Ham Ji Park (Los Angeles)

Ham Ji Park: Gamjatang
I have two more London restaurant write-ups yet to come but I also have two restaurant meals from our trip to Los Angeles in July that I’ve planned to get to for a while. Here, therefore, is one of those: a quick lunch at Ham Ji Park on 6th Street in Koreatown.

Ham Ji Park has been around since they opened their first location on Pico in Arlington Heights in the late 1980s early 1990s. This 6th Street location is the second to open. As this one is in Koreatown proper, and much closer to our usual base of operations in L.A, we’ve never actually been to the original and so I can’t really compare the two—I’m told this location is more than a little shinier than the original. I can tell you though that if you eat here you will be happy.

They do not have a very large menu and really they’re known for two things: marinated and grilled pork ribs and gamjatang (a pork spine/neck stew with potatoes: gamja is Korean for potato, and tang refers to a stew made with meat). There are a few other grilled and sauteed items and a few other stews on the menu but most tables will have these two dishes on them. And unless you live in L.A. and are likely to visit often it’s probably best if you get them too. It’s not that the other dishes are poor—they’re not—but these two dishes, and especially the gamjatang, are a cut above what’s available in most other places in Koreatown. Their banchan (the small “side dishes” that are a feature of Korean meals) is nothing fancy but is uniformly good.

Prices are a bit high compared to other places in Koreatown that sling gamjatang (see, for example, the more working class Keungama) but the portions are quite large too. The only complaint we have is that they don’t serve the stone pot rice along with their stews that are de rigueur at places like Keungama. And it’s a pretty easy place to navigate for the non-Korean speaker. The servers speak fluent English (they’re also, unusually for Koreatown, male) and the menu features detailed English descriptions of all the dishes.

I will say that as good as the pork ribs are it’s the gamjatang that really does it for me. It’s quite different from the version at Keungama (where we often end up with members of my mother-in-law’s church and extended family): less robust/rustic, less driven by gochugang (red chilli pepper paste)—this is not to say that their version is not hearty per se, merely that it’s a little more subtle. In fact, in many ways their version reminds me a lot of North Indian homestyle meat curries. On this occasion we got the ribs, the gamjatang and an order of marinated sirloin to grill at the table and it was enough to feed us and the boys and provide enough leftovers for dinner. On the whole, then, decent value for very tasty food (the bill came to $87 before tip).

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about the place except that it’s the kind of Korean food that we just can’t get in Minnesota—though that’s pretty much true of almost every place in Koreatown in L.A. This cross has been a little easier to bear since July as my mother-in-law now lives with us and spends a lot of time cooking up Korean food of all kinds (though ingredient availability, as I’ve noted before, is a bit of a problem too). It strikes me now that she hasn’t yet made gamjatang. I should ask her about that…

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