It’s no secret that Koreatown’s restaurants are often a one dish affair. If you find yourself at a restaurant that specializes in cold noodles – say, Yu Chun – you are almost certainly eating nothing but naeng myun and kimchi. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that you may stumble into Mirak and be served goat and only goat.
There are actually two dishes you are meant to order at Mirak: the signature goat stew, yumso tang, and the “iron plate,” which is also served with goat. The restaurant once offered duck stew, but no one ordered it, so if you're interested in eating a duck instead of a goat, you need to call ahead.
When you arrive, you're given a small bowl with chili, mustard, green onion and perilla seeds, which you are told to mix into a viscous liquid (later on, you will be told to dip a piece of goat into it). You are, of course, also given banchan, the array of small plates that signify the start of a Korean meal. A server will subsequently set an iron pan on your table’s gas stove, sort of in the mold of Korean barbecue, and the stew’s components – broth, spices, green onion, goat and a massive mound of perilla leaves – will begin to heat up. The greens collapse as they cook, like logs in a fire. The result is a broth with a unique flavor molded by goat fat and perilla, the latter of which gives it a punch of mint.
The yumso tang is why most people find themselves at Mirak, but the iron plate is what you'll dream about. The two dishes are similar, but the iron plate is more of a table stir-fry where the servers throw in things that Koreans typically find delicious: chili, rice cakes, onions, more goat and the glass noodles also used in japchae. The stewed goat is layered with fat, which is absolutely commendable but also gives it a chewy quality that counters any tenderness, while the stir-fried goat is succulent and tender enough to make you want to launch a campaign for the meat’s merits.
When you’ve finished off your goat, which may be quickly, your pan will be re-heated and a server will throw in a pile of rice and kimchi, which is meant to cook until the rice crisps on the bottom in the style of bibimbap. The rice, unfortunately, signifies the end of your goat experience.
The benefits, however, may continue. If you ask your server at Mirak, she will tell you that goat meat's primary practical use is in stew as a temperature regulator for women, and particularly pregnant women, because women are theoretically naturally unskilled at staying warm. She will also tell you that goat stew is, ironically, best in the summer heat — because of its restorative powers for those with active sweat glands.
Keep asking and you'll learn that goat stew, whether because of its reliance on perilla leaves or simply because of the tremendous power of goat meat, is good for skin complexion, bone strength (“goat is 40% calcium,” we’re told), vision, and, notably, male stamina. A cursory scroll through Google Scholar won’t confirm any of these claims, but the assertion that hot stew will make cold pregnant women feel warm is indeed convincing.
As is customary of Koreatown’s one-dish specialists, Mirak has its competitors, among them Bulrucho, the 24-hour goat soup specialist, and Chin Go Gae, which is also famous for its yumso tang. Considering Mirak’s multiple-decades run and multiple-branch (there's also a branch in Orange County) expansion, Los Angeles does not seem to have met its yumso tang limit, for which we can be thankful.
Mirak, 1134 S. Western Ave., Harvard Heights; (323) 732-7577. Goat stew $15; Goat “iron plate” $34 (enough for 3 people).
Mirak 2, 1101 S. Vermont Ave., Pico-Union; (213) 388-9291. Mirak 2 has the same menu as Mirak.