Though LA’s Koreatown is known for some of the best Korean food in America, the area just hasn’t spawned much in the way of fusion-y or Korean-infused food that eschews the traditional preparations. Places like Baroo and Spoon by H are two smaller restaurants that fall under the untraditional Korean places in LA, while David Chang’s popular Majordomo was arguably the most notable Korean-inspired restaurant to open in the last couple of years.
But there’s a new player in the scene with Hanchic, which opened in a sleepy strip mall along the eastern part of 8th Street in Koreatown. Founded by Justin Min, a second-generation Korean American who spent six years cooking at Little Sister as well as other professional kitchens, opened the restaurant along with Dustin Lee, Brian Shin, and Kevin Son, all of whom have hospitality experience in LA.
Opened September 19, Hanchic has a tiny dining room that’s currently closed for seating, with a smattering of tables set up outside to serve dishes like pork ragu-covered tteokbokki, champpong-flavored bouillabasse, and a spicy pork fried rice. Other items include a bulgogi risotto, ube potage, and a pork belly and spicy pollack warm salad with asparagus. For cooler weather, there’s oxtail-beef ramen and ravioli “mandu” with doenjang bolognese.
Eater spoke with Min over the phone, who said he always thought about doing a fusion of Korean food with the other dishes he’s made in his career. “LA isn’t much into fusion,” he said. “Spoon by H is pushing more fusion Korean, or even Baroo when they were open. That’s the goal right now: We’re working on new flavors, new ideas, and bouncing ideas back and forth.” Indeed modern Korean food — which is defined as Korean chefs using their diverse culinary training to employ techniques and ingredients in otherwise unexpected, non-traditional dishes — has not had a thriving scene in LA. Notable restaurants like Atomix in New York and Parachute in Chicago show the potential of Korean flavors in a chef’s perspective. Min’s work hopes to follow along those models, albeit with an approachable vibe and reasonable prices. And it’s certainly interesting that Min and the crew chose to open this place in Koreatown, the traditional hub of great Korean restaurants in LA.
So far, the menu is fairly small due to a lack of certain pieces of kitchen equipment that are on their way to being installed. The place and the overall menu seems to be coming together in its first month. There seems to be an overlap of dishes featuring ground meat (the unfortunately named “crack” rice and the ragu tteokbboki), while the two sandwich-like items — hoe buns with pork belly in a black sesame bao bun and a potato-egg salad sandwich — stand out as more casual, everyday things to eat. Min says, “I’m mixing in techniques that I’ve learned over the years. Those Korean things are in there,” referring to dishes like the bouillappong, which adds egg noodles, spicy burnt oil, and fish sauce to the coastal French seafood stew.
The Hanchic team is savvy enough to know the current pandemic environment and take advantage of a good situation. Despite Hanchic’s somewhat hidden space in a desolate commercial block of Koreatown, they’ve used their favorable lease situation to launch two additional delivery concepts in the same kitchen called Chi Chi Chicken and Palate. The first is a healthy chicken plate ordeal while the second is a more high-end vehicle for dry-aged beef aficionados.
With the pandemic among the most challenging times to open a new restaurant, Hanchic is hoping that diners more familiar with Korean flavors and dishes will latch onto the kinds of things Min likes to eat and cook. “I wanted to try to do our our own thing and make our own decisions. I’m not 100 percent familiar with Korean food. The food I’m creating is more [non-traditional], but still has that Korean flavor in it.”
Hanchic is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.