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La Buca After years of patrons' squeezing in like drupelets for a taste of "Mamma's" homemade gnocchi, burrata with vegetables, and trenette al pesto, the dining room at La Buca, the beloved pasta-intensive commissary down the street from Paramount, is at last bigger than the inside of a minivan — a soaring, wood-paneled space with wine-bottle chandeliers, picture windows looking out onto Melrose, and a peculiar glassed-in aerie above the bar that may eventually function as either a VIP room or the observatory of a CAA panopticon. The menu is still a bastion of new-generation Italian comfort food: smoky pappardelle flavored with scamorza cheese, spinach-stuffed ravioli with butter and sage, and tiramisú for dessert. 5210 ½ Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 462-1900. Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sat. 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sun. 5-10 p.m. Wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $7.95-$18. Italian.
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles
BYJ Restaurant Even if you have never heard of Bae Yeon Jung, an hour or so at her BYJ Restaurant may make you as familiar with the former Korean sitcom star as any veteran couch potato in Seoul. Her portrait, head cocked in a pose that sold a million fan magazines in Korea, dominates the cute cartoon pigs and squids that otherwise blanket the façade of the mini-mall restaurant. BYJ is a clean place, slick and bright as a franchise restaurant, populated with Korean couples lunching on the eternal combination of soup, rice and banchan, premeal appetizers that usually include kimchi and a motley assortment of fish cake, scented bean sprouts and greens. Like many businesses in Koreatown, BYJ is essentially a one-dish restaurant, in this case so-mu-ri gook bab. This pale, milky, beef-bone soup served in clay bowls is among the most soothing things you may ever taste. The most exciting dish at the restaurant is probably the osam bulgogi: squid tentacles stir-fried with vegetables, soft cylindrical rice cakes and squares of Korean bacon, tinted a violent scarlet with a dose of dried-chile paste, served bubbling and spitting on a superheated stone platter. 1144 S. Western Ave., Suite 108, L.A., (323) 732-5900. Open daily 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer and soju. Lot parking. MC, V. Korean.
Chungkiwa I happen to like Soot Bull Jeep a lot, but one must admit: There are a lot of other barbecue joints in Koreatown. Chungkiwa serves an ample selection of panchan (side dishes); uses Angus beef for its barbecue; and has a tasty, tangy bowl of naengmyon, chewy, cold buckwheat noodles, for afterward. And tabs tend to be about a third less than they are at Soot Bull Jeep, which probably explains the large number of students among the regulars. 3545 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (323) 737-0809. Open daily 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Parking. Major CC. Korean.
Dansungsa If you spend much time watching period Asian movies, you will remember scenes of dark inns, a scrim of pale steam, a crew of women tending an ancient grill, prodding battered cook pots licked with yellow flame. The classic Koreatown tavern Dansungsa is nothing like a relic of the 19th century. In fact, its ambiance is supposed to recall a Seoul movie palace of the 1940s. But the guttering flames, the strong Korean spirits, the big, smoky plates of baby octopus and barbecued pork ribs and eel, the charred skewers of grilled garlic cloves, shrimp or hot dogs, the crudely delicious kimchi, all seem as if they came from another time and place. The spicy cabbage soup, which comes along with your first soju or beer, is served in a bowl so battered that the only possible explanation is 15 rounds with a chimpanzee. 3317 W. Sixth St., Koreatown, (213) 487-9100. Dinner and late-night tavern snacks. Valet parking. Major CC. Korean.
Keumsan Samgyetang When you settle in at the restaurant and lean into a shot or two of soju or iced barley tea, you are brought small plates of simple but delicious panchan: appetizers of crunchy radish pickled in a fiery chile paste, a few leaves of cabbage kimchi, perhaps some cucumber in bean paste. If you want to postpone the inevitable, there are big plates of chicken gizzards sautéed with scallions and whole garlic cloves, which are as irresistible as fajitas; soothing bowls of chicken porridge; and milk-colored chicken noodle soup. What you invariably will get, though, is the samgyetang, a crock of mild, cloudy broth fragrant with the prickly scent of ginseng, dominated by a wee, dumpling-size chicken stuffed with sticky rice, jujubes, whole garlic cloves and a gnarled sliver of ginseng root that traces the contour of the chicken's cavity like some kind of alien internal organ. The deluxe version of samgyetang includes a full hen per person, served clustered in a giant, seething stainless-steel pot set atop an electric burner, and is followed by bowls of gook soo, knife-cut Korean noodles, that simmer down to soft slitheriness in the concentrated broth. 1144 S. Western Ave., Koreatown, (323) 731-9999. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Beer, soju. Lot parking. MC, V. Korean.