Los Angeles is home to the largest Korean population in the United States. As a result, the city is blessed with a seemingly endless supply of soju and enough beef bulgogi to last a lifetime. And that’s hardly an exaggeration — with thousands of Korean culinary outposts scattered across L.A. County, you could pick a different one every day and it would still take you years to dine at them all. That’s a lot of banchan.
When it comes to Korean BBQ, specifically — a few perennial favorites not withstanding — plenty of self-appointed culinary experts offer their own preferred hidden gems. Far be it from this list to wander into that ongoing turf war. Here you will find a collection focusing merely on the newest combatants in L.A.’s great war of K-BBQ supremacy. These restaurants, some of which opened mere months ago and all of which opened within the last three years, dare to bring something fresh to an already dense and territorial dining tradition. They are praiseworthy as much for their boldness as for their bulgogi.
Dal Ma Ji
Less than 3 months old, this sleek and stylish Koreatown addition is already firing on all cylinders. Charcoal grills, stainless steel tables and range hoods forged of copper inform a thoughtful, modernized interior. But enough about the atmosphere. You came here for the food. For starters, the signature spicy crab banchan is a table pleaser long before the grill even gets going. Once things get heated, however, consider the prime sirloin. Simmered in a hot stone pot, it's an ode to the persistent power of protein. That same vessel works equal magic when holding a number of savory stews, such as a thickened bean-paste soup or the bulgogi with glass noodles. 808 S. Western Ave., Ste 207, Koreatown; (213) 388-1717.
Although Magal is a popular chain with outposts across Asia, and even in New York, Southern Californians had to wait until last December to finally get a taste of it. The consensus is that it was worth the wait. Marinated beef reigns supreme, specifically the khot-sal jumulleok — short rib bathed in a deluge of tang and spice. Lunch specials, served daily until 3 p.m., can fill you up for under $10. Instagrammers swoon over the HwaSan Bokeumbap, a volcano of kimchi fried rice, bursting with yolk, in a sea of scrambled eggs. Offerings such as the barbecued eel or the crisp and chewy grilled pork skin cater to more adventurous eaters. 3460 W. Eighth St., Koreatown; (213) 383-1909, magalbbqusa.com.
Hanjip further solidfies Culver City’s newfound status as a top-tier dining destination. The combination of mischievous head chef and Seoul Sausage founder Chris Oh with the Bombet Hospitality Group (Terrine, Faith + Flower) results in a menu equal parts renegade and gourmet. That means you can enjoy a tomahawk steak, seared on a gold-plated grill with foie gras butter, paired with a soju-spiked watermelon studded with Pop Rocks. Beverage director Ryan Wainwright bottles inventive soju cocktails that work well alongside unusual sides, such as the bone marrow corn cheese and the uni steamed egg. The restaurant is proud of its unorthodox approach, yet there’s still plenty for purists to sink their teeth into. If you were still on the fence, a new all-you-can-eat weekend brunch special is one of the best deals in town, starting at $19. 3829 Main St., Culver City; (323) 720-8804, hanjip.com.
Jjukku Jjukku BBQ
Jjukku Jjukku opened more than a year and a half ago, but you’d hardly be able to tell from the pristine decor, which still feels fresh and new. The restaurant bills itself as “premium all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ,” and that’s not far off the mark. For a sense of that quality, dig into the beef tartare — a massive puck of seasoned, raw meat layered with onions, scallions and pine nuts beneath a halo of egg yolk. The seafood is of the same caliber. Baby octopus and a pleasantly spicy shrimp teppanyaki are among Koreatown’s finest. 3377 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 105, Koreatown; (213) 674-7228, jjukkujjukkubbq.com.
It’s been nearly a year since the Paan set up shop on Sixth Street, amidst the tireless parade of Wilshire Center, but it’s already established itself as something of a neighborhood fixture. Setting itself apart from the crowd of other K-BBQ restaurants surrounding it, the Paan uses a larger grill format, allowing a cornucopia of ingredients to share the stage. The feel is part Korean BBQ, part hibachi. Taking full advantage of the extra real estate, the kitchen delivers assorted vegetables and fruits — pumpkin, plantains, pineapples, bean sprouts, to name a few — to flank the finely marbled proteins, front and center. The attentiveness of the servers is hard to ignore, as you’ll rarely have to lift more than a finger to facilitate a feeding frenzy. 3732 W. Sixth St., Koreatown; (213) 516-2705.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
This longtime Koreatown standout expanded to Rowland Heights at the end of last year, and there's a trio of reasons why it’s held in such high regard: quality, authenticity and variety. Its prime rib-eye, a beautifully marbled, textural delight, might actually be trumped by the pork selection, finding its crescendo in thick cuts of gorgeously fatted pork belly. An ingenious circular skillet design allows side dishes to cook, compartmentalized, around the meat. And these accompaniments are hardly afterthoughts. The lunchbox rice, shaken with sauce and seasoning in its own tin box, is fun and full of flavor. The kimchi stew is savory and sweat-inducing. The iced tea, provided limitlessly, is mercifully effective at washing away the accumulating heat. One major caveat: Make sure you have nothing else to accomplish for the rest of the day. Any trip here concludes in an extended food coma. 18900 E. Gale Ave., Ste. A, Rowland Heights; (626) 964-9678.
Genwa Korean BBQ
With just over three years under its belt, Genwa's second location on La Cienega is hardly new. Yet the experience of enjoying incomparable Korean BBQ in Beverly Hills still feels unusual to most. Don’t be deterred by the address. Just like its original outpost, Genwa rocks the most expansive assortment of banchan in the known universe — nearly two dozen in total. Preferred meats here include Joo mul luk (prime cut beef, seasoned with garlic) and Cha dol (thinly sliced wagyu brisket, like beef-flavored butter). As if that wasn’t enough to fill your belly, Genwa also plates an array of noodles and soups, such as the Yook Gae Jang, a spicy sort of Korean ramen. Wash it all down with an impressive selection of soju and the restaurant’s formula for success reveals itself in all its gluttonous glory. 170 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 854-0046.