While describing L.A.'s sushi scene in a 2010 op-ed in LA Magazine, actor John Cho made a powerful statement about the power of nostalgia and its ability to preserve an immigrant's culture.
"The generations that immigrated here in the '70s and '80s are more Korean than Koreans are," Cho wrote. "They carried this culture and preserved it in a jar in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, back in Korea, the culture did what it does: It evolved. You go back to Korea, and it's culture shock. So bizarrely enough, this snapshot of Korean culture only exists in America."
As Koreatown blossoms as a mainstream dining destination, it also takes on a character similar to Seoul. Though some of those great old establishments have stood guard for the better part of the last half century, rapidly increasing rents have led to parts of the city being more given to the motherland's progressive machinations. Further south in Orange County and Southeast L.A., however, the heart of an immigrant generation is still beating, steadfast in a commitment to regional cuisines and traditional preparations, undeterred by the whims of change.
The Korean immigrant population of Garden Grove's "Little Seoul" is decidedly more blue-collar. Pool halls still buzz with ajeoshis (middle-aged Korean men) shooting three-cushion billiards and exchanging hard-luck stories over shots of soju at the nearest watering hole. The restaurants on this stretch have withstood the test of time and carved out a niche that's endeared it to its non-Korean neighbors and its longtime residents alike.
To the north is Fullerton, a massive suburb with a Korean community that stretches out past city lines to parts of La Habra and Buena Park, propped up by an excellent public school system and a proliferation of new businesses. Those well-acquainted with Los Angeles' Koreatown will see some familiar names here, including spicy pork rib experts Ham Ji Park and the immortal Kang Ho Dong Baek Jeong.
Though technically Cerritos is a part of Los Angeles County, neighboring Artesia and La Palma is home to a Korean-American community with some of the earliest residents dating back to before the 1980's. It's home to the venerable Whitney and Cerritos High Schools and also some of the best haemultang (a spicy Korean take on bouillabaisse) and dak galbi (spicy chicken Korean-style hot pot) in the country.
It might take a little driving, but the extent to which each specialization is explored and the sheer amount of attention to detail in the pursuit of evoking that all-important Korean nostalgia makes Orange County a must-visit for fans of Korean food. Here are the region's standouts.Read More