The 10 Best Restaurants in Koreatown
Ham Ji Park
Since Koreatown might be the best restaurant neighborhood in L.A., it may be the best restaurant neighborhood in the world. Culling a "best-of" list down to just 10 locations was wildly difficult, given Koreatown's density, global representation and apparent civic commitment to good eatin.' But we persevered, and came up with a collection of restaurants that represent Koreatown's present and future. Use this list as your guide to some of the most interesting food on the planet.
Here's Looking at You
Here's Looking at You, like an increasing number of compelling places to eat in Koreatown, is not a Korean restaurant. It's the brainchild of two Animal veterans — Jonathan Whitener, the former chef de cuisine, and Lien Ta, a former manager — who met while working under Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. If you followed Whitener's inventive cooking at Animal, it seemed inevitable that the chef would eventually split off to headline his own project. The bar program is proof that the most exciting cocktails in L.A. are found in restaurants as often as at bars. Try the ground brisket tartare, crowned with egg yolk, toasted chili powder, shaved turnips and sprigs of watercress, the fried prawns and any of the salads.
3901 W. Sixth St., Koreatown. (213) 568-3573, hereslookingatyoula.com.
Courtesy Beer Belly
Would your doctor approve? She would not. The counter bristles with taps for beers so local that they probably could be delivered on an MTA bus, and you will be tasting several of them before you stagger out the door. Sunday brunch includes Lucky Charms pancakes with Fruity Pebbles whipped cream, and the menu suggests a beer pairing for it. The only healthy thing on the menu is the grilled broccoli, and even that comes with what the menu calls Craftsman 1903 Beer Whiz. Where we come from, Beer Whiz does not generally refer to cheese sauce. There are deep-fried Oreos for dessert, but don't let the whimsy fool you: This crew can cook. Don't forget to try something savory.
532 S. Western Ave., Koreatown. (213) 387-2337, beerbellyla.com.
Angelenos like to think that we know about Thai food, and it's true that our collective knowledge base is greater than the average American's. But even we would do well to venture away from our favorite menu items — and Thai Town. Located on the northern end of Koreatown, Isaan Station specializes in the food of northeast Thailand, which means a lot of grilling, a lot of herbs, and a lot of sour and spicy flavors. Plus, sticky rice with everything. Be sure to try the grilled chicken, which is a house specialty and gives the next restaurant on this list some stiff competition. The beef and pork "jerky" epitomize the funk and the sourness the Isaan region's food is known for, and the papaya salad might be (steady yourself) the best in Los Angeles.
125 N. Western Ave., Koreatown. (323) 498-2451, isaanstation.com.
Pollo a la Brasa
This Peruvian chicken shack is the kind of place you may have thought was zoned out of existence, a kind of glassed-in shed set down on a traffic island and nearly hidden by high drifts of cordwood. The first thing you notice about it is the wood smoke, great billowing clouds that float down Western Avenue and almost magically perfume the chickens, flavored with garlic and black oregano and roasted on a vast, flame-licked apparatus. There is a limited menu here, basically salad and fries and an indifferent preparation of the grilled beef-heart dish anticuchos, but the chicken is enough: well-garlicked, slightly spicy, caramelized and crisp, clearly the marriage of a chicken and a bunch of logs.
764 S. Western Ave., Koreatown. (213) 387-1531.
Genwa is part of a pack of places serving higher-quality beef, such as Soowon, but it breaks ahead of them with its staggering array of consistently good banchan, which comes in 20 or so varieties, many of them rarely served at standard-issue Korean restaurants. Korean cuisine, even at a barbecue restaurant, is more than just grilled meat. Kot sal (boneless short ribs) and tongue come highly recommended. Take a small piece of grilled meat, a dollop of banchan and relish with a spoonful of rice.
5115 Wilshire Blvd., Hancock Park. (323) 549-0760.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.