Mo Ran Gak (Los Angeles, December 2021)

When my mother-in-law first told us in 2019 that she considering moving to Seal Beach we thought this was going to be a rather dramatic shift for her. This because she was leaving Koreatown where she had been based for 30 odd years, in the embrace of what is probably the most hardcore Korean enclave outside the two Koreas. It turned out, however, that the retirement community she moved to has a large population of Korean seniors; and that just 10-15 minutes down the freeway there is another Korean enclave in Garden Grove. Now this is not news to anyone in the South Bay but back when we lived in Los Angeles—or when we visited Koreatown every year—places south of the Orange County border weren’t really on our radar. But Garden Grove has a significant Korean population too, along with major grocery stores and lots of restaurants. It’s not Koreatown but there’s enough there to not make us mourn the loss of our Irolo/James M. Wood base too much either on our trips back. For example: Mo Ran Gak.

We ate there at the end of our first week, on Christmas. They weren’t taking reservations but if you’re willing to dine early, and to dine outside in a tent in what passes for winter in Southern California, your odds are good. So we reasoned anyway and we were proven right. We had a big breakfast and skipped lunch and arrived for dinner before 5 pm. The dining room was already full, with a lot of people waiting, but there were tables a-plenty in the tent (which had heaters going as well). There were seven of us, our two boys and five adults, including my mother-in-law, her brother and his wife. We got down to business in quick order.

What did we eat?

Rather a lot. There is no grilling at the outside tables but you can order meats that will be brought out sizzling to your table. From this genre we got some galbi and some spicy pork bulgogi. This—especially the galbi—was mostly for the benefit of the boys. The adults started with two of the three appetizers on the menu: myongtae shikhae (or strips of fermented pollack in a spicy dressing) and nokdu jijim aka bindaetteok (aka mung bean pancakes). Both were rather excellent—they proceeded to give us some bonus nokdu jijim with the rest of the meal as well. The rest of the meal incorporated the following: sanchae bibimbap (which features a lot of greens and root vegetables); dolpan nakji deapbap (which features seasoned octopus served with rice and a fried egg served on a sizzling stone platter; you mix it all in and eat); seafood soondubu jigae (or soft tofu stew); bibim naengmyun (cold spicy noodles); and mul naengmyun (noodles in chilled broth). The last two are really summer dishes but the missus and I—whose selections they were—miss good versions of thesetoo much in Minnesota and so we eat them in Los Angeles no matter what season it is that we’re there.

Their mul naengmyun is made in a North Korean style. My mother-in-law—whose family hails from the north—endeavoured to explain to me what the major distinctions were but I’m embarrassed to say that I couldn’t quite tell a very clear difference between this bowl and what I’m more used to. I can say that everything was very good. The portions were massive and so we all got a good taste of it all. As good as the naengmyuns both were I think my favourite dishes were the soondubu jigae and especially the dolpan nakji deapbap. The nokdu jijim were excellent as well. If I had to knock anything it might be the banchan selection which was rather vanilla. But I’d be reaching.

For a look at the restaurant, the menu and everything we ate, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see how much it all cost and what’s coming next.

The quality of the meal was very high. As I say, it did not make us wish we were in Koreatown. My guess is we’ll be back on future trips to try more of the menu—though we would also love to find a gopchang specialist in the general vicinity (if you know of one please write in). However, if you live or are visiting closer to Koreatown there’s really no reason to make the drive.

Price? With tax and tip it came to just over $200 which was very good for the quantity and quality (we took a lot of leftovers home). Keep in mind that the galbi alone was $45. If you skipped that you could still eat very well and come out for a lot less money. Another highlight for me was a rare success in beating the missus’ uncle to the check.

What’s next from L.A? This is my fifth meal report of 10. (The others so far: Capital Seafood, Sushi Nozomi, Holbox and Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori.) We went back to Garden Grove again for more Korean food the next week but I’ll save that for later. My next report will instead be of my nostalgic return to Pioneer Blvd. in Artesia to partake of chaat etc. That’ll be this weekend.



2 thoughts on “Mo Ran Gak (Los Angeles, December 2021)

  1. Seven years ago, we visited UC Irvine and at the time I noticed a two or three strip malls about 1 mile inland from Newport/Huntington beaches that had a number of stores and restaurants with signage in Korean. We ate what I remember as very good soft tofu stew at one of them.


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