In the land of strip malls, Koreatown in king. There are stacks upon stacks of tiny one-off eateries that dot the landscape around Western Avenue as it cruises towards Wilshire Blvd., an untold number that speaks to just how well K-towners must eat. More often than not, these are the sorts of places that eschew websites, only accept cash and rely on word of mouth or a strong set of eyes to discover. It's strip mall dining heaven in Koreatown, starting with the bustling corner strip spot along Western and 3rd Street known as Western Village.
Happy Family Chinese Restaurant:
Opened in 2011, Happy Family Chinese operates on the lower level of Western Village in a surprisingly sizable space right beneath a staircase. You can find it if you're looking, but you might have to squint. Inside, the open dining room is a series of large tables with built-in burners and overhead hoods that don't seem to get much action. Apparently, they never got rid of the tables from the previous Korean BBQ shop. Instead, folks tend to stick to the Chinese basics, including the ever-present orange chicken and jjambbong, a spicy seafood noodle soup. Other options, like beef chow mein, can come off a touch bland, but the provided bottles of Sriracha at every table will certainly help in that regard. For the lunch crowd, a varied selection of specials top out around $8 and can be pretty filling, especially when tagged along with something from Happy Family Chinese's surprising beer selection. Happy Family Chinese opens daily at 11 a.m. and accepts all major credit cards. 301 S. Western Ave. #101, Koreatown; 213-389-1112.
King of New York Pizzeria is usually just called KONY Pizza for short, despite the, uh, implications that might arise from such an acronym. Still, folks in Koreatown tend to flock to the small storefront for a New York slice, especially once the sun goes down. King of New York doesn't stay up late to feed the sloppy masses emerging from nearby karaoke -- they close at midnight on the weekend -- but their crusty, wide slices might be the quickest, cheapest option in the area for pre-game stomach saturation. The $3 slices are actually pretty tasty on their own, but be sure to identify the most recent pie to emerge from the oven. Time is of the essence with any pizza, and you might come across a few long-in-the-tooth slices sitting behind the glass, although the slightly oily garlic knots tend to always keep their bounce. Otherwise, traditional slices are heavy on the mozzarella and come pretty well saturated with a thin, sweet tomato sauce. Ordering up a fresh pie might help to keep the crust from stiffening up too much, but really, at prices like these, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more suitable on the go slice within a few mile's radius. KONY Pizza does a brisk delivery business and accepts credit cards. 301 S. Western Ave. #104, Koreatown; 213-252-0082.
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There are a few different Chicken Days operating throughout Southern California, but the focus at each remains the same: Korean fried chicken. In the ongoing and sometimes nasty battle for Koreatown chicken wing supremacy, Chicken Day is a regular name that makes the cut of possible contenders. This is some seriously fried stuff, thick at the edges with oil and sometimes wan in the middle with a lack of meaty chicken. Still, the sweet BBQ sauce, zippy garlic and sneak-up-on-you spicy chicken wings are all quite popular, and the overall price beats out the other Korean fried chicken restaurants in the area. If you're dining in, you may encounter a largely inattentive staff inside the square, sanitary room. Not to worry, the kid working behind the counter is probably ignoring you because he's so worried about the next rush of folks through the door, looking to compare and contrast with several other fried chicken spots in the neighborhood. Chicken Day is open daily and accepts credit cards. 301 S. Western Ave. #107, Koreatown; 213-387-9933.
Hae Ha Heng:
You know you've come to the right place when the restaurant you want to eat at describes itself as a "Thai chill out place" and there's a bus in the dining room. Hae Ha Heng sits upstairs at the Western Village plaza, looking like nothing more than another drab noodle spot. But inside, there's a serious party going on. Black tables and benches make for ample seating, while the blaring pop music keeps people bobbing their heads. That bus, a light blue miniature affair stuffed in the cab with Singha T-shirts for sale, is actually used as the ordering station, and the hand-chalked menu board hangs from above. It's a sort of all over the place scribbling, heavy on the right-hand side with their plentiful drink options, like margaritas, soju mojitos and those big, golden, foamy pour-yourself beer towers. There's also a bountiful patio space for anyone looking to drink in the open air, perhaps with a plate of crab fried rice or a warming curry. Have Ha Heng parties until 2am, takes reservations and accepts credit cards. 301 S. Western Ave. #209, Koreatown; 213-388-2407.
Despite the perpetual Grand Opening sign, T=Fish has actually been around since October of last year. They specialize in Korean sashimi and their associated dishes, including boats of warm, cheesy baked corn with elbow noodles and full sea urchin pods with their tops lopped off. The fish (and the prices) skew towards the higher end, although the portions will certainly fill you up. This is the sort of place to take your adventurous parents, given T=Fish's penchant for serving live octopus and the near-$30 price tag that they can pick up. If you're looking for ambiance, this may not be the place for you, as it's still essentially a bare-walled strip mall dining experience, with lots of tables that can get a little noisy. The service is top notch and the food elevated above what you can get downstairs at Happy Family, just don't expect T = Fish to match their prices. T=Fish opens daily at 3pm, takes reservations and accepts credit cards because no one wants to carry around $200 in cash anymore. 301 S. Western Ave. #201, Koreatown; 213-380-3385.
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