Kang Hodong Baekjeong

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Kang Hodong Baekjeong
3465 W 6th St, Ste 20
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 384-9678

Kang Ho-Dong is a household name in South Korea, where he is a very famous wrestler-turned-variety show host who is on TV multiple times a week in primetime. In LA, however (at least to the people outside of Koreatown), he is just the name of what is arguably the hottest and most popular Korean BBQ restaurant in town, his life-size cardboard figures greeting diners as they enter the extremely smoky restaurant. In recent years, more higher-quality and non-AYCE Korean BBQ restaurants have opened up, with Baekjeong leading the charge. And they couldn’t have come at a better time, for I have evolved into a diner who cares more about the quality and variety of the meats, and less about searching for the cheapest AYCE deal for pure gluttony and banchan galore.

We were here on a Monday night, and it still got busy fast. Fortunately, Eugenia came early to put our large party on the waitlist. They are actually very organized with said waitlist, and can even call your cellphone when your table is ready, so you can wonder around nearby (which is good, because if you’re there after 6pm, you’re waiting 1+ hours). Recommended activities to pass the time: observe the AzNs/FOBs from a distance like you’re at the zoo, check out the nice cars parked in Chapman Plaza, and play with the variety of stray cats running around.

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Once you’re in finally, the grill is already lit, and the banchan (minimal, but all good) is all laid out on the table. The grill is interesting: a circular open pit, with interchangeable grill tops based on the protein in action (don’t worry – they do all the work for you). Also, the grill is surrounded by what can be described as a moat, with three compartments of egg, corn cheese, and kimchi + veggies cooking alongside the meats. Even though it was a full house, the manual labor required for self-grilling was indeed minimal (we actually made it worse when we took grilling into our own hands), and service is as good as you can get in a Korean BBQ restaurant (banchan and drinks refilled fairly promptly).

Diners can bitch about not 10+ varieties of banchan, not having rice paper to warp with, or just the fact of it not being AYCE, but I’m more than glad to pay just a little more for a dramatic increase in quality of meats. For a party of 8, we ordered a large beef combo and a large pork combo, each set coming with three varieties of each protein. For the beef, you get the boneless short rib, the thinly sliced brisket, and a choice between the sliced rib eye and the prime boneless short rib. Definitely go with the former – just amazingly marbled beef, better than what you’d find at most steakhouses even. The galbi was great too, but the cha dol wasn’t too different from the generic frozen curls you get at standard AYCE joints.

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The real star, though, was the pork. Baekjeong isn’t a samgyupssal joint, but the quality of the pork here puts those specialists to shame. The thinly sliced pork belly (pork bulgogi) was good, but it’s all about the seared pork belly and seared pork neck. As someone who gets really turned on by pork belly (getting harder nowadays with everyone getting in on the trend – it’s like getting a porn star aroused), these two cuts were arguably the two best bites I’ve ever had in a KBBQ joint. I forgot which variety was the optional choice here, but make sure you get those two as part of the combo.

On the menu, a large combo is stated to feed 3-4 people. For our party of 8, 2 large sets felt just enough – I was comfortably full. A couple of gluts in my party probably could’ve ate more, but my suggestion for next time (if I don’t order add-ons a la carte) is to fill them up with multiple orders of dosirak, which were almost as good as they were fun to see being shaken tableside. Food-only, without tax + tip, was probably around $20/person. Even if you wanted to be a fatass, it wouldn’t be too much more. Not sure how everyone else felt about paying more than $15 for KBBQ that’s not even AYCE, but if that’s the case, they can stay home the next time I go back to Baekjeong. Haven’t been back to Park’s in ages, but it looks like I can get just as good here, for less $ even. The Blue House of K-Town is in the Chapman Plaza.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Korean Koreatown $$ A-

Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong on Urbanspoon

Seoul Sausage Company

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You know how excited I was about Seoul Sausage’s opening last week? I went on opening week (which I never do). And you know how much I liked it? I went again the very next day. Yeah, it’s pretty damn good.

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I actually went to lunch early last Thursday, to beat the crowds at Tsujita. But in beating the crowds and eating relatively fast, I got out of the restaurant a little after noon and walked right by Seoul Sausage as they were opening up. I had already planned on trying it the very next day with coworker Han, but the line wasn’t bad at all, so I figured I’d covertly take a second lunch. Got a galbi sausage and a Lil’ Osaka rice ball, and took it back to work to see what the fuss was all about. After all, these are the guys who had just won the Great Food Truck Race show on the Food Network (I’ve never watched the show, but I know plenty of people who do), and are always a hit at local food festivals.

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Let’s start with the galbi sausage. Like I told some people immediately after trying it, it tasted exactly like…galbi. That’s a pretty amazing feat. For some reason, I was afraid that all these sausages would be just plain ol’ sausages with various Korean/Asian toppings and condiments (like an Asian version of Dog Haus), and man was I ever glad to be proven wrong and then some. It was as if galbi went through the meat grinder and into a casing, which is what I’m sure it basically is. Wanted a little more char on the meat (my usual preference for cased meats finished on the grill), but all the intended flavors were on point. The “bun” was basically a mini baguette/French roll, but was soft and not dense at all as to not distract from the sausage – impressive. The Lil’ Osaka was basically a love child of an Italian arancini (fried rice ball) and a Japanese curry croquette. Very nice.

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So I did return the very next day with coworker Han, and this time I ordered the other sausage, the spicy pork, the Flaming rice ball, and a special: Da KFC (Korean fried chicken). Galbi poutine is technically on the board as a special as well, but it wasn’t available that day (nor was it available the previous day). Anyways, effort to try entire menu was accomplished in two visits. The spicy pork was basically a take on pork bulgogi in cased form, but less on the spicy side and more on the sweet side (but not as sweet as the galbi one). I liked this one better; had a better balance of flavors, was juicier, and had more char from the grill – and I already liked the galbi one quite a bit. Also, the slaw was a nice complement. The Flaming ball is their more famous variation of their two rice balls, with kimchi and cheese flavors. I liked it, though it brought back some memories of elementary school when I used to drench my Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in nacho cheese. The KFC was basically cut-up pieces of fried chicken cutlets (fried like the pork cutlets you’d find at Taiwanese restaurants – so sweet potato flour maybe?) tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce like standard KFC wings, and topped with some diced pickled radish and a nice square of Jalapeno cornbread. Not as exciting as the other menu items, but still delicious (or as Robyn would say, “the shizz”).

I can never have enough lunch options, because quite frankly there aren’t that many, but this rookie has already found playing time in the rotation. In fact, it’s in the starting lineup.

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Lil’ Osaka Ball ($3) – shoga sriracha mayo

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Galbi Sausage ($7) – kimchi relish & garlic jalapeno aioli

Visit #2:

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Da KFC ($8) – Korean fried chicken

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Flaming Ball ($3) – DMZ sauce

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Spicy Pork Sausage ($7) – apple cabbage slaw

Chris Hei grade: N/A (no official grade < 1 month of opening, but already one of my go-to lunch options after opening week)

Seoul Sausage Company

11313 Mississippi Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(310) 477-7739

Seoul Sausage Company on Urbanspoon

Gushi

Combo plate

I do not know a single UCLA student, current or former, that did not have Gushi in his or her dining out rotation while living in Westwood, and who didn’t consider it a gift from the God(s). Basically a shack operating on the side of Tomodachi Sushi just off the corner of Gayley and Weyburn, it’s common to find the place full of eager, cheap students filling up on what I consider a bastardized Korean/Japanese fast food. I finally tried the place after basketball for the first time since my last quarter at UCLA a few weeks ago, and it is filling indeed. I remember my fat ass able to put away one of these combo plates with ease back in the day, but on this day, man did I struggle. Generous portions aside, the beef/chicken at Gushi is basically what you’d find at Asian BBQs in someone’s backyard, overcooked and drenched with plenty of sauce, which for some reason is never enough for the young, carnivorous diners. And you know what? It’s still not bad, despite my developing palate. Sometimes you just can’t escape your starving college student past.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Gushi
978 Gayley Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 208-4038

Gushi on Urbanspoon

Soban

3/15/12

This was basically the 4th of 5 birthday dinners I was able to go to during the first half of March (in chronological order: Newport Seafood, Lazy Ox Canteen, Urasawa, Soban, and The Spice Table). Soban is a nondescript Korean restaurant located on the western outskirts of Koreatown – my friends (Christina, Jeannie, Jolene) who were meeting me for dinner that night appeared to have trouble finding the place. We chose Soban because this group likes Korean, and beyond the typical KBBQ and soon tofu places, of course (our same exact foursome went to Kobawoo House last time, and it was a good experience).

Not sure how popular it is to the general public now that it’s been featured quite prominently in LA Weekly due to J. Gold’s glowing review, but when we we arrived around 6:30pm or so on a Thursday it wasn’t very busy, and the clientele appear to be all Korean (a confused white guy came in by himself near the end of our dinner). The four of us got menus that had English – I believe there’s a separate menu in Korean (and has more dishes listed). We ordered four items: haemul pajeon, kimchi jjigae, mae un galbi jjim, and ganjang gaejang. The first two were simple enough to most who are familiar with Korean food. The seafood pancake and kimchi stew (which had seafood and pork belly) were fairly standard versions, but executed well. A bit weird that wasabi paste was present in the soy sauce for the pancake though.

But the other two dishes really stood out. The spicy galbi jjim, while not as good as the regular one at Seongbukdong (but lighter and sweeter IMO), was very good. While it wasn’t really spicy, the spicy flavors gave the dish another dimension. The real star, though, was the ganjang gaejang. The marinated raw crab (looks like a variation of blue crab, but not sure at all) was fresh and fully of briny flavors, with plenty of bright roe as well. An order contained two crabs, still in the shell, but cut so that the meat was easy to reach. It was so good I ordered one to-go for Eugenia and Linh-Nam. Note that you should probably eat the crab ASAP: it can get a bit salty if you let it keep soaking in the soy sauce. After finishing the meat, I ate the innards with some rice and sauce – delicious!

Service was very good, despite having only one server for most of the night. I forgot to mention that they bring out 14 different kinds of banchan. Nothing outstanding, but great variety. And they were very accommodating of the silly cake the girls made for me (of a clown – evil women). I will definitely be back, for the spicy galbi jjim, and especially the crab. Maybe I’ll try to order one of their Korean items that aren’t on the English menu as well. Just another one of the homey gems in Koreatown.

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Chris Hei grade: B+

Soban
4001 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 936-9106

Soban on Urbanspoon

Bak Kung

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A big group of us (15+) came here for the birthdays of Eugenia/Michelle (since they have the same birthday). It was more like two cliques, because each girl’s friends didn’t really know the other’s very well. Like we had cooties or something. Anyways, Michelle chose this restaurant because she thought it was still Cham Sut Gol, and they used to give birthday diners a meal on the house. But even though ownership and name changed, they gave the girls half off each. Not a bad compromise.

Basically, this is your run-of-the-mill AYCE Korean BBQ place. All of us got the mid-range option, at $20/person. Had a pretty huge variety of meats to choose from in this range, from the typical bulgogi to the more obscure intestines. Quality of the proteins was okay, but they went down my stomach well. There are plenty of better places to go for Korean BBQ, even AYCE ones, but this was not bad – can’t complain at all. Also, service here was the best I’ve seen at a AYCE Korean BBQ place, and they even speak Mandarin. So if you’re Chinese and want some star treatment, this is your KBBQ joint. Otherwise, there are too many options in the area.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Bak Kung Korean BBQ
3700 W Olympic Blvd, Ste 100
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 734-9292

Bak Kung Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

Road to Seoul

Photo credit: Food and the City

Road to Seoul was my go-to AYCE (all you can eat) Korean BBQ joint for a while. It had, in my opinion, the best compromise of price and quality. It’s about $18 per person for their basic selection, but there is a lot to choose from, amongst the choices baby octopus and pork belly. Over time, however, I think I just got bored of Korean BBQ. That’s what happens when you live near Koreatown for almost a decade. But the LA chapter of the FML + Han decided to go for Lawrence’s last meal as a LA resident earlier in the month (he moved back home to Cupertino due to new employment). We had a great time there – ordered A LOT of food and drinks. I believe we had at least five plates of pork neck, and at least eight bottles of Hite as well. Unlike the college Chris Hei, I don’t think the world of Road to Seoul now, but I was still able to have a great time there that night, and wouldn’t mind walking this Road again in the future.

Chris Hei grade: B

Road to Seoul
1230 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(323) 731-9292

Road To Seoul on Urbanspoon

Kogi

9/15/11I was driving back to work from napping at my apartment during my lunch time today, and saw the Kogi “Verde” truck on Olympic, between Sawtelle and Barrington. It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the truck at that particular location, but for some reason it was the first time I was actually intrigued. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had Kogi since they camped out near my apartment while I was at UCLA. Or maybe because it was a good chance to complete my Roy Choi holy trinity (after visiting A-Frame and Chego). But regardless, I decided to stop the car and get some Kogi, despite my widely-known apathy for the food from my previous experiences. Parking a block away, I can smell the abundance of sesame oil (which makes its presence known on everything from the truck).

Kogi SlidersKogi Sliders ($5) – short rib, sesame mayo, cheese, salsa roja and a cabbage-romaine slaw tossed in a chili soy vinaigrette on toasted buns

This was under the “Kogi Favorites” section. I only remember trying the taco, burrito and kimchi quesadilla in the past, so I figured to try something different. I thought that the sliders were pretty good. The short rib and veggie combo made this kind of reminiscent to mini tortas, with the buns soaking up the flavors quite well.

TacosTacos: Short Rib, Spicy Pork ($2.10 each) – sesame-chili salsa roja, julienne romaine lettuce and cabbage tossed in Korean chili-soy vinaigrette, cilantro-green onion-lime relish, crushed sesame seeds, sea salt

The tacos basically have the same ingredients as the sliders, or at the very least tasted as if they do. I think that’s probably my main concern with the food at Kogi (besides everything being on the saltier side and too much going on – like Chego), that it looks like the majority of the stuff have the same components, so there wasn’t much variety from dish to dish. These were not bad though, but the sliders were better.

Blackjack QuesadillaBlackjack Quesadilla ($7) – caramelized onions and spicy pork married together with cheddar and jack cheese, citrusy-jalapeño salsa verde

I also wanted to try something from the “Fan Favorites” section, as I’ve never tried any of the items from it. I decided to go with the blackjack quesadilla, since I heard the person ahead of me order it. This was probably my favorite of the three things I ordered, as the tortilla was grilled to a crisp, which reminded me of an onion pancake (although the photo on the menu looks MUCH better than above). I felt that the salsa verde was a little unnecessary though, since there was already a lot going on with the caramelized onions and spicy pork.

I wasn’t disappointed with this most recent experience with Kogi, but I did come in with fairly low expectations. And luckily the line for the truck wasn’t long at long, or else it probably wouldn’t have been worth it. I felt like the food repeated some of the same flaws I remembered from the past, but the time away has made me somewhat appreciate the fusion-y flavors, however one-note they are.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Kogi BBQ

Kogi Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

Chego

9/8/11Chego is widely regarded as Roy Choi’s brick-and-mortar version of Kogi. The food that’s served at the restaurant, however, is probably somewhere in between Kogi and Chef Choi’s other restaurant, A-Frame. Back in the day, when I lived in the Palms area (less than a month ago), Chego was within walking distance from my apartment. Still, I wasn’t really amazed after a couple of attempts. Like I said in my A-Frame post, I considered Chego to be a decent place, but ultimately it was more hype than anything else. Everything there just seemed so…salty (and I like heavy seasonings). Well, why come back then (especially after moving out of the area)?

I was on my way back to the new apartment last Thursday when I was thinking of a place to grab a quick dinner. I originally wanted to eat in the Pasadena area, since that was where I was coming back from, but couldn’t think of a worthy place near where I was at (Eugenia suggested Dog Haus, but that was actually 4-5 miles north of where I was, and I didn’t want to drive further away). While getting off the 10W (since 405N seems to get congested even around 8pm nowadays due to construction), I passed by Chego. Since it didn’t look too busy (it’s usually packed), I thought to myself “why not?”

PhotoChubby Pork Belly – kochujang-lacquered kurobuta, w/fried egg, pickled watermelon radishes, water spinach, cilantro, cotija, peanuts

I believe I ordered this on one of my former visits (probably did, since it has pork belly). It kind of reaffirmed my apathy for Chego’s food, but I have to say that this was better than how I remembered it. This time, I didn’t just taste salt and spice. Those flavors were very bold once again, but I thought there was a better balance this time around. However, it looks like there’s still too much going on in the bowl. Maybe it can be simplified a bit? Also, for pork “belly,” the meat wasn’t fatty at all. More of a pork chop cut. The fried egg and pickled radishes were a nice touch (but necessary?), though I tasted no peanuts.

PhotoOoey Gooey Fries – fries, sour cream sambal, melting monterey jack and cheddar cheese, cotija, chillies, cilantro, pickled garlic

Another item I wasn’t too crazy about in the past. Again, a better version than I had remembered. However, too much sambal oelek and sour cream in my opinion. But the flavors were very good. I particularly liked the pickled garlic, and the fries weren’t soggy at all.

It’s still a common theme for the dishes at Chego to be in-your-face with salt and spice, and each dish still has a million bold ingredients. However, I found the food on this visit to be a little more focused and better balanced. I still feel like the food here is probably a hit-or-miss, but on this visit it was more of a hit. In the end, I consider Chego a flawed restaurant that has very interesting combinations of food (however of a mess those combinations are – consider it like a Pollock painting) that is quite enjoyable from time to time.

Chris Hei grade: B

Chego
3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 287-0337

Chego on Urbanspoon

Kobawoo House

My girl friends like to gather for their “girls night out” dinner occasionally, and I am usually considered one of the girls (I’m ambivalent about that distinction, but it’s always fun hanging out with them). I was originally placed in charge by Jeannie of choosing a restaurant for our dinner last Saturday, but Christina insisted on having Korean (which actually helped the process of elimination). She and Jolene also insisted on the dinner being under $20/person. I gave Christina a couple of choices, from which she chose Kobawoo House.

I had read about Kobawoo from Jonathan Gold’s 99 Essential Restaurants list. The problem with Korean cuisine in L.A. (at least how it’s perceived) is that while the number of options are plenty, the vast majority of the options serves one of two things: all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ and spicy stews. So the nice thing about Kobawoo is that they specialize in bossam (or bosam on the menu), which is basically steamed pork wrapped in vegetables and served with accompanying condiments. We all know how I feel about pork belly, and the cuts of pork that are used in bossam contain pork belly. Time to get freaky!

Seoul MakkoliSeoul Makkoli ($11)

What Korean meal is complete without alcohol? Or better yet, Korean alcohol? Makkoli (or spelled Makgeolli) is made from fermenting rice and wheat, which gives it its milky appearance. Pretty damn good, and we definitely got our money’s worth – at least two bowls per person for our party of four).

BanchanThe banchan was okay and not very memorable. But if the banchan is the weakest part of a dinner, then I am more than fine with that (happens a lot less often than one would hope/like).

Wang BosamWang Bosam ($33)

For Kobawoo’s variation of bossam, we were able to wrap the pork in either napa cabbage or pickled radish, and eat it with various condiments. The wang option (as opposed to the regular one) also comes with steamed skate served with a spicy sauce (the bowl on top right of the plate) and pigs’ feet (photo below). One order was more than enough for the four of us, especially since we had other dishes. The pork was cooked very well, and each of the condiments tasted great with the pork. The pigs’ feet was really good too. The skate (not hongeo), while being pretty good as well, seemed out of place with the dish.

PhotoPigs’ feet (jokbal)

Haemul Pajun

Haemul Pajun ($15)

A really big seafood pancake served on a sizzling plate. It had plenty of seafood – scallop, shrimp, oyster, squid, clam. The amount of seafood, while flavorful and justifying the price, was a slight detriment to the dish because of the seafood-pancake ratio. I would’ve liked it to be more pancake-y, I suppose. But a great tasting dish nonetheless. One of their other specials along with the bossam.

Dolshot Bibimbab

Dolshot Bibimbab ($10)

Unfortunately, the bibimbap isn’t one of their specialties, and it shows. It was your traditional type served in a stone pot, with a fried egg on the side. That kind of turned me off – I prefer the raw egg cracked in the pot. Not a bad dish, but nothing special.

I thought that not only was I able to mix things up by having Korean food (I rarely have it nowadays since I don’t live near Koreatown anymore), I was able to have Korean food that didn’t fall under one of the stereotypes of the cuisine in L.A. The differences between a B and a higher grade for me is usually creativity, technique, and most importantly, execution. Kobawoo certainly isn’t creative in serving traditional Korean cuisine, and Korean techniques aren’t rooted in innovation. However, I have to say that the execution was excellent. And going by the grade scale I use, Kobawoo is definitely recommendable and better than most.

Chris Hei grade: B+

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Kobawoo House
698 S Vermont Ave, Ste 109
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 389-7300

Note: credit Daniel L. on Yelp for the first photo. Also, since price doesn’t factor into my grade, I wanted to mentioned here that Kobawoo is probably one of the best deals in town. For the amount and quality of food you get, you can be more than full for less than $20/person with tax and tip. So for people like Daniel Zhu, this place would be an A :)