November 20, 2019

Where to Eat in Koreatown, 5776 Edition

A couple of years ago, I posted a list of restaurants in Koreatown for the many, many people who attend High Holiday services in the neighborhood.  This year, I’m updating it.

Like the swallows to Capistrano, the Jews return to Koreatown each year to celebrate the High Holidays.  The gorgeous renovated sanctuary (see it) at Wilshire Blvd. Temple fills up, as does the nearby  Founders Church where my wife Rabbi Naomi Levy presides over Nashuva services.  Kol Ami and Ohr HaTorah also hold services in or near the area.

The migration also gives a chance for a people who tend to be Westside and Valley-centric to explore a new part of their city —  one where I’ve worked, and eaten, for 20 years.

There are more restaurants in Koreatown per square capita than anywhere else in LA.  That’s good, because Jews like to eat.   And in the past two years, the variety and quality of restaurants has only increased.  If one is listed below, that means I’ve eaten there.  It also means the list is by no means all-inclusive.  There’s only so much kimchi a guy can eat.

As long as you’re driving east, I also suggest you take time to explore what Koreatown has to offer besides food.   You can arrive early and hit one of the many spas.  Wii Spa, made famous in the Conan O’Brian shtick, offers three floors of baths, saunas, and treatment rooms. An inexpensive body scrub will help you clean away 5775 and start 5776 fresh.

The markets will astound you, too.  Try Galleria Market, at Olympic and Western, which is a Korean Bristol Farms, and make sure to stop by the banchan bar, an array of over a hundred prepared appetizers that you can scoop yourself and take home.  Zion Market at 6th and Alexandria has better prices, bigger crowds and a guy who makes fresh, warm, custard-filled cookies in the shape of a goldfish.  A good way to treat yourself for the New Year.  

One warning: if you are looking for strictly kosher restaurants, look elsewhere.   Koreatown is where Jonathan Gold ate live octopus and still-struggling shrimp.  Pigs blood soup is a specialty in these parts.   You can find vegetables and fish at the restaurants below, but no kosher certification.  

If you have more to add, email me at robe@jewishjournal.com or comment below.  And, as they say in Korean, Shana Tova.

My Favorites

Anima


698 S Vermont Ave


Los Angeles, CA 90005

(213) 738-0799

NOTE: As of last week, Anima appeared to be closed with no explanation.   I’ll include my description from last year below, but please call and confirm if it has reopened.

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

Beer Belly 

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 so many great bars in Ktown.   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.  Check out the full Yelp list here

Normandie Club

3612 W 6th St

Los Angeles, CA 90020

(213) 263-2709

OK, I’ll include one bar, but only because it is new and pretty much ideal.  Set in the early 20th century renovated Normandie Hotel, this bar offers a chill place for excellent drinks.

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. 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. 

Brothers Sandwich Shop

3274 W 6th St

Los Angeles, CA 90020

(213) 383-9900

A very simple place with deceptively delicious, high quality subs.  They shred the lettuce and use hot peppers (if you like), so if you close your eyes, you’ll kind of think you’re at Bay Cities.  Well, close enough.   This is directly across from Founders Church where Nashuva holds its services.  Just three small tables, and service can be stretched, so best to call ahead and place your order for pick up.

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

(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 when they have (close your ears, rabbis, $1 oysters).  It’s Korean and American style seafood, upscale but very reasonably priced. If your idea of the perfect break fast is a barrel-aged Old Fashioned and a nice piece of grilled fish, check this place out.

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.  Also open for breakfast, if you decide to spend the day in Ktown.

Hae Jang Chon Korean BBQ

3821 W 6th St

Los Angeles, CA 90020

Some people want All You Can Eat BBQ.  For around $25/pp that’s what you get here.  The quality suffers a bit, but if stuffing yourself on non-sustainably raised beef in a crowded room is your way of marking the New Year, hey, no guilt….

HMS Bounty


3357 Wilshire Blvd


Los Angeles, CA 90010


(213) 385-7275

Moderate prices and nothing more or less than dependable food.   Dark bar atmosphere with a nautical theme, a throwback to when Sinatra ate here (he was a co-founder, so they say).  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.  Order the steamed cod. 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.  Official pizza purveyors to the Jewish Journal.

Kobawoo

698 S Vermont Ave


Los Angeles, CA  90005


(213) 389-7300

When Yotam Ottlolenghi came to LA for the first time — name drop alert — he told me this was the only restaurant on his list.  He wanted to try the acorn noodles, and you will too.  Ordered without the cold shredded chicken, they are a rare vegan Ktown treat, cold and soothing.  Kobawoo—which is always crowded—also specializes in seafood pancake and hunks of pork.

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.  Make reservations, and 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 tomatoes 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.

Shabu Hyang

3807 Wilshire Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90010

A newcomer. Korean meets Vietnamese meets Japanese.  The best shabu shabu I’ve had in Ktown, with fresh, high quality ingredients.  About $25/pp.

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, and you’ll pay for them (certainly not for the décor).  Their banchan include a spinach salad that I find addictive. Ask for more and say, kam-sah-nee-da – thank you. No kosher or vegetarian option. Hands down 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.

Cassell’s

3600 W 6th St

Los Angeles, CA 90020

Opened recently, the re-imagination of the venerable Cassell’s pays more attention to ingredients, with better meat, better breads, a killer banana cream pie, and actual small batch liquors and beers.  Grilled cheese: yum.

Coffee and Treats

Bourbon Street Café

698 S Vermont Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90005

You won’t find better coffee in Koreatown.  In the same minimall as Anima and Kobawoo (and a not bad Shabu Shabu place), Bourbon Street roasts its own Intelligentsia coffee, has a cool vibe and plays – guess what kind of music?

California Donuts

3rd and New Hampshire

If your New Years resolution is to eat more donuts, exercise less and watch more TV, why not start here?  There’s always a line and a huge variety ranging from classic buttermilk to cereal-encrusted gutbusters.

HoneyMee

Alexandria and Wilshire (Brown Derby Mall)

The Brown Derby Mall hosts one of Ktown’s most popular restaurants, the Boiling Crab.  Aside from the obvious treyf-ness, it’s not an ideal High Holiday place: the lines are long, and you will walk out smelling of chile, seafood and garlic.  But just beside it is a cute stand called HoneyMee, where for $4.50 you get a light, creamy soft-serve ice milk topped with a chunk of honeycomb.  And nothing says the New Year like honey, right?

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, Jimmy Johns subshop, a Fat Burger with a full bar and ample seating, 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.

Papa Christos

Pico and Normandie

Papa Christos has been in this location for decades, serving inexpensive Greek food in a comforting authentic atmosphere.  A good place to stop if you're heading north from the Normandie exit,, but check the hours first as they've recently changed.

Pollo a la Brasa

764 S Western Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90005

Phone number

(213) 387-1531

My theory is this place breaks every health 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.

WikiPoki

3438 Wilshire Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90010

Fast fresh raw fish salads.   Sounds weird but these kind of places are popping up everywhere, and this is a good one.

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