and gloriously imperfect, jagged noodles, probably hand-cut. In addition to the generous pieces of juicy chicken breast, the soup is spiked with fat pieces of emerald scallions and slivers of zucchini, all in a rich broth. I can barely see the soup beneath its cloud of steam and though I wait a minute or two and even blow on my first spoonful of soup, I still end up scorching my tongue. (A rookie move, I know.) While I feel like the noodles themselves could have use a touch of seasoning, the broth is wonderfully flavorful, and after some time spent soaking, the noodles take on the liquid's essence (even more so the next day at when I'm eating the rest of it at home). I add a dash of the soy sauce-green-onion-sesame concoction to give the dish an extra boost of saltiness and then throw in a scoop of the chunky hot sauce flecked with green onions and minced peppers to turn up the heat. I love the kick and add another dollop. The young man at the next table isn't so daring. "How much?" he asks his dad, holding up a tiny spoonful of the red stuff. "This much?" He piles on a bit more. "This much?" His dad gives him the go-ahead and the kid digs in. They stop talking, of course. They’ve' got noodles to eat.
Lunch and Dinner items: $6.40 to $9.10