My Korean food cravings fall into three neat categories: meaty, greasy, and homey.
When all I want is a feast of flame-licked meat, DonDay and Kang Hodong Baekjeong never fail to please. If it’s kick-back bar food that satisfies my mood, OB Bear and Dwit Gol Mok always treat me right. And to scratch my comfort food itch, I let the ladies at Ma Dang Gook Soo, Jeon Ju, and my latest obsession, Jun Won, do their thang.
Jun Won makes the kind of everyday fare that Korean moms and grandmas prepare for their brood. Opened in 1994 by Jung Ye Jun, the restaurant can be difficult to find. I parked and entered through the back, following the signs that read “Korean Restaurant,” of course.
The seafood-centric bill of fare was printed onto place mats, but before getting down to deciding what to order, my dining mates Lien, Natasha, and I took a moment to relish in the banchan scattered about the table. Jun Won’s regulars swing by three to four times each week, so Ms. Jun makes sure to change up these little nibbles every day. Fermented squid, several varieties of kimchi, wilted sprouts, marinated cucumbers, and fish cakes are constantly rotated in and out.
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Comfort cuisine reigns supreme at Ma Dang Gook Soo, a charming den of Korean home cooking. Ladies donning red-striped aprons were quick to pour glasses of iced barley tea as The Astronomer and I perused the menu and considered the plethora of dishes available.
The food photographs plastered overhead were helpful in narrowing down the array of options.
To start, we shared an order of mandu, boiled dumplings stuffed with minced pork, tofu, and scallions. A dab of vinegar and a touch of soy sauce and these parcels were all set.
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The Astronomer and I couldn’t escape the smell of grilled seafood the morning after our banquet at Koreatown’s Jae Bu Do. The distinct nose of burning embers, meshed with a hint of gochujang, seemed to follow us around the apartment, even though we had both showered and tossed last night’s clothes in the wash.
After searching every corner for the culprit, we finally discovered that the smell was emanating from my cell phone. The evening’s flavors had soaked into its plastic screen, so every time I sent a text or made a call for the next couple of days, the delicious memories from Jae Bu Do came wafting back. It was glorious and maybe even a little gross.
Jae Bu Do has been on my friend Ben‘s list of restaurants to try ever since Jonathan Gold wrote about its slimy hagfish back in 2010. While the awful-sounding fish is no longer on the menu, Jae Bu Do continues to grill up a plethora of fabulously fresh fruits of the sea tableside.
The wait for a table was nearly 40 minutes when our party of three arrived at 7 PM on a Friday night. With plenty of time to weigh and debate the three menu options at hand, we were ready to order as soon as a table opened up. We chose option B ($74.99), which included all sorts of good stuff like oysters, shrimp, and “ork” shell, and was ideal for groups of three to four according to our waiter.
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For the nominal price of $17.99 per person, Hae Jang Chon provided my cousins, The Astronomer, and me with an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue feast that was so stupendous that it left our clothes and pores imbued with smoke and meat for days.
What set this barbecue emporium apart from others that I have visited in Koreatown [See: Don Day, Don Dae Gam, Tahoe Galbi] was the smooth stone grill used in place of the more common metal grates.
According to the restaurant’s website, the stone grill is ”nature’s best cooking surface.” It “produces various healthy minerals,” “absorbs and decomposes heavy metal ions,” and best of all, “absorbs excessive oil to bring out the exquisite taste of pork.” I don’t know if any of these claims are actually true, but I am sold nevertheless.
Another one of the restaurant’s notable touches was the homey tablescape that was neatly set before we were seated. Each place setting included an array of condiments in addition to silverware and plates. I went through two dishes of the fermented bean paste during the meal because meat just tastes better with a hit of salty funk.
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