Kang Hodong Baekjeong
3465 W 6th St, Ste 20
Los Angeles, CA 90020
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.
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.
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.