Koreatown and Elsewhere (Los Angeles, July/August 2014)

jongolI noted earlier that our recent trip to Los Angeles was unusual in that we ate a number of Thai meals and none of them was at Jitlada. It was also a bit unusual in that we didn’t eat out in Koreatown very much. My wife is Korean and most of her extended family lives in Koreatown and that’s where we’re based when in L.A. In general, we tend to eat other cuisines at lunch and do Korean restaurant meals at dinner, both because being close at hand they’re easier with the boys and because we’re usually accompanied by some extended family members or the other. My wife’s family are first generation immigrants—she was 10 when they arrived in the US—and many of her older relatives don’t speak any English and are generally not interested in eating anything other than Korean food. As such, it is usually a given that we will eat a bunch of Korean meals out and so I don’t plan them specifically. On this occasion, however, my wife and the kids had been in LA for a month previous and had already done most of the extended family meet and greets, and it turned out that we did the rest mostly at people’s homes. So there was almost no Koreatown eating out for us.

A quick note on Koreatown for those who’re not very familiar with Los Angeles: as my aside about my wife’s extended family may have indicated, Koreatown is a very concentrated Korean enclave where recent and older immigrants can more than get by without any English. There are Korean businesses of all kinds and hyper-specialized restaurants that don’t need any sort of non-Korean clientele to survive. Indeed, in the early 2000s the dotcom company I worked for had offices on Wilshire Blvd. right off Western and for more than a year my coworkers and I walked past establishments that we couldn’t even tell were restaurants until my not-yet wife and I started going out and then into those restaurants. And it probably wouldn’t have helped very much even if we’d known they were restaurants as most of them didn’t have non-Korean menus.

Things have changed somewhat since then and Koreatown has become much more “integrated” into at least the gastronomic life of the rest of Los Angeles, especially anglo Los Angeles, than it used to be. We’ve been going back every year since we left in 2003, right around the time of the foodie explosion in the US, and it is really striking how much eating in Koreatown has been mainstreamed. I don’t mean by this that the food has been mainstreamed; only that to eat out in Koreatown for non-Koreans is not a particularly adventurous thing anymore. Back in the day, you’d see non-Koreans largely in bbq places (white yuppies) or at some lunch places (working class Hispanics) but now it’s very different. And the demographics have clearly shifted as a whole. My mother-in-law’s neighbourhood used to be Koreans and Hispanics and now there’s large numbers of various kinds of white people as well. But Koreatown remains quite hardcore in its Koreanness.

As I say, however, we didn’t eat out very much there on this trip (which is not to say we didn’t eat a lot of Korean food, as that’s what we ate at home most nights). So I have only a few scattered pictures of things eaten in Koreatown and the only sustained meal report I have is of a marginal Korean bbq meal in the San Fernando Valley (with relatives who live there).

Click on an image below to launch a slideshow with larger images and complete captions.

So that’s it for Korean food reporting from this trip. I’m afraid it doesn’t get the showing it deserves. I’ll try to do better on the next trip (which might be as early as December).


One thought on “Koreatown and Elsewhere (Los Angeles, July/August 2014)

  1. Valley Village, North Hollywood, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen. Reseda, Northridge, Canoga Park, Tarzana, Encino.

    I’ve worked in The Valley a number of times and I’m still convinced the borders between these so-called towns are imaginary. What’s in Toluca Lake today is in Valley Village tomorrow and then in NoHo the next day but only if it’s the third Thursday after a new moon. It’s as confusing as the parking signs in Hollywood.


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