Photo Courtesy of Tanveer Badal
The Koreatown Guide
There are three square miles west of Downtown LA known as Koreatown, and this relatively small pocket of the city manages to pack in so many restaurants, karaoke lounges, cafés, and day spas that it feels like we could be there all day every day and still find new treasures. While the neighborhood is rightly famous for its food (you’ve probably heard of the BBQ—it lives up to the hype), there are also great new hotels, shops, and markets right next to the old-school spots we’ve loved for years. Spend a day, spend a weekend, or move in for good—you’ll understand why K-Town is LA’s best-kept-but-wide-open secret.
A-Won913 Vermont Ave., Koreatown | 213.389.6764
The soup known as al tang embodies so much of what we love about Korean food: hot and spicy; packed with paengi beoseot (long, delicate bunches of white mushrooms), tofu, daikon, generous heaps of fish eggs; and punched up with chili powder and garlic. The best version in Los Angeles is at A-Won, a low-key spot that also specializes in hwe dup bap (the Korean version of sashimi), which is really more like a poke bowl. It’s mixed with seaweed, watercress, sliced cucumber and carrots over rice, along with plenty of chili paste.
BCD Tofu3575 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown | 213.382.6660
When Korean-American chef Roy Choi decided to go vegetarian a few years ago, he named this place as one of his go-to restaurants in K-Town for its vegetable soon tofu. It’s a spicy, bubbling stew full of squash, mushrooms, broccoli, and onions, served in a traditional Korean earthenware bowl. In a neighborhood that prides itself on its BBQ dishes, BCD Tofu acts as the perfect meeting ground for both bulgogi fans and vegans.
Beverly Soon Tofu2717 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown | 213.380.1113
One of the beauties of Koreatown is the number of restaurants that do one thing and do it really well. For over three decades, the masters of soondubu (a spicy, fire-engine-red soup) at Beverly Soon Tofu have perfected their take on this Korean staple. The menu offers ten soondubu flavors, including barbecued galbi, bulgogi, spicy chicken, squid, and tofu steak, but dress lightly—they all come in a stone pot with veggies and a chili-flavored broth that’s almost guaranteed to make you sweat.
Bonjuk3551 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown | 213.380.2248
Part of a popular Seoul-based chain and located on the ground floor of an office building, Bon Juk is an ode to rice porridge, the ultimate Korean comfort food. Oversize photos of its various types hang on the wall, acting as a kind of communal menu, and feature popular iterations like chicken and ginseng, black sesame, and octopus and kimchi. On those rare chilly LA days, this is the place to come for a warming, satisfying—utterly Korean—meal.
Buil Samgye Tang4204 W. 3rd St., Koreatown | 213.739.0001
Samgyetang is the Korean version of homemade chicken soup (according to folklore, a better remedy than any medicine), and Buil Samgye Tang, in a tiny strip mall space, serves the best samgyetang this side—or any side—of Seoul. The restaurant stuffs a whole chicken with fresh ginseng, sticky rice, garlic, sweet potato, green onions, and herbs. After our first bowl here, we knew we were probably ruined for any other chicken soup.
Dong Il Jang3455 W. 8th St., Koreatown | 213.383.5757
With dim lighting, red vinyl booths, Formica tables, and antique-style Korean scripture wallpaper, the atmosphere at Dong Il Jang feels like something out of a 1950s movie. It’s been around for decades, with pretty much the same menu the entire time—high-quality cuts of grilled brisket, short rib, and rib eye and addictive bowls of kimchi fried rice.
Eight Korean BBQ863 S. Western Ave., Koreatown | 213.365.1750
The grilled pork belly is the thing to order here—and there eight kinds to choose from. You’ll find variations including black sesame, curry, garlic, and miso, as well as steaming bowls of kimchi stew, spicy buckwheat noodles, and stir-fries. The space is bright and airy, with a slightly industrial vibe (polished concrete floors, super high ceilings) that creates a feeling of breathing room from the smoke at other tables.
Eighth Street Soondae2703 W. 8th St., Koreatown | 213.487.0038
Soondae isn’t for everyone. It’s a type of Korean sausage that’s a mixture of cow’s blood, sweet potato glass noodles, ground beef, and various vegetables, sliced and served with a side of offal (tongue, liver, and heart being the most popular). Eighth Street Soondae is the king of soondae in LA, and for those who are ready to take their next step in the world of Korean cuisine, this is the place to come. Like so many spots in the neighborhood, the strip mall location and bare-bones interior aren’t much to look at, but when you come here, you’re guaranteed to try something you haven’t before.
Guelaguetza3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown | 213.427.0608
Guelaguetza is the most authentic Oaxacan food you’ll find outside of Mexico. There, we said it. And it’s all thanks to its owners, Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio, who brought their family recipes with them to LA—and have been faithful to those recipes since they opened their restaurant in 1994. Today, the couple’s children run the place, but the menu remains unchanged and includes Oaxacan classics like enmoladas (black mole chicken enchiladas served with queso fresco) and salsa de carne frita (pork ribs fried in a spicy tomato sauce served with rice and beans).
Gwang Yang3435 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown | 213.385.5600
Bulgogi is one of the most ordered dishes by visitors who come to eat in Koreatown, and Gwang Yang serves a version that’s been three generations in the making. A family-owned restaurant founded in Korea, this is the only US location. The marinated, thin, barbecued slices of beef are perfectly smoky and tender and usually accompanied by a variety of side dishes, like bibim naengmyeon (Korean cold noodles in a chilled beef broth) and crisp kimchi pancakes.
Han Bat Shul Lung Tang4163 W. 5th St., Koreatown | 213.383.9499
Bone broth (aka sullungtang) isn’t a trend in Korean cuisine; it is a staple of everyday life—and Han Bat serves one of our favorite versions. It’s also pretty much the only thing they serve—a testament to their dedication to this one dish, which is enhanced with brisket or offal, as well as scallions and dangmyeon (thin, clear noodles made from sweet potato starch). The restaurant itself is as bare-bones as can be, but service is quick and efficient.
Hangari Kalguksu3470 W. 6th St., Koreatown | 213.388.2326
A hearty, rich noodle soup in chicken stock, dak kalguksu is a Korean comfort food that’s perfected at this bright, airy restaurant. The steaming bowls are flavored with garlic and onions and thickened with potatoes. Protein options include Manila clams, crab, and game hen, and each order comes with sides of radish and cabbage kimchi. Be aware that wait times can be long here, especially during cool weather, when people feel like warming up with something nourishing and hot.
Here’s Looking at You3901 W. 6th St., Koreatown | 213.568.3573
If we could recommend only one dish here, it'd be the tomatoes: juicy, deep-red Momotaro tomatoes sliced fresh, served with crème fraîche, and topped with candy-like crispy fried Chinese sausage. The dish is unexpected and indulgent. It's also what co-owner Lien Ta says keeps her regulars coming weekly. But in truth, every item on the menu is worth ordering—we’re suckers for the crispy, umami-esque Brussels sprouts finished with a savory, smoky miso sesame sauce and the hot shishito peppers perfectly wilted and charred atop a creamy tonnato dip. Ta and co-owner and chef Jonathan Whitener (they met while working at Animal) serve an unparalleled seasonal menu that showcases flavors inspired by their favorite global foods and family recipes, including jerk spice, Asian fish sauce, coconut milk, and tamarind. The space is tiny and incredibly popular (make a reservation), but the servers are friendly and helpful and the cocktails are as incredible as they are inventive. (The pungent, sweet Arroyo Seco—a blended malt scotch kissed with raw buckwheat honey and bitters—is a goop favorite.)
Jae Bu Do474 N. Western Ave., Koreatown | 323.467.2900
Korean BBQ is most often associated with all manner and cuts of beef, but at Jae Bu Do, seafood takes over the grill. A spread of steamed lobster, giant clams, scallops, and prawns is cooked right at the table (fair warning: Your clothes will smell like smoke by the time you leave), all of it dipped in gochujang (melted butter). It’s open until 2 a.m., making it a good spot after a night of karaoke and cocktails.
Jeon Ju2716 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown | 213.386.5678
If you’re familiar with one Korean dish, it’s likely bibimbap—a mixture of rice, sautéed vegetables, fermented chili paste, and, occasionally, sliced meat, topped with a fried egg. Jeon Ju specializes in dolsot bibimbap, a variation served in a hot stone pot that adds a whole other flavor dimension to the meal, with a smoky, crispy bottom layer of rice formed from the additional heat.
Kobawoo House698 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown | 213.389.7300
Since 1985, Kobawoo has been the place in Koreatown for bossam, a favorite of newbies to Korean food (it’s a make-your-own dish that lets you control the level of spiciness), consisting of thinly sliced pork belly wrapped in Napa cabbage leaves. There are optional additions, like kimchi, chili peppers, and pickled daikon, to mix and match until you create the perfect bite.
Parks BBQ955 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown | 213.380.1717
This is the gold standard of Korean BBQ in this city. The original Parks, in Seoul, is still going strong, and the LA outpost is similarly known for using prime cuts of meat (including American Wagyu and Kobe-style beef) and some of the best-quality banchan—the complimentary small dishes like kimchi, bean sprouts, and soy-brushed lotus root that arrive before your meal—you’ll ever try.
The Prince3198 1/2 W. 7th St., Koreatown | 213.389.1586
Opened in the 1920s (originally as the Windsor), the Prince is a kind of time machine you visit for the atmosphere as much as the food. The entire place is swathed in crimson, including its leather banquettes and wallpaper, with stained-glass windows and oil portraits that give it an old-school gentlemen’s club vibe. It’s no wonder the Prince is a popular film location (it appeared in the 1974 film Chinatown, as well as several episodes of Mad Men), and the food is great. The specialty is Korean-style fried chicken, and the cocktails (margaritas, kamikazes, Midori sours) aren’t anything groundbreaking but are strong and expertly made.
Yuchun3185 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown | 213.382.3815
It’s traditionally a summertime dish in Korea, but in LA’s climate, mool naeng myun—chilled noodle soup—can be eaten any time of year. Coming to Yuchun is a truly authentic experience (you probably won’t hear English spoken by anyone, including staff), but the menu—as at so many places in K-town—is easily decipherable through clear photos and descriptions. Go with a classic, chic mui naeng myun, served with sliced beef, cucumbers, pickled zucchini, and chili paste in an almost icy broth.
Yukdaejang3033 W. 6th St., Koreatown | 213.352.1331
Yukgaejang is a spicy, rich Korean soup made with brisket, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and scallions in bone broth, and it’s been perfected at this small, no-frills spot. The menu is limited (printed on a single laminated sheet with pictures), featuring just a few variations of yukgaejang (original, with noodles, or with tofu), as well as handmade steamed pork dumplings, pork belly with a side of kimchi, and cold buckwheat noodle soup.