Koreatown Trio (Los Angeles, Winter 2014/2015)

Keungama: Doganitang
We eat a lot of Korean food when we’re in Los Angeles, though you might not be able to tell from my meal reports. This is because my wife’s family are Korean and so we tend to eat a lot of it at her mother’s home (where we put up) and at the homes of relatives we visit, and often also as unplanned dinners coming home from grocery shopping etc. (Korean restaurants are great for our boys who will eat their weight in galbi and rice and bone broths). If you like Korean food you really need to go to LA. Koreatown, which is one of the most intense immigrant enclaves anywhere in North America, probably has the best Korean food outside South Korea. I’ve been a little remiss in posting about posting about these meals in my last couple of series of Los Angeles restaurant write-ups and so here are three at once from our trip to LA in late December/early January.

Two of these are relatively casual places, frequented almost entirely by Koreans, and mostly by middle-class, non-trendy Koreans: Chunju Han-Il Kwan and Keungama. Han-Il-Kwan (in the corner of a strip at 6th and Kenmore) is known best for their jongols (a type of stew/casserole) and Keungama (at 8th and Serrano), which is open all day, every day, is known best for their stone pot dishes and soups (Keungama means “big pot”). The third is one of the mainstays of Koreatown’s bbq scene, Chosun Galbee, which has always been one of the tonier and more expensive Korean bbq houses but also one of the best. In fact, while it’s recently been surpassed by newer places like Park’s, some would say that back in the day it was the best, though those who prefer “ethnic” food in more dingy surroundings would disagree. It really is a very nice space and it’s not just their meat that’s good: they’re also known for their banchan and their naengmyuns.

Click on an image below to launch a slideshow with more detailed captions. And write in below if you have strong views on Koreatown eating (or even if you don’t)—I’ll pass your comments on to my wife so she can make derisive comments about you.

Korean food in Los Angeles is just so good. As my own tastes in Korean food are severely influenced by my wife (who is a very good cook, though ingredient availability in Minnesota is not optimal) it tends to be the more comfort food-type things at places like Keungama and Han-Il Kwan (and lots of others) that I like to eat when in Koreatown. This kind of hearty, un-sexy food hasn’t yet quite crossed over in the way that Korean BBQ has, which is a pity. In general, it seems to me that non-Korean LA foodies seem to be cooling on Korean cuisine, with Thai having overtaken it in the last decade in the hierarchy of Asian foods in the great Los Angeles metro area. Maybe I’m mistaken about this but it’s a shame if true. Koreatown may be unique in how comprehensive and representative (and concentrated) its food offerings are and there’s a lot of depth and nuance to be explored for those willing to put in the time.

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