7 Essential Korean Restaurants in Los Angeles

Park's BBQ banchan
Park's BBQ banchan
Anne Fishbein

Recently, we published our 99 Essential Restaurants in Los Angeles issue for 2017, along with its new sister list, the Freshmen 15 (for the newbie restaurants too young to be "essential" but that we love nonetheless). When you dig into that list, you'll find a ton of great traditional and modern Korean food, everything from soon tofu to kimchi tacos. Here are the seven essential Korean (and Korean-ish) restaurants of 2017.

Noorook at BarooEXPAND
Noorook at Baroo
Heather Platt

Baroo
Baroo is that most wonderful of restaurants, a place that is almost impossible to describe in part because no one would believe it to be true — a modernist, health-focused Korean fantasy inside a sparse room located on a decidedly unglamorous stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, just east of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There’s no sign, and the room is tiny and simple: white walls, a communal table, a counter from which you order, a few stools along another counter against the wall, a blackboard menu and some shelving in back holding jars of things in various stages of fermentation. The cooking is incredible: Handmade pasta ribbons support a kaleidoscope of celery and celeriac: thinly pureed celeriac, pickled julienned celery, crispy chips made from celeriac and a dusky powder they call “celery ash.” The dish takes one flavor profile and layers it over itself with multiple variations in texture and technique. —Besha Rodell
Read Baroo's full 99 Essentials listing here.

Beverly Soon Tofu
Beverly Soon Tofu
Amy Scattergood

Beverly Soon Tofu
Beverly Soon Tofu’s 31-year legacy could serve as a lesson for aspiring businesspeople everywhere: Focus on one thing and do it very, very well. The specialty of the house is and has always been soon tofu, the volcanic red bubbling soft tofu stew, available in a variety of flavors. Whether you choose cod roe or kimchi or the house favorite — a combination of pork or beef and seafood — the effect is basically the same: a warming, comforting glow from the chili and egg and almost puddinglike tofu. The small room is practically enrobed in wood, from the beautiful cross-section of redwood that takes up one wall to the rustic wooden tables and benches and stools where you sit to slurp and gobble your food. —B.R.
Read Beverly Soon Tofu's full 99 Essentials listing here.

Dan Sung Sa
Dan Sung Sa

Dan Sung Sa
Dan Sung Sa is one of the greats, even though it’s not the KBBQ the whole city is so obsessed with. The late-night establishment (yes, we all know that in L.A. anything after midnight counts as late-night) serves a lot of items on skewers, from rice cakes to gingko nuts to intestines to frog legs, as well as big plates of grilled items such as chicken feet and eel. They’re the perfect starter to a hangover-preventing meal that must include the legendary sweet-and-spicy chicken wings and the famous “corn cheese,” which is corn niblets blanketed under melted cheese and sweet mayonnaise. —Katherine Spiers
Read Dan Sung Sa's full 99 Essentials listing here.

Gwang YangEXPAND
Gwang Yang
Courtesy Gwang Yang BBQ

Gwang Yang
Koreatown is L.A.’s most overwhelming neighborhood, foodwise or otherwise. It’s overwhelming in the number of solid Korean barbecue options (Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong or Park’s BBQ or Ham Ji Park or ... oh my God, just pick something); overwhelming in the amount of people (must everyone travel in herds?); and overwhelming to navigate (you quickly get to know every street because you circle each block 100 times looking for parking). Gwang Yang BBQ slices through all of this, minimizing your K-town anxiety and making everything, well, easy. There’s a dedicated valet for the restaurant in the next-door deck. Gwang Yang accepts reservations, and even without one you won’t have to wait for hours like at some other Korean barbecue spots. The space is modern and sleek to the point of justifying the somewhat pricey menu, but not so modern and sleek that you feel underdressed. And ordering is a cinch: You are here for the Gangnam-style bulgogi. The thin, marinated, much-misunderstood slices of beef rarely take center stage elsewhere, but at Gwang Yang BBQ they hog the spotlight. The meat, cooked and cut by your server, is soft and lacy and singed and perfect; place a mouthful in a lettuce leaf, top it with slivers of garlic and raw jalapeño, and you’ve got the perfect bite. —Mara Shalhoup
Read Gwang Yang's full 99 Essentials listing here.

Pork ribs at Ham Ji ParkEXPAND
Pork ribs at Ham Ji Park
Danny Liao

Ham Ji Park
Many of L.A.’s Korean barbecue joints are large, boisterous places that specialize in grill-your-own dishes, usually of the beef variety. Ham Ji Park, on the other hand, is on its own porky path. The two must-order dishes here are prepared in the kitchen: One is a stew made mostly of pork neck and whole russet potatoes. It is pure comfort, though you will have to wrangle with the bones in this tender cut of pig. The stew’s co-star on the menu is the pork ribs, sweet and spicy and sure to cause a mess. It is a generous portion, but it’s not unheard of to order a double. —K.S.
Read Ham Ji Park's full 99 Essentials listing here.

Kogi BBQ pork rib tacoEXPAND
Kogi BBQ pork rib taco
Anne Fishbein

Kogi BBQ Truck
At this point, Kogi is practically edible academic text, an utterly necessary experience if you want to understand L.A., our food scene and our most visible culinary troubadour, Roy Choi. The fleet of trucks, which daily appear all over the city, are most famously dispensers of the original Korean tacos, a trend that has now swept the globe, for better or worse. At Kogi the existence of the mashup is assuredly for the good of us all, the sweet slightly sour kimchi making beautiful sense nestled against beef short rib or spicy pork and wrapped in a tortilla. The Kogi dog is also a thing of wonder, a snappy hot dog showered in shredded romaine, kimchi and Sriracha. —B.R.
Read Kogi's full 99 Essentials listing here.

Park's Hot PotEXPAND
Park's Hot Pot
Joshua Lurie

Park’s BBQ
Enthusiasts will debate the merits of the vast array of L.A.’s Koreatown Korean barbecue establishments with a fervor similar to the way Texas barbecue partisans will duel to the death with St. Louis–style lovers. Which is part of what makes Park’s BBQ so remarkable — for the most part, the consensus is that Park’s is the king. The difference is in the meat, which is meticulously sourced. That upgrade in quality shows even if you don’t opt for the pricy American Wagyu, but even more so if you do. Like the meat, everything here is extremely high-grade, from the banchan to the savory pancakes to the fantastic steak tartare, which comes with juicy slivers of Asian pear. —B.R.
Read Park's full 99 Essentials listing here.


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