There is a segment of the population whose late-night cravings consist not of bacon and eggs or burgers and fries, but of sizzling grilled short ribs and flaming hot soups and comforting porridge. That segment of the population is the one you'll find after last call in Koreatown.
There are so many people out past the midnight hour, in fact, that the neighborhood seems to be just as alive at 2 in the morning as it is at 2 in the afternoon. Here are five of our favorite late-night spots in Koreatown, where you can wind down after a night out or nosh on a fourth meal after burning the midnight oil.
5. Al Bae Ne
There's a “hangover soup” on the menu at Al Bae Ne, which gives you a pretty good idea of who comes in here, and when. The portions are sized appropriately for the late-night crowd that prioritizes comforting quantity over quality. The jajangmyun — an enormous plate of noodles hiding under a thick slick of black bean sauce — is popular here, both before and after last call. The seafood soup, the color of a burnt orange Crayola, is served in an enormous bowl that will easily feed a table. Or two. 3470 W. Sixth St.; (213) 388-1105.
Los Angeles is home to one of the largest Korean populations outside Seoul; fitting, then, that one of the most popular restaurants in Seoul, Myung Dong Kyoja, has an L.A. outpost at Wilshire and Harvard. Located in a brick building, its interior reminds you of an old classroom, if your third-grade classroom had flat-screen televisions tuned in to the Korean equivalent of MTV. Unlike other late-night Koreatown restaurants, the menu here is relatively short, to better focus on the kal gook soo, a soup of knife-cut noodles and ground beef in a hot, clear broth. Every table also has at least one order of the pork mandoo (dumplings) to round out those cravings. 3630 Wilshire Blvd.; (213) 385-7789.
Most late-night Koreatown restaurants aren't as busy as you would expect them to be after the local bars and clubs close, likely because at least half of the partying population is at Hodori, or waiting outside Hodori, or just leaving Hodori. This is the Denny's of Koreatown, which, like America's diner, is always open. The restaurant's giant pictorial menu will help you construct your own Grand Slam: kimchi pancakes, say, and an omelette with rice. As with all Grand Slams, it tastes best when eaten sometime during the hazy stretch between dinner and breakfast. 1001 S. Vermont Ave.; (213) 383-3554.
Improbable as it is, Nak Won is a 24-hour restaurant located right next to Hodori. They serve similar menus, filled with similarly comforting Korean fare like oxtail soup and kimchi fried rice. Sober, you'll discern the finer differences between the two (Nak Won is probably a smidge better); inebriated, you'll discern only that Nak Won is far less crowded and so you may as well go there. If there were any justice in this world, it would be just as crowded. Improbable, but not impossible. 1001 S. Vermont Ave.; (213) 388-8889.
The unspoken star of BCD Tofu House is the succulent fried mackerel that stands out in an otherwise routine parade of banchan dishes. The star is the restaurant's namesake, soontofu: diced tofu with various seafood, vegetables and red chilis served in a sizzling-hot stone pot. A raw egg comes out along with the hot pot; you are to crack this into the bowl of boiling liquid — not quite what you should be doing after too many bottles of Hite. You can get the soontofu alone or, better, in combination with short ribs or any number of other classic post-midnight Korean comfort foods. BCD Tofu House's restaurant on Wilshire is closed for renovations; for now, head to the Western branch instead. 3575 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 382-6677; also at 869 S. Western Ave., (213) 380-3807.