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.
California Market450 S. Western Ave., Koreatown | 213.382.9444
What was formerly called Gaju Marketplace has recently been remodeled into an incredibly vast food court and grocery store that’s a staple for the goop staffers who live in Koreatown. The banchan (small prepared sides like bean sprouts with sesame oil) are convenient to pick up for a light solo meal or for an impromptu dinner party. And because of the big Latino community that also lives within K-town, you’ll find the freshest avocados and papayas alongside daikon and jars of kimchi. The best part: the free, on-site, five-floor parking structure with panoramic views stretching from DTLA to Culver City.
Chong’s Sesame Oil3560 W. 8th St., Koreatown
The taste of freshly pressed sesame oil is distinct—nutty, a little smoky, and deeply savory. The seeds for this particular oil come from El Salvador, and the owner (simply known as Mr. Chong) roasts and presses them himself. Add a splash of it in dressings and stir-fries and you’ll never go back to the mass-produced stuff again. Like many of Koreatown’s gems, Chong’s is hidden (it’s behind Pollo Alla Brasa). It’s the best sesame oil you’ll find in Los Angeles.
Poketo3513 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown | 213.381.7411
Poketo founders Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung—partners in business and in life—have a whimsical aesthetic that’s all their own, and their shop in the Line Hotel explodes with color and a sense of playfulness. We’re usually tempted by everything here, whether it’s the beautifully illustrated notebooks, a stack of richly patterned textiles, or a set of quirky ceramic mugs. It’s clear that much thought has gone into the store’s curation, but at the same time, nothing is taken too seriously, and you can sense the joy Vadakan and Myung must have had finding everything. We rarely leave empty-handed.
Western Comics730 S. Western Ave., Koreatown | 213.385.7025
This comic book store—hidden at the top of a strip mall stairwell—consists of two rooms of floor-to-ceiling shelves tightly packed with Korean comics, manga, and graphic novels. The difference here is that you rent—not buy—what you read, and for fifteen bucks, you’re free to browse the archive and settle into one of the comfy leather sofas for an entire day (beverages and Korean shrimp crackers included), or check out a few comics to take home, like a lending library. It’s entirely normal (and encouraged) for people to set up shop for an afternoon, their feet on the table, a stack of comics—and a refreshment—by their side.
Kae Sung Market1010 S. St Andrews Pl., Koreatown | 323.737.6565
The tendency to romanticize the food cooked by our grandmothers runs through every culture, and Korean culture is no exception. At Kae Sung Market, an actual grandmother, Sook Jae Cho, spends her days brining and fermenting the vegetables that make up her kimchi, famous among in-the-know neighborhood locals. Cho has been living in LA. for over forty years and started selling her homemade kimchi as a side business in the ’80s. (The mart is named for her North Korean hometown, Kae Sung.) This side hustle has turned into a full-day market, and on any given day there are up to ten kinds of kimchi on offer, including kosher and vegan-friendly varieties. The signage is entirely in Korean, so look out for the yellow storefront on the corner of St. Andrew’s Place and West Olympic, or just ask a bystander—chances are anyone you ask in the area will know how to get there.