15 Great Things to Do in Koreatown
We dubbed Koreatown America's hippest neighborhood back in 2012, and it's shown no sign of slowing down.
It has L.A.'s best karaoke, of course, and the Line Hotel, with Roy Choi's various restaurants, is a must-visit. But as we discovered while researching our Best of L.A. issue, the neighborhood also has the city's best places to get items you wouldn't expect, including arts supplies, kitchen tools and toys. It even has a synagogue with awesome art and a four-story driving range.
So pick a Saturday, grab some friends, take this list 15 great things to do in Koreatown and drive towards Wilshire and Western. You may not get through all of them, but we challenge you to try.
Biryani at Bangla Bazar & Restaurant
Photo by Barbara Hansen
Eat L.A.'s best biryani at Bangla Bazar & Restaurant
Forget about paella and risotto. There’s a much more exciting rice dish at Bangla Bazar & Restaurant on West Third Street in the strip known as Little Bangladesh. It’s goat biryani, spicy rice studded with gamey-tasting, bony pieces of goat. The rice is like a spice market on a plate, studded with the heady aromatics you find in Indian-Bangladeshi food: whole cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and big, black cardamom pods. Spicy chile, too. And dribbles of yellow splotching the rice like sunshine. This in-your-face food commands attention. To do it justice, you should eat with your hands — right hand only, please — like the Bangladeshis around you, because the tactile sensation is as important to the flavor as the spices. All you need to turn this into a perfect meal is a bracing cup of chai, which the restaurant provides, and a hand rinse when you’re done. —Barbara Hansen 4205½ W. Third St., Koreatown, 90020. (213) 380-4070, facebook.com/pages/Bangla-Bazar-Restaurant.
Experience L.A.'s best karaoke at Shrine
The bougiest (and best) karaoke bar in town is a bit complicated to find. Once you’ve arrived at West Sixth Street and Virgil Avenue, a sign that says “Grand Spa” indicates you’re in the right place. Go past the makeshift night market — where you might find two older men selling fruit — and a stairwell will lead you underground. You’ve arrived at Shrine, whose Egyptian-themed interior makes for an exotic feel. Regulars are drawn to the wild atmosphere, eclectic song selection and tasty Korean dishes. It’s a great venue for parties of up to 30 people, as customers get private rooms. It’s not cheap — on Friday and Saturday nights, groups must order bottle service, along with food — but it’s an absolutely stellar scenario in which to sing your heart out. —Ani Ucar 2999 W. Sixth St., Koreatown, 90020. (213) 738-7370 (before 6 p.m.); (213) 738-5034 (after 6 p.m.)
Photo by Liz Ohanesian
Shop at Daiso, the city's best stationery store
Daiso is a shop that quickly turns into an addiction. The Japanese chain store, with multiple locations across Los Angeles County, sells most of its stock for just $1.50 a pop, ensuring that it’s almost impossible to leave with just one item. Venture into the stationery aisles and you may walk out with a shopping bag filled with everything from sleek business card cases to kawaii stationary. The best bargains are the “multipurpose pens” — four-colored pens with a mechanical pencil, sold in two-packs. They’re the cheapest pens we’ve ever found that actually work, while the hardcover notebooks are just as durable, and almost as lovely, as the Moleskine clones they were selling last year. High-priced items include leatherlike iPad cases in stylish summer colors — for all of $4. The stock changes regularly, and many items sell out quickly, so you’ll want to stop by Daiso often.
—Liz Ohanesian Multiple locations, including 621 S. Western Ave., Koreatown, 90005. (213) 637-0336, daisojapan.com.
People-watch at the Line Hotel's Pot Lobby Bar
Celebrity chef Roy Choi is among those behind the new Line Hotel, Koreatown’s answer to boutique, hipster spots such as the Standard and the Ace. The hotel’s watering hole, Pot Lobby Bar, is basically a supper club masquerading as a cocktail spot. The hip-hop is loud, and the semicircular bar is swamped with thirsty night people. (You could wait as much as a half hour for a drink.) But the people-watching is uniquely Angeleno — a mix of K-town locals, Korean beauties, Mid-City hipsters and folks dressed for the red carpet. Despite all this, the place has no cover or bouncers, and it has a casual feel. Unless you reserve a party room, seating is first come, first served. Our advice on how to enjoy L.A.’s best eye candy while avoiding a crush of people? Go early, on an off-night, and find a good perch.
—Dennis Romero 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown, 90010. (213) 381-7411, thelinehotel.com.
See also: 5 Great Koreatown Happy Hours
Upgrade your cooking tool belt at KitchenPlus
Housed in the basement labyrinth beneath the massive Koreatown Galleria, KitchenPlus sells every type of kitchen gadget you could ever want — and hundreds of culinary novelties you never knew you needed. Owned by the Kim family since its 1992 inception, K-Plus, as it’s known among fans, stocks roughly 15,000 cooking and serving items, most of which are imported directly from Korea. Each aisle is organized by material: cloth aprons, place mats and napkins; glassware suited to every kind of cocktail; clay dishes and cups; stone bowls designed to serve hot bibimbap; cast-iron pancake plates; stainless-steel pots the size of bathtubs; rubber barrels for making massive batches of kimchi. While K-Plus caters primarily to wholesale clientele, the sprawling warehouse is open to the public — which means amateur chefs can snag KitchenPlus brand porcelain serving dishes for as little as 29 cents each. That is, if you can find the place. —Jennifer Swann 3250 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste. 113, Koreatown, 90006. (323) 732-1160.
Photo by Adam Gropman
Get your nephew a gift at Kidsland, L.A.'s best toy store
Few things motivate consumers to seek out quality more than the desire to enrich and safeguard their children. Kidsland is dedicated to that ethos, from amazingly cutting-edge, nearly futuristic baby car seats and strollers to a comprehensive selection of baby toys, teething rings, pacifiers and feeding-related accessories. In this generous Koreatown space, you’ll find top-shelf toy brands including Haba, Chicco and Playmobil, along with Matchbox cars, miniature figurines, booklets with brain-building games, baby video monitors and a line of simply and playfully designed remote control cars meant for very young children. Curious George books, a large clothing section, plenty of bedding and a line of kids’ knapsacks take the adorable cake in a world rife with cuteness. —Adam Gropman 3807 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 100, Koreatown, 90010. (213) 487-9090, kidslandusa.com.
Watch Ryu pitch at Mok Maru Jong Sul Jip
Koreatown signage can be confusing along Western Avenue, but you’ll spot Mok Maru Jong Sul Jip immediately from the giant banner featuring Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu. If you can’t make it to the stadium, rally here. But don’t just do it for the obvious reasons, such as the cheap-enough pitchers of Hite on every table, next to a small, green bottle of soju, which is there in case you decide that you’re not drunk enough. Don’t even do it just for the Ryu Burger, a messy patty topped with kimchi, jalapeños and melted pepper jack. Come to Mok Maru Jong Sul Jip for the way the room erupts with applause every time Ryu strikes out a batter. And stay for the people-watching — old men, jocks and couples on dates clinking glasses — as well as the food, particularly the carne asada fries on the menu. Like Randy Newman, we love L.A. —Amy Nicholson 222 N. Western Ave., Koreatown, 90004. (323) 465-6803, facebook.com/MokMaruJongSulJip.
See also: 6 Koreatown Bars Perfect for a Bar Crawl
Cure what ails you with L.A.'s best acupuncture at Dongguk
You’ve been told by 20 people that acupuncture will cure what ails you, be it insomnia, acne or indigestion. Still, you’re not sure if Eastern medicine is simply needles and hokum. Get over your hesitation at Dongguk University, where prices are so cheap, you can try acupuncture four times for the price of a single visit anywhere else. Let’s be clear: Dongguk is a school, so you’ll be getting stuck by interns and not wizened specialists. (Sometimes they even argue in the hallway, like extras on Scrubs.) If you’re looking for scented candles, drapes and a relaxing waterfall soundtrack, this isn’t the place. But if you want practical, clinical therapy for less than $30, this is your new favorite spot, and extras such as cupping and herbal consultations are just a few dollars more. Show up on first-come, first-serve Mondays with time to kill and you can score a session for only $10. —Amy Nicholson
440 Shatto Place, Koreatown, 90020. (213) 487-0150, dula.edu.
Harbin Deer Antlers Trading Co.
Photo by Amy Nicholson
Buy a powdered deer horn at Harbin Deer Antlers Trading Co.
Why would you want to buy a powdered deer horn? Because, when they’re steeped in tea, they boost energy and muscle growth—a health bonus that Major League Baseball takes seriously enough to ban them as performance-enhancing substances. (And they’re not alone: Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis got in trouble for drinking deer horn tea to repair a torn triceps.) If you don’t have a million-dollar salary on the line, step into the intoxicatingly herbal-scented Harbin Deer Antlers Trading Co. and ask owner Sheng Le Xu for advice. You’ll want to listen. At 65, Xu looks decades younger and plays soccer against men in their 30s. The horns look like thin-sliced mushroom stems, and the lighter and smaller the circle, the more powerful — and more expensive — the dose. Round out your twice-daily brew by buying ginger, goji berries, licorice root or a cinnamon stick larger than a 98-lb. weakling’s arm. —Amy Nicholson 186 S. Western Ave., Koreatown, 90004. (323) 965-5528, harbindeer.com.
Drink soju at Cindy Club
Koreatown doumis — karaoke-room party companions — and hostess-bar girls might be a dying breed. The last wave of South Korean immigrants in Los Angeles crested long ago, and young Korean-Americans appear to prefer the glamour of Hollywood dance clubs to the grit of K-town venues serving little more than Hite beer and Johnnie Walker Black. But that’s not to say that some customs won’t survive in a hybrid, Angeleno way. At Koreatown’s Cindy Club, a new owner has cleaned up the place and revived the tradition of “booking,” which involves a man asking a woman to join him at his table to share some alcohol. Booking is not mandatory, however, and there’s plenty of karaoke and revelry to be had for Silver Lake hipsters and anyone else who wants to show up. Basic beer, soju, sake and wine are available, as well as bar food. Getting a taste of Korean nightlife culture has never been as laid-back in L.A. as it is at Cindy Club. —Dennis Romero 4273 Beverly Blvd., Koreatown, 90004. (323) 906-1640.
Get inspired at Top’s Art Supplies
In an age of ever-larger art superstores, Top’s Art Supplies still has human scale. The compact Koreatown store features the finest hand-picked, imported supplies — brushes and scissors from Japan, paper from India — along with neatly arranged collections of sketchpads, colored pencils, painting supplies and markers. Family-owned and operated since 1987, the store is a favorite with design students and proudly carries one of the finest collections of sewing notions anywhere, while a back room is dedicated entirely to supplies for children’s science projects. Top’s paint is always on 25 percent discount, while canvas is at 60 to 70 percent off — not to mention the twice-annual “back-to-school” sales. Equally impressive? The warm and attentive customer service, which Top’s proprietors have down to an ... art. —Adam Gropman 3447 W. Eighth St., Koreatown, 90005. (213) 382-8229, topsartsupplies.com.
Aroma Gold Range
Photo by Chris Walker
Practice your drive at a four-story golf range
Koreatown may not have a proper golf course, but that doesn’t mean K-town residents have to leave the neighborhood to practice their swing. The Aroma Golf Range is a full-service, 150-yard enclosed driving range in the heart of the district on Wilshire Boulevard. The range features four stories from which to whack balls, with 15 teeing stations on each floor. The highest floors are the cheapest, but all are affordable, ranging from 8 cents to 10 cents per golf ball, $12 for a bucket of 111 balls or, for the truly devoted, $18 for 180. A fully automated system returns balls hit down-range through pneumatic tubes and mechanically tees up a new ball for you each time one is hit from your station. Whether you’re looking to perfect your drive or need an idea for a cheap date, Aroma Golf Range makes for a fun outing. —Chris Walker 3680 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown, 90010. (213) 387-2111, aromaresort.com.
Grill your own duck at Sun Ha Jang
A daunting number of Korean barbecue restaurants exist in L.A.’s Koreatown, from which you can order ribs and slabs of beef and all manner of pork belly, cooked to smoky, Hite-fueled perfection at your table. But if that seems passé by now, you might try the duck palace on Olympic that is Sun Ha Jang. The little shop has been open for 20 or so years, but seven years ago duck was added to the menu, and folks have been flocking to the place ever since. Thin slices of young duckling (from Pitman Family Farms) is lovely stuff to throw on a grill, particularly one set into the middle of your table. The waterfowl is mildly funky and thick with fat, and thus pairs exceedingly well with the plates of lettuces and leeks and assorted banchan that fill your table. If this seems somewhat light fare, it’s on purpose, as the duck is the appetizer: The real show is what comes after, when the copious duck fat is used to fry up a bowl of rice and the remains of whatever’s left on your table into perhaps the best fried rice you’ve had in your life. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite takeout, as orchestrated by Paula Wolfert over a fire in southwest France. OK, maybe just head to Koreatown. —Amy Scattergood 4032 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown, 90019. (323) 634-9292.
Lita Albuquerque's new Memorial Wall at Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Photo by Marc Breslin
Visit L.A.'s top synagogue for art, Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Of all the hot new places to see contemporary art these days, a 150-year-old Reform Jewish synagogue in Koreatown is a surprising choice. Over at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Rabbi Steven Leder is spearheading an effort to include major contemporary art commissions and purchases in the temple’s massive 10-year renovation plan, now under way with a target completion date of 2020. So retro that it’s radical, Rabbi Leder’s initiative harks back to the days of Michelangelo and Caravaggio, when the Catholic Church was a major source of support for the best artists of the day. Lita Albuquerque’s Memorial Wall, a majestic installation commemorating departed congregation members, was unveiled last fall. Noa Eshkol’s Tree of Life wall hanging, featured in the artist’s 2012 LACMA exhibition, was installed earlier this year. Coming in the next year are 13 custom marble benches by Jenny Holzer, a large sky painting by Alex Israel, an outdoor lighting installation by Jorge Pardo and a series of photographs by Thomas Struth on the theme of creation. —Carol Cheh 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown. (213) 388-2401, wbtla.org.
For dessert, eat L.A.'s best cookie, at Pot's cafe
Located in the trendy Line Hotel, POT and its many components can be a little overwhelming. There’s the restaurant, with its hot pots and flowery aprons (in lieu of napkins) and chef Roy Choi’s take on Korean food. There’s the bar in the lobby, with its fuzzy navels and white Russians and flavored soju and hibiscus-and-celery cocktails. And then there’s the cafe, which is also in the lobby, and which sells all kinds of baked goods, including the best cookies in town. All the cookies are damn tasty, but the one we tend to swoon over is the mocha chip cookie, a rich chocolate fudge-y wonder with the bitter edge of dark coffee and an assertive kick of salt. Pastry chef Marian Mar, who used to work at New York’s Momofuku Milk Bar, turns out all manner of delicious sweet treats, and she proves that you can get pretty wild and still retain a heavy dose of pure, childish glee. That’s certainly what her cookies deliver, sea salt and all. —Besha Rodell 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown, 90010. (213) 368-3030, eatatpot.com.
See what other incredible things our city has to offer in this year's Best of L.A. issue.
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