For many visitors and Koreatown residents, Nak Won House was their first-ever Korean food experience. The iconic 24-hour restaurant sat at a visible spot along Vermont Avenue at the busy intersection of Olympic Boulevard for 34 years. Now, Nak Won is closing forever due to financial challenges related to the pandemic. The restaurant announced the sudden closure last night on Instagram, saying that it would shutter at 11 p.m.
Nak Won was well-known in the Korean community as a solid all-day place serving classics like bibimbap, suhllungtang, and bulgogi. The humble, well-lit interior with utilitarian decor was the definition of a Korean bunsik, or low-priced restaurant, serving snacks and comfort food. Koreans likened the place to Denny’s, a homey restaurant that served affordable fare at all hours of the day. This was especially useful for early risers who needed a solid meal bowl of soup before going to work, as well as late night revelers who wanted something hot and spicy to soak up the booze. Nak Won was the most egalitarian restaurant in Koreatown. It developed a bit of a rivalry when next door restaurant Hodori opened in 1991 with the same 24 hour format, with both places serving a wide menu of Korean food classics.
In fact, this writer had been visiting Nak Won since he was basically born, eating bowls of beef and soup and rice as a toddler. Throughout the decades, Nak Won and its neighbor Hodori operated with all-day service, enduring through the 1992 Uprising and getting through six months of a devastating pandemic. The restaurant tried to adapt with delivery and takeout systems. But it just wasn’t enough, and now Nak Won has throw in the towel. One wonders how difficult it must have been in terms of expenses with running a 24 hour restaurant amid LA’s $15 an hour minimum wage, rising food costs, and rent. Now, Nak Won is gone forever, taking away one of Koreatown’s restaurant landmarks. At the moment, it seems Hodori is still operating next door.
Koreatown has dealt with numerous closures of iconic restaurants, from Beverly Soon Tofu just across the street from Nak Won, to beloved favorites Jun Won and Dong Il Jang. Meanwhile, other restaurants are trying to make outdoor dining work, setting up covered tables and serving everything from bar fare to Korean barbecue in parking lots and sidewalks.
- All Koreatown Coverage [ELA]