LA's Koreatown offers a mecca of Korean cuisine that lies unparalleled in America. The food is so good, and so varied, that even foodies from Seoul marvel at the quality and breadth of eateries here. There's a growing number of regional specialties that highlight the unique perspective of Korean cuisine in the context of this city, which has historically the most popular landing point for immigrants from the motherland. While traditional restaurants and barbecue joints comprise most of the selections, look for the places that specialize in one or two dishes, such as beef soups, tofu stews, and ginseng chicken soup. To help you navigate, here now a list of Koreatown's top restaurants.Read More
A Guide to the Best Korean Restaurants in Koreatown
Soban Korean Restaurant
Arguably one of the most impressive (food wise) Korean restaurants in the country, Soban has an amazing array of banchan to start the meal. The menu features terrific raw crab in one of two forms, either a garlicky soy sauce or thick spicy red pepper sauce, Soban excels in all things seafood. Order a pan-fried fish or spicy braised black cod, or opt for the spicy beef short ribs. Ask for the special squid tossed with julienne vegetables if they're available. Consider specials on the wall written in Korean, ask the servers what they are, but examples include raw squid salad.
This is the premier Korean barbecue restaurant in Koreatown, and Park's BBQ delivers with prime grade meats served at the table, along with a slew of other traditional Korean dishes in a clean, smoke-less ambiance. The quality of the meat and banchan is simply unsurpassed. Rivals some of the best in Seoul itself.
This restaurant might be on the small side, but it serves up well-crafted traditional Korean dishes with huge flavor. The braised short ribs is a table-pleaser, along with the strong pot bibimbap. The spicy-braised mackerel is the show stopper, with layers of rich flavor that go perfectly when spooned over the multi-grain rice. You'll be sure to impress the in-laws (especially if they're Korean).
OO-KOOK Korean BBQ
Looking to eat all the grilled Korean meat that you can? Look no further than Oo Kook, a two-story palace of gluttony, where, for a hefty price you can get more than your money's worth in a variety of beef cuts. The menu features choice-grade and even some prime-grade meats, all to your heart's (or stomach's) content. The skirt steak is especially great, along with the mountains of fresh shrimp (to throw on the bar-by). Lunchtime includes a modestly priced beef short rib soup, designed to ease a hangover or warm you up on cold days.
Sit down at this humble mom-and-pop restaurant with some of the heartiest Korean fare around. The ambiance leaves something to be desired, but the food more than makes up for it. Standout dishes include the seafood pajeon, pan-fried yellow corvina, sauteed spicy octopus, or steaming bean curd soup. Nearly everything on the menu will bring you supreme comfort. Don't forget the rustic, fresh banchan that changes often.
Mapo Kkak Du Gi (마포깍두기)
A casual eatery whose menu includes all of the traditional dishes that a Korean grandmother would make, all at prices that a Korean grandmother would pay. That means quality at a reasonable price. Look for the spicy beef noodle soup or the dough flakes in seafood broth to satiate your hunger. Or mull through the fried fish and grilled meats to share with your dining companions. Banchan is no slouch either, with perhaps the best kimchi daikon cubes around.
Ham Ji Park
A modern Koreatown classic with substantial-sized dishes like the barbecue pork ribs or the pork shoulder in the starting lineup of dishes that are perfect for sharing with a large group. For something slightly sweet and very spicy go for the pan-fried octopus or squid and grab a pitcher of water, because you'll need it.
Young Dong Restaurant
Nothing cures a hangover or late night munchies better than a hulking bowl of beef broth, noodles, and rice. Throw in some hand-cut pieces of the best kimchi and daikon radish in town and you have a simple, well-priced meal. Young Dong might be the best of the suhl-lung tang in town, if you prefer a cleaner, less dense broth.
Dan Sung Sa (단성사)
Korean bar food makes for the best companion to your evening's merriment, with small bites and snacks that go particularly well with beer and soju. The incredibly dark ambiance and feel of the place transports you to a back alley joint in Seoul.
The Corner Place (길목)
The cold noodles, with its delicious tangy clear broth and light effervescent, has a recipe that's so secretive only a few people know it. There's no better foil to the charred tabletop meats offered here, along with the intense slivered scallions tossed in sesame oil. The Corner Place offers a good number of variety meats for those bored with brisket and pork belly. Try the delicious marinaded bulgogi, the chewy shank bits, or the melt-in-your-mouth tongue slices.
Though lunch time crowds go for the bossam, a Korean specialty featuring pork belly slices and accoutrements, it's worth trying the traditional dishes as well. The hulking seafood pajeon is a classic, as well as the kimchi stew in a stone pot.
Mountain Cafe (San)
This 24-hour joint is extremely popular in L.A., with the abalone porridge served by the dozens in the morning, and late into the night. The stews and soups are also terrific, but nabbing a seat can be tough during busy times. Prices are extremely reasonable as well.
Koreans love their crab and Ondal 2 offers the larger 'flower" crab of the Indian and lower Pacific Oceans which come in a multi-course tasting starting with a spicy red pepper broth. The meal takes a turn with hand-pulled dough flakes placed into the soup, and then finishes with a fried rice with the remaining broth. A true specialty.
Han Bat Sul Lung Tang
The cloudy bone marrow broth here is legendary, as is the tender slabs of brisket and various organ meats floating in it. The menu's very simple here - suhl lung tang. Build the meal with seasonings, kimchi, and rice, along with a dash of salt and sprinkling of green onions.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
This barbecue newcomer does a few things really well - high-quality cuts of beef and pork in a rather dingy and smokey room that somehow feels just right, like a place you'd see in Hongdae (the college town area of Seoul).
Jae Bu Do
The shellfish-centric menus here are a rundown of the best of Korean-style seaside merriment. Pair with a bottle of cold soju and expect a good time grilling up mussels, clams, and shrimp on a charcoal grill.
Chunju Han-il Kwan
One of the few traditional restaurants serving a wide variety of dishes instead of specializing in one or two dishes. The large, family style bowls of broth filled with myriad items (Army stew is a popular choice) are commonly on tables, while the big savory pancakes (pajun) are excellent. But in general expect everything to be above average here.
So Kong Dong
Stone pot tofu stew caught on quicker in L.A. than it did in Korea, where numerous places opened in the 90's serving a slew of different stews in various spice levels. So Kong Dong is one of the more consistent of the bunch, beloved by folks both old and young. During summer time, you can also ask for the cold soy bean noodles, with a dense milky white broth that curbs the humid heat.
Probably deserving of the first tier in Korean barbecue, this a la carte galbi joint does everything very well, for a moderate price increase over the all-you-can-eat establishments.
Baek Ha Chong
The pork ribs are the star here at this old-man establishment on the fringe of Koreatown. The bossam (pork belly) is also respectable. The environment's a little worn down, but it gives it even more of a backalley feel on the outskirts of Seoul.
A-won Japanese Restaurant
Surrounded nearly on all sides by the ocean, Korea is a country that loves its seafood. Taking a page from nearby Japan's approach, A-won serves fresh sashimi and sushi, though in a method that's not quite as strict as Japan's. For something more approachable, try the Hwae Dup Bap, a rice-salad bowl with chunks of tuna, salmon, and whatever else the sushi bar conjures up. Douse with a tangy, spicy chili sauce and you're ready to eat.
The metal grates really allow the meat to get a good sear at this all-you-can-eat establishment on Koreatown's 6th St. corridor. The banchan is pretty standard, as is the service, but the ambiance feels relaxed and modern. The late night special is tough to beat, with two for one specials on bottles of booze.
Palsaik Samgyupsal Korean BBQ 팔색삼겹살
The eight types of pork belly here are the standard order. The flavorings can be a little cloying at times, but it's great to get a variety of different pork belly offerings from this modern barbecue house. Warning, seats are mighty uncomfortable.
Buil Samgye Tang
The specialty is Korean ginseng soup, with a whole young hen stuffed with rice, jujubes, and sweet potato among other things, making it not only healthful, but restorative. There are versions with dried deer antler and whole ginseng as well, for something exotic.
Ma Dang Gook Soo 마당국수
The varied noodle selection here is as solid as its ever been. The soybean noodles are perfect in the heat of summer while the knife-cut noodles are comforting when the weather gets cold.
Myung Dong Kyoja (명동교자)
The garlic stench here is undeniable when you walk in, a credit to the intense kimchi they prepare in the back for the knife-cut noodle soup and house-made dumplings. A great place to land late night, as they're open past the time when bars close.
Yang San Bak
This middle-ground Korean barbecue serves late into the night and specializes in a variety of high-quality meats in helpful combo packages that are good for tables sized between 3-6 people. Combos also come with a choice of soju or maekgeoli (unfiltered rice wine). The un-marinaded meats are the best picks. Banchan is no slouch here either.
This old-school Koreatown restaurant got a nice makeover that also might have taken away some of its hole-in-the-wall charm, but Jeon Ju's stone pot bibimbap bowls are still some of the best in town. The fried fish and hearty bowls of kimchi and soybean paste stew are also tops.
One might consider this a poor-man's Kobawoo, but the variety of bossam (Korean pork belly), jok bal (pig's foot), soondae (blood sausage), and other traditional dishes makes this a great place a terrific lunch spot.
The redolent aromas of fermented soybean soup can be detected from the parking lot at this tiny restaurant in a strip mall on the Eastern edge of Koreatown. The marinaded pork bulgogi and braised short ribs (galbi jjim) are the other highlights on the menu.
Gui Il Bun Ji BBQ Restaurant
This relative newcomer to the all-you-can-eat scene does a very good job with fresh, high-quality meats at a bargain price of around $15 available for dinner, and even less for lunch. Nothing overly distinctive, but just very good all-around Korean barbecue in a dingy, unassuming room.
Yu Hyang Soondae
This North Korean restaurant started by two refugees recently discovered by the LA Times specializes in soondae (Korean blood sausage), spicy octopus stir-fry, and other traditional North Korean recipes for a rare look into the isolated country's regional cuisine.