A High Holiday Restaurant Guide to Koreatown


Each year my wife Rabbi Naomi Levy holds the High Holiday services for her outreach congregation Nashuva at the large, round ecumenical Church of Religious Science in Koreatown, at Berendo and 6th St.  Over a thousand people attend.  They ask my wife, “Can I really change?”  “Can I overcome my challenges?”  “Can I achieve my dreams?”

And they ask me, “Hey, where can we eat?”

You tell me which is the more urgent question. 

Most Nashuvites come from the Westside, and nothing boosts  the holy, meditative spirit of the holidays like finding a place for dinner in Koreatown so you can beat the eastbound traffic on the I-10.

Since the Jewish Journal offices have always been in Koreatown, I’m the person to ask. There’s dinner Rosh Hashanah evening, pre-fast dinner on Yom Kippur, and for those who are so inclined, after service lunches and dinners (and drinks) in the neighborhood.

Two big caveats here. The first is that there are no kosher restaurants in Ktown. Just the opposite: for the strictly kosher, Koreatown is the Red Light district.  Just how bad is it? There are restaurants that specialize in live seafood sushi, where the chef sets a living, squirming shrimp or octopus on your plate and you’re expected to swallow it as is.  What’s that like?  I have no clue, ask Jonathan Gold.  I’m not kosher, but I draw the line at eating things trying to crawl out of my mouth.

Second, Korean food is heavy on garlic, chili and vinegar.  Keep that in mind when you’re on your way to an event where you’ll be sitting really close to the people you love for a couple of hours.

But if you are a bit adventurous,  kosher-style, or treyf-light, Koreatown is one of the great food neighborhoods in the USA.  You are in luck—being able to combine the uplift of Nashuva or other  nearby services (Wilshire Blvd. Temple, or Ohr HaTorah, or Temple Israel of Hollywood) with the opportunity to leave the Ahi Caesar and Turkey Cobb confines of the Westside and taste some of the great foods of LA.  Good food, served with hospitality and warmth—for me that is always a spiritual experience.

So, where do we eat? My picks are below.  It is in no way the Wiki of Ktown.  For that click on the Yelp link at the end, and you’re on your own.  There are more restaurants per square block in Koreatown than any other part of Los Angeles.  I haven’t tried them all, and I’m not listing places I haven’t been. I’m also focusing on places close to 6th and Berendo, in alphabetical order (though by chance my favorite is first, and it’s not Korean). 

Here goes (and please email me or comment below with your own suggestions/corrections):

My Favorites

Anima


698 S Vermont Ave


Los Angeles, CA 90005

(213) 738-0799

How fitting that my top High Holiday pick actually means, “soul” in Italian. This happens to be my favorite Italian restaurant in all LA, much less Koreatown.  Giuseppe Musso, the Rimini-born chef of Amarone and, formerly,  All’Angolo,  is at the stove.   Be nice and patient to him, and he will make you feel like you’re at his mother’s house. His pastas are homemade, his pizza, is hand-stretched, his Bolognese made the co-owners of Capo swoon when I brought them there for lunch.  If fried zucchini blossoms are on the specials boards, order them.  If you lived in a quiet neighborhood in any great Italian city, the local place would be a lot like Anima.  That it’s two blocks from my office in Ktown is a small blessing.  One downside: no liquor license, yet.

Beer Belly (and other bars)

532 S Western Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90020


http://beerbellyla.com

May not allow children–CHECK.  But good gastropub food and beer, open after 5 pm. 

There are dozens of bars including several hip new ones, in the area.   Beer Belly is among the new crop, which includes Biergarten and Lock and Key. Brass Money is an old standby (post-atonement karaoke, anyone?) along with The Prince, which serves Korean sports bar food.  I left the bars off this list because they are more for drinking and snacking—but if you want to start the new year with OB and duck fat fries, be my guest. 

Bob’s Café

3130 Wilshire Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90010

(213) 387-6554

This place gets my vote as the most deceptive restaurant in Los Angeles.  You think it’s just an office sandwich joint at the bottom of a nondescript building.  But Bob and his lovely wife Kurdia are Kurds from northern Syria (yes, there).  They and their efficient sons run a place that has northern Syrian food to rival that of other local greats like Marouch.  Try the lentil soup with Aleppo pepper, the hummus, kebab, and Kurdia’s homemade kibbeh.  Of course, you can also get a turkey sandwich.  A few seats, and a TV set tuned to CNN for atmosphere, but you'll go back for the soup and kibbeh.

BCD Tofu

3575 Wilshire Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90010

(Wilshire and Ardmore)

Open 24 hours. Really clean and efficient and inexpensive. The organic tofu soup—which is the reason to go here– has a meat broth so beware.
 But they have jop jae noodles that are veggie and excellent tofu salad, as well as BBQ chicken, etc.  

Chinese House


3280 W 6th St


Los Angeles, CA 90010

(213) 385-9799

You want the full American immigrant experience?  I got your dive right here.  Take an honest hard-working Korean family, set them up on a street corner in LA, and watch them work their asses off turning out one solid Korean-inflected Chinese dish after another, day after day, until their children graduate Harvard.  I’ve been to Chinese House a dozen times for lunch.  Cheap, friendly and very fresh. 

Chosun Galbi

3330 W Olympic Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90019

Phone number

(323) 734-3330

Not my favorite BBQ, but clean and popular with the Westside crowd. Bulgogi and other dishes are all at a high level. By the way, there are many All You Can Eat BBQ places in Ktown.  You pay one price per person per table, and as much lower-quality meat as you want comes out of the freezer.   I've tried them and generally you get what you pay for.  

Dan Sung Sa

3317 W 6th St

Los Angeles, CA 90020

Deep Ktown—just across the street from Nashuva’s services.  A noir-ish, dark but often packed place (at night), this bar also has way above average Korean bar food. Skewers, wings, soups—that sort of thing.

El Cholo

Western and Olympic

A short drive away and an old standby.  What can I say, it’s not going to make anyone’s top ten list, but it is convivial, good for large groups and dependably Mexican-American. Plus many many years ago they gave me a paycheck on their catering team, so I’m loyal.

EMC Seafood and Raw Bar 

3500 W 6th St
  Ste 101
 

Los Angeles, CA 90020 



(213) 351-9988 
emcseafood.com

Crowded at times, always popular, especially at Happy Hour.  Good for seafood (of course).

Escala

3451 W 6th St

Los Angeles, CA 90020

A new South American place with a limited menu of curated dishes and drinks.  Very pretty and comfortable.  Try the whole fish with garlic sauce and a tropical salad.  Escala is in the old Chapman Market complex, one of LA’s prettier buildings, though a parking nightmare.

Gualeguetza

3014 W Olympic Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90006

Phone number

(213) 427-0608

The temple of Oaxacan gastronomy in LA is a short car ride away or a long stroll.  Moles as complex as Mexican politics, and lighter tlayudas and other regional specialties as well. Spacious and friendly too, with live entertainment and a constant sense of celebration.   This place also has the city’s first mezcal bar, with dozens of hard-to-find varieties of tequila’s far more interesting cousins.  The bartenders will hold your hand (metaphorically speaking) and walk you through what silver tequila drinkers have been missing. Go easy.

HMS Bounty


3357 Wilshire Blvd


Los Angeles, CA 90010


(213) 385-7275

Moderate prices and nothing more or less than moderate food.    Dark bar atmosphere with a nautical theme, a throwback to when Sinatra ate here (he was a co-founder).  Steaks, fish, chicken and martinis are good, and the service staff  is friendly and familial.  Want more than steamed veggies and a plain potato with your plain grilled meat?  Where do you think you are, Gjelina?

Jun Won
 

3100 W 8th St
  Ste 101
 

Los Angeles, CA 90005 



(213) 383-885

Jun Won is more graduate school Koreatown food.  Slightly hidden, a largely Korean clientele (but a friendly,  American-Korean owner) and one of the best dishes of steamed cod you’ll have.  Steamed cod of the gods.  Excellent banchan and seafood pancake as well.

King of New York Pizza Pub  

3281 Wilshire Blvd
 

Los Angeles, CA 90005
 

(213) 389-3500
  konypizzeria.com

Despite the tone deaf acronym (don’t these people watch YouTube?) KONY  pizza is the best in Ktown after Anima, and there is a good selection of beer.  Don’t expect anything great in the salads or sides department.  Plenty of space—check out the back room.

Kobawoo 

698 S Vermont Ave


Los Angeles, CA  90005


(213) 389-7300

Next to Anima.  When Yotam Ottlolenghi came to LA for the first time, he told me this was the only restaurant on his list.  He wanted to try the acorn noodles, and you will too.  A rare vegan Ktown treat, cold and soothing.  Kobawoo—which is always crowded—also specializes in seafood pancake.

Marouch

4905 Santa Monica Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90029

(323) 662-9325

This is two miles from KTown, but on the way if you come via the 101.  Still some of my favorite Middle Eastern food in LA, with Lebanese wine to go with it.  If you can’t stomach Korean, this is a good place to stop on the way to shul.

Novel Café


3760 Wilshire Blvd


Los Angeles, CA 90010


(213) 388-3383

In the Wiltern building. You can get salads, entreees, sandwiches…. very decent, comfortable and safe, like Novel Cafe in Westwood, but larger.

Parks BBQ

955 S Vermont Ave


213-380-1717


High quality, not cheap. Many consider it the best.  I’m in the Soot Bull Jeep camp.

Pot/Commisary/Café


3515 Wilshire Blvd


Los Angeles, CA 90010


(213) 368-3030

The new restaurants in Roy Choi’s empire are at his newly made-over LINE Hotel.  For years I ducked in to this place when it was a cast-off Radisson– I could write my columns in utter silence because the hallways had more ghosts than guests.  Now it is hip, beautiful and happening.  Like his fellow Korean-American innovator David Chang, Choi isn't satisfied doing the nicest possible versions of peasant food, which is what comes out of a lot of high-end roasting ovens in LA (and not that there's anything wrong with that).  His food is playful, packed with flavor and constantly new.  Downstairs the bar serves until 5 pm.  A brief menu features tuna sandwiches, burgers, shrimp cocktail, LA chowder, grilled cheese– bar food.  But the chowder comes in a Stanley Thermos (piping hot) and the main courses come nestled in dumpling steamers, wrapped in kitchen towels.   As for  Commisary, it  is a fully realized flight of fancy– a greenhouse on top of a once-neglected pool deck, removed from the city and deep in the heart of it.  Don't rush a meal here. The menu is pictograms– point to a drawing of a scallop, sea bass,  steak or asparagus, and the waiter will describe how the kitchen is making it that day, and you will not be disappointed.  Scallops come seared in an avocado/garlic/tomatillo cream.  The tomato salad is confit heirloom tomatos with nectarine and jalepeno slices.  The finest salad of a long hot summer.  You'll want a cocktail too.  If Line is the epicenter of the Ktown revival, Commisary is the neighborhood's first non-Korean destination restaurant. 

Seongbukdong  

3303 W 6th St


Los Angeles, CA 90020
 


(213) 738-8977

Right across from Nashuva’s location, in a minimall, small and crowded, with the best Korean braised short ribs in LA.  Bar none. Pricey,  but…wow.

Soot Bull Jeep

3136 W 8th St


Los Angeles, CA 90005


Your clothes will smell like smoke and garlic. They use real charcoal, and high quality ingredients.  Their banchan include a spinach salad that I find addictive. No kosher or vegetarian option. My favorite Korean BBQ in a city full of them.

Taylors Steak House


8th and Ardmore


Dashiell Hammett ate here, along with every USC alum of a certain generation. Dark. Clubby. Great martinis, steak and grilled fish. Expensive. 

Inexpensive and/or Fast Food

Chipotle


3183 Wilshire Blvd


Los Angeles, CA 90005


(213) 884-4094

At the corner of Vermont and Wilshire.  This block on either side of the street features Coffee Bean, Starbucks, a sub shop, one of those frozen yogurterias, a mediocre Japanese place (Wasabi) and a few other Metro subway-stop-close fast food places.  Cross Vermont and there’s  a Denny’s.  No one will judge.

Dino’s Chicken

2575 W Pico Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90006

Dinos has a few more seats than Pollo a la Brasa, and the chickens here are cooked El Pollo Loco style on a grill.  They come with a mound of fries that could carb-load you for a marathon.

Pollo a la Brasa

764 S Western Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90005

Phone number

(213) 387-1531

My theory is this place breaks every code in the books, but that the city inspectors give it a pass because the food is so damn good.  It’s a dive with just a few tables, bus stop adjacent (A “No Free Restroom” sign is the  décor).  Garlic and chili- rubbed chickens spin over a roaring fire of cured oak.  Everything else is commentary. Inexpensive, fast and maybe among the top three chickens you’ll eat in your life. In Mexico and Peru places like this are a dime a dozen, but here in LA, this place is a rare gem.

For a complete listing of restaurants in the area, click here:

YELP!

Again, please email me or comment below with your own suggestions/corrections.  Shana Tova!