In Eater LA’s new series, Highly Opinionated, Eater editors delve into one specific, oft-debated food obsession in Los Angeles. This month kicks off with Korean barbecue, a dining format that has a long history in LA. Melding traditions from South Korea and Los Angeles into its own genre due to the ample, high quality beef and other meats available in the U.S., one could argue LA’s Korean barbecue scene rivals the best in Seoul.
This writer has certainly made this argument before, which has stoked angry discourse from proud South Koreans who believe the motherland’s grilled meat has made significant strides over the past few decades. While the discussion between Korea or the U.S. is one that will always rage, the more interesting question is: where’s the best place to get Korean barbecue in Los Angeles? There are dozens of options, perhaps hundreds in Southern California. But this is a tight selection of the standouts, making the choice easier for you to make. We’re breaking it down Wirecutter-style into three picks: an overall restaurant, a splurge pick, and a more affordable alternate selection.
Why you should trust me: I’m a full time Korean American food writer/editor who grew up in Los Angeles and have eaten through most of the tabletop barbecue places in town. That doesn’t mean I’ve been to every single restaurant, but I do have a very extensive knowledge of Korean barbecue in the United States, including in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and New York City. I most recently went to Seoul in 2019, where I had some of the top Korean barbecue places in the country there, including a mindblowing dry-aged hanu (Korean-grown) beef tasting menu. But that kind of experience is expensive, and in general I find Korean barbecue to be equally good if not better stateside. What LA’s Korean barbecue lacks in heights, it makes up for in consistency, with competition among upstarts and established restaurants creating a dependably good experience, in Koreatown especially.
The overall favorite: Park’s BBQ
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to Korean barbecue fans but it’s worth running through again. I’ve already declared Park’s the ultimate Korean barbecue place in Los Angeles, and the Vermont Avenue institution has stayed that way for the better part of two decades. Park’s BBQ impresses due to its stellar meat quality, evidenced by its popular short rib galbi, which unfurls onto the stainless steel grills with well-marbled meat and tender texture. The grills have a few pieces of charcoal add an extra smoky flavor, though the beef cooks quick enough that it gains a well-browned char. Banchan here, from chef Jenee Kim, is very strong and even creative at times, changing to her whims and what’s available seasonally. But the reason why Park’s is still the king is because of its cohesive experience of energetic dining room, helpful servers who mostly cook the meat until it’s ready to eat, top-tier meat quality, and appealing non-meat entrees like the spicy braised black cod or gochujang jjigae. 955 S Vermont Ave G, Los Angeles, CA 90006
The place to splurge: AB Steak
Akira Back made a name for himself in Las Vegas with the sceney Yellowtail at Bellagio, a Nobu-esque Japanese lounge with a great view of the resort’s iconic fountains. When the Korean-born chef, who runs a global empire of upscale Asian restaurants, initially opened AB Steak at the ground floor of the Beverly Center in February 2020, the idea was more of a steakhouse with gussied up small plates and tabletop grilled meat. They refused to make it a Korean barbecue despite having all the components of one, which was just plain confusing. Then the pandemic closed it until December 2021, when it re-entered the fray with a fully formed modern Korean barbecue menu featuring dry-aged meats, wagyu cuts, a polished but tight set of banchan, and traditionally Korean sides like mini seafood pancakes and tofu jjigae. The result is less nebulous Asian steakhouse and more high-end KBBQ, which is exactly what people seem to have expected — and wanted.
The revamped menu could make AB Steak the finest upscale Korean barbecue in Los Angeles, no small feat in a city with multiple competitors in the space. With steakhouse-quality cuts grilled over open grates, the prices aren’t out of reach for most diners. Expect to pay a little around $100 a person before drinks, but the rewards are Australian wagyu or gochujang-cured dry-aged ribeye snipped into bite-sized pieces. The AB Steak grand beef short rib galbi is the best overall cut and priced under $50 a serving. Thankfully, the grills themselves have high-powered ventilation to reduce smoke output. 8500 Beverly Blvd #111, Los Angeles, CA 90048
The more affordable pick: Soowon Galbi
Longtime Korean barbecue Soowon Galbi has stayed the course in K-Town. The dining room may be a little less refined, and the food may be a little less creative than Park’s, but overall Soowon one of the most solid Korean restaurants in LA. The prices are almost on par with Park’s, making it a fantastic alternative if the former has no available tables, but the portions seem more generous here, giving the impression of affordability. Soowon’s strength comes in its commitment to well-marbled meat and spot-on banchan. There’s very little to criticize about Soowon, from the tender pork jowl and lightly marinated galbi to well-dressed salads, but perhaps the main foible could be its less attentive service. Diners who like to control more of the grilling might even prefer this, but it’s worth pointing out. 856 Vermont Ave B, Los Angeles, CA 90005