Busan is South Korea's second largest city by population, but scratch away the gleaming finish of upmarket housing developments and soaring skyscrapers, and into the interstices Busan reveals tough, blue-collar roots. Think fishmongers shouting out their catch of the day at Jagalchi Fish Market, and shots of soju exchanged with hard-luck boating stories at small gukbap (soup-and-rice) shacks, where the noise and steam billows out into cold, brine-tickled air.
It's this Busan that's represented at Jinsol Gukbap, a restaurant that just opened up about a month ago in a Koreatown strip mall off 3rd Street and Serrano Avenue, which specializes in Busan's regional contributions to Korean cuisine.
At first glance, Jinsol is like one of the many small Korean restaurants in Los Angeles — brightly lit with charmingly off-kilter furniture. It's the sparse, pork-centered menu, however, that sets the eatery apart.
Busan's specialty dish is the dwaeji gukbap, a porky seollungtang-like milkwhite soup served up boiling hot, hiding a half-spoon of hot pepper paste and accompanied by a side saeujeot (fermented shrimp), and crushed sesame seeds. It comes with a bowl of rice and small bowl of flour noodles, or milmyeon, on the side, which you should pour in immediately prior to seasoning. The seasoning is DIY, and though it should be used in moderation, the saeujeot adds an incomparable dimension of brininess that cuts through the porky broth and gives it balance.
Another dish, labeled su-yook, is more of a general term for all meats prepared by seasoning and boiling, but Jinsol's is expressly pork belly, and puddled underneath the meltingly tender and fatty samgyeopsal is residual boiling liquid that's similar to a clean, unseasoned tonkotsu ramen broth. Though traditionally eaten with kimchi, I tend to like mine plain with just a smidgen of saeujeot on top, for extra umami.
Those wishing to avoid the pork can tuck into a bowl of Busan bibim dangmyeon, a noodle dish that takes chewy cellophane noodles, and julienned fried egg, carrots, nori, and pickled daikon and brings it all together with a spicy gochujang dressing. The play on textures is intentional, and it's nicely executed here with a cheeky little dose of heat.
Though the menu is limited, Jinsol Gukbap represents Busan food at its most down-home and authentic, the kind of food that's good whether you're grabbing a blue collar lunch or staving off an early hangover with some hearty laughs and stories of your own.
4253 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90020