At most restaurants, ordering a dish "mild" ideally means the heat level will be minimal – or at least won't make your nose run like a leaky faucet.
That's not the case at Yup Dduk, a new Koreatown restaurant that specializes in ddukbokki – chewy, cylindrical rice cakes smothered in fiery red gochujang sauce – and where the logo consists of a chili pepper weeping what we imagine are spicy, spicy tears.
Part of a popular Korean restaurant chain with two outlets already open in New York, Yup Dduk arrived in L.A. back in November. Since then it's steadily gained a following for its pepper-fueled menu, the apex of which is something called the #KtownSpicyChallenge.
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What's the challenge? It involves ordering the highest level of spiciness on the menu (the three tiers are Mild, Original and Challenge). We'll fess up that we haven't tried the Challenge level of spice yet, but even mild was far hotter than 90 percent of the dishes you'll find in Koreatown, the type of head-throbbing spicy that lingers in your throat and makes you reach for another glass of water. Dare we imagine the highest tier?
Of course, flaming tastebuds aside, Yup Dduk does a very respectable rendition of ddukbokki, a snack food that's popular among Korean high schoolers and those who want to fortify their stomaches before a night of drinking (be forewarned – there's no booze at Yup Dduk). Those spicy plump rice cakes come stewed with strips of fish cake, kimchi, smoked weenie sausages and hard-boiled eggs, while a layer of molten mozzarella cheese and fried vegetable tempura on top is intended to lessen any pepper-induced pain. The staff will usually recommend a plate of seaweed-covered rice balls, too, or a bottle of banana-flavored milk (which looks like it was pulled straight from a kid's lunchbox), both meant to cool the flames further.
Yup Dduk is young and hip in a decidedly K-pop sort of way – don't be surprised if the waiter offers you a free strawberry yogurt or side of fried cheese sticks if you tweet about the #KtownSpicyChallenge – and that's what makes it a fun place to bring a small crew. It's unclear what the reward is for submitting to the hellish torment of ultra-spicy ddukbokki is, but our best guess would be sheer bragging rights. Which makes sense, since the gigantic bowls are large enough to share among three or four friends, all of whom can then gloat in equal measure. This is not a dish you want to finish by yourself, after all.
3603 W. Sixth St., Koreatown; (213) 263-2355, yupddukla.com.