Even in the ‘70s, when korean businesses began to put down roots near Vermont and Olympic, you could smell garlicky broiling meat wafting down the streets after dusk. Today the aroma is even more intense. About 700 restaurants and markets cluster along Olympic, Wilshire, 8th and 6th from Crenshaw to Alvarado. Every kind of Korean specialty is represented, from noodle shops to octopus soup joints. The simplest way to get an overview of K-town’s riches is to hit the food courts at two malls, each anchored by a supermarket.The eateries are family run, not corporate chains.
Start at the KOREATOWN GALLERIA at Olympic and Western. The Food Gallery on the top level offers city views and juicy handmade dumplings or cold buckwheat noodles at SEO KANG MYUN OAK (323.373.1717). There’s no English menu; simply point at the pictures. Next door, FOOD PICNIC DAY (323.735.7030) sells Korean-style bento boxes, while JIN SU SUNG CHAN (323.766.9292) serves traditional stews (seafood with black cod, hearty short-rib soup) and stone pots filled with bibim bap, rice topped with matchstick-cut veggies and an egg. Two blocks north on Western is KOREATOWN PLAZA, whose dozen or so vendors include the traditional PLAZA KOREA HOUSE (213.480.0203), known for its meal-in-a-bowl soups, especially spicy yue kae jang beef. TOWN NOODLE (213.388.5280) serves noodles, while SOON TOFU HOUSE (213.383.3781) makes fine fresh tofu in spicy broth (choose your heat level) and PAOJAO (213.385.1881) is known for dumplings and stuffed buns.
Driving north on Western, you come to BCD TOFU HOUSE, a branch of a popular soon-tofu chain that’s open very late. Continue west and you’ll hit FENG MAO 2, whose signature cumin- and chile-laced grills and kebabs gained fame at its more modest Olympic Blvd. restaurant. Next, head over to Wilshire and Harvard, where you’ll find MYUNG DONG KYO JA, a stylish, spacious 24-hour kal gooksu (knife-cut noodles) specialist also known for bibim naeng myun, cold, chewy northern-style noodles in spicy sauce. On 8th at Harvard, you’ll see DONG IL JANG, a classic grill house known for quality meats and beautifully made, abundantly served panchan (side dishes).
Traveling east on 8th, you get to HONEY PIG, a pork-belly barbecue house that also serves about a dozen more meats, including wild boar. You grill these on cast-iron domes and eat bites wrapped in thin rice noodle sheets and lettuce. Farther east on Vermont is YOUNG SUSAN, a rare northern restaurant where elegant prix fixe menus are served in private rooms. Also on Vermont is HODORI, a 24-hour Korean comfort-food diner that really gets jumping after 2 a.m., when the clubbing set comes in to refuel. Back to Olympic and you’ll discover WIEN KON-DITOREI UND CAFÉ, a Euro- Korean patisserie/tea room behind bougainvillea-draped lattices. Order excellent coffee or tea and a French tart, Asian-style refined breads or croissant sandwich.
Or head to Western for the best all you-can-eat barbecue in town at ROAD TO SEOUL, where a meal of brisket, short ribs, pork belly and loads of carefully made panchan comes in at under $18. Back to Olympic again and, heading west, you’ll notice what looks like a giant chia pet. It’s actually the ivy-covered CHOSUN GALBEE, one of K-town’s most popular traditional restaurants, with a bar, seductively tented patio and waitresses dressed in hamboks. Of course they serve grilled meats, but the menu also proffers classic stews, soups and a fine version of the cold buckwheat noodle dish, naeng myun.
— Linda Burum
3250 W. Olympic Blvd., 323.733.6000
928 S. Western Ave., 213.382.1234
BCD Tofu House
869 S. Western Ave., #2, 213.380.3807
3330 W. Olympic Blvd., 323.734.3330
Dong Il Jang
3455 W. 8th St., 213.383.5757
Feng Mao 2
414 S. Western Ave., 213.388.9299
1001 S. Vermont Ave., #102, 213.383.3554
3400 W. 8th St., 213.380.0256
Myung Dong Kyoja
3630 Wilshire Blvd., 213.385.7789
Road to Seoul
1230 S. Western Ave., 323.731.9292
Wien Konditorei und Café
3035 W. Olympic Blvd., 213.427.0404
950 S. Vermont Ave., 213.388.3042