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

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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

Pollo a la Brasa

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I woke up Sunday morning a few weeks ago, eager to watch March Madness – I think it was the round of 32. Went to the fridge to see if there was anything for me to grub on while watching the games, but it was empty (Linh-Nam and I are pretty useless without Eugenia, as you all know). What to do? Order pizza at 10am? No delivery service is open at that time, and the options all suck anyways. So I went to my trusty Excel spreadsheet of restaurants to try, and saw that Pollo a la Brasa opens at 10:30am on Sunday. Normally it wouldn’t be an option, since it’s not the closest (in Koreatown), but for some reason I was craving legit roasted chicken. Maybe it’s because I always talk shit about chicken served in restaurants, and wanted to be proved wrong. Or maybe “Pollo a la Brasa” just sounded sexy that gloomy Sunday morning. Anyways, I hopped into the Hei hooptie and jet.

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Pollo a la Brasa is true to the hole-in-the-wall definition: tiny booths with faux wood tables straight outta’ a run-down diner, a light-up menu board with manually-arranged letters, and peeling walls of faded yellow. They apparently take credit cards, but it looked like the terminal was covered with dust – so pay in cash if you can (not that I don’t trust the restaurant, but rather I’m afraid that it’ll just confuse them). The first time I came a few months ago, also on a whim of sorts, the place was PACKED – the tables all filled up and with twenty-plus more waiting for to-go orders. They’re not the most organized of people in dealing with the orders, but the Spanish-speaking Japanese staff seems to handle the crowd fairly well (although I ended up not ordering since I was on my way elsewhere).

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However, Sunday mornings are a different story. Only a couple of other customers waiting for their chicken, and I was in and out in a few minutes (I highly suggest going around this time if possible). Being a fatty, I ordered a whole chicken (which lasted me a couple of meals). The whole chicken comes with two sides. From what I saw while waiting for the food, the sides are very unspectacular. A generic garden salad being packed ahead of time, and rice and beans that look like they could’ve been made by Uncle Ben. So I ended up with a double side order of fries. Not that great either, so I ended up drenching them in the aji sauce that accompanied chicken – and proceeded to cough for a minute.

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So far everything I’ve said sounds depressing, no? Shitty looking place, boring fries – a train wreck waiting to happen. But all of that went away once I had a taste of the chicken. The smokiness from the wood fire stings the nostrils right before the bite, then the nice seasoning from the skin masticates on the tongue upon the bite. As I bit through, the juices from the dark meat came bursting out. White meat was a little dry, but I find white meat EVERYWHERE dry, and it wasn’t that bad here. Skin wasn’t really rotisserie-crisp, but man, the seasoning was tasty. If I had to describe it to a normal person, I would compare this chicken to ones found a El Pollo Loco/Koo Koo Roo, if their chicken was fed with anabolic steroids, HGH, or whatever performance-enhancements there are. Or rather, if their chicken took ALL the drugs.

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Bottom line: come early (parking is much easier then too), pay cash, take it to-go. While it won’t change my perception of ordering chicken when I dine out, I really enjoyed it here (although everything else is meh). Arguably the best roasted chicken in LA, no joke. And from a whole-in-the wall joint, no less. A whole chicken can provided at least two happy meals for less than $20. Now if they only served it with a side of chicken…

Chris Hei grade: B+

Pollo a la Brasa Western
764 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 387-1531

Pollo a la Brasa- Peruvian Wood Rotisserie Chicken 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

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 :)

Pho Western

I normally would never eat pho anywhere west of Downtown, but we wanted to go somewhere easy and filling after watching X-Men: First Class, and the only person who voiced an opinion about where to go was Mr. TTH himself Justin. And apparently he loves Pho Western. This guy even went by himself one night recently (and he lives near Santa Monica). The only thing I love about Pho Western is the fact that it’s open 24 hours, but so is Pho Citi, and I hate that place with a passion.

In high school, I used to visit these 24 hour, Korean pho places every so often, because of the proximity (I lived near Koreatown) and the hours of operation. They’re cheap, decent places. But to call the bowls these places serve pho is another story. The broth is basically a beef or chicken stock of sorts with maybe a tablespoon of fish sauce at the most. Basically a glorified wonton noodle soup in my opinion. The slices of beef were less than satisfactory, overcooked as well, which means that this is the only time I’ll actually use plum sauce for pho (I usually like to eat it au naturel). However, if I was nearby and not feeling too well, going to Pho Western wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Chris Hei grade: C

Pho Western
425 S Western Ave, Ste A
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 387-9100

Note: credit Ellen C. of Yelp for the first photo.