Twenty-five years ago, when Eun Joo Lee immigrated to the United States, she was disappointed by what she found in Los Angeles’s Korean barbecue restaurants. Lee wanted an experience that reflected the ones she knew in Seoul: utilitarian rooms with tightly packed tabletop grills, top-tier cuts of beef and pork, as well as quality banchan and other side dishes. Now, as the co-owner of On6thAvenue hospitality group, she runs a small Korean barbecue empire out of Chapman Market led by the upscale Quarters Korean BBQ and newly opened Origin Korean BBQ.
At Origin, which fires up its grills on February 9, Lee is bringing the Korean barbecue culture she grew up with in Seoul to Los Angeles. Though a bevy of Korean barbecue options are concentrated in Koreatown, Lee says Origin is different, telling Eater, through a translator, that it brings “authentic flavors and cooking methods that have been passed down through generations.” At Origin, Lee and her team reflect on the 1960s in South Korea as it confronted its colonial past with Japan. The design of the space brings in those retro influences through custom wall art, exposed concrete walls, and vintage-inspired leather chairs. “There was a huge influx of modernization and industrialization,” she says. “We wanted to bring that eclectic blend of influences to create something very original from Korea.”
The experience at Origin starts with banchan and ssam. The restaurant offers three types of kimchi with every order: a classic baechu kimchi with gochugaru, a sweet and savory white kimchi, and a finely diced bossam-style radish kimchi. In addition to kimchi, diners can find a variety of leafy greens for ssam, two salads, and a ssamjang that mixes in steamed barley.
On the meat front, look out for two signature dishes on the menu: Origin’s garlic short ribs and tteok galbi, which is a meat patty. For the tteok galbi, which only a few other LA barbecue restaurants serve, the kitchen minces and then shapes marinated prime meat into a circle before cooking. This dish was originally created as a way for royalty to enjoy galbi without having to eat meat off the bone, as the rest of the population did. In addition to the signatures, find a full line-up of classic Korean barbecue selections including pork belly, pork jowl, brisket, rib-eye, and more to cook over the charcoal grills. Plus, all mains come with corn cheese, steamed egg, and doenjang (soybean paste) hot pot, which is served here with beef brisket and ramen noodles.
No Korean barbecue experience is complete without a full slate of drinks to enjoy with the meal. Origin offers six types of soju, including fresh, original, and peach plus beer, sake, and non-alcoholic options like tea, soda, and sparkling water.
Now, 25 years after first coming to the U.S., Lee is finally opening the restaurant of her dreams — one that brings her directly back to Seoul.
Origin Korean BBQ is located at 3465 West 6th Street #20, Los Angeles, CA 90020. It opens on February 9, with a grand opening to follow on February 20. It holds hours from 11:00 a.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday and 11:00 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.