Hamjibahk

If you didn’t know, I am currently trying to be an Officer in the Marine Corps. I was required to go to Officer Candidate School (OCS) prep weekend at the School of Infantry in Camp Pendleton from 4/22-4/25.

It was supposed to be a little taste of what OCS would be like. I haven’t been selected for OCS yet but I still had to go. Of the food we ate, they gave us only ten minutes to eat our Meal-Ready-to-Eat (MRE) for every meal. These MREs weren’t as bad as I was expecting. But they had that kind of cardboard-y taste and it totally sucked if you got a horrible meal. For the most part, I got some decent ones and hunger made anything taste good. But as I was eating, I couldn’t help but think to write a post about these MREs. I was thinking of how much I like to post about all the nice things I eat back home but there I was eating this military ration.

When I got back home yesterday from Camp Pendleton at around 1:00pm, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some REAL food, not food that has a three year shelf life. Though I had to pass on lunch, I went with my parents to Hamjibahk for dinner. I couldn’t be any happier to eat some samgyupsahl (pork belly)! Hamjibahk is a fairly well known place for their pork. They started out on Pico and somewhere near Crenshaw and they initially catered to the middle-aged Korean men. And it later grew and grew more popular among a more diverse group of people. So much so that a second location was created on 6th Street, the young and vibrant part of Koreatown.

The owner is usually at the Pico location but it closes on Sundays and she’s over at the 6th Street location then. Apparently, my dad frequents the Pico location and apparently the owner knows him. Nice old lady!

We ordered the black pig pork belly from Jejudo. Jejudo is quite known for their pork but because they were from Jejudo, they were frozen. It’s strange that I don’t like bacon, but I love samgyupsahl. With samgyupsahl, you need some good kimchi to go along with it. The kimchi needs to be ripe, the riper it is the better. Also important is the grill. You do not want grills with holes in the middle, the best are the ones that are huge lids. You want all that oil to trickle down the surface of the lid so you can grease up the kimchi and cook it in the oil from the pork belly. Strategically put the kimchi below the pork and the kimchi should be cooked until it is golden brown and has some burn marks. Flip it over and do the same for the other side. Kimchi that is cooked but dry because it wasn’t cooked in the oil is no good. And for kimchi, I recommend the fatter part of the cabbage, not the leafy part. You shouldn’t just dump the kimchi on there, treat it like you do the meat.

It’s hard to find a good combination of it all. At one point, Hamjibahk did not have good kimchi. That was a downer because their pork was awesome. Saebyukjip in Chapman Plaza on 6th Street had super-ripe kimchi and pretty good pork but they closed down. Kkool Dwaeji, incorrectly referred to as “Honey Pig”, was probably the spot with the best combination of the grill, pork, and kimchi after Saebyukjip closed. But now, Hamjibahk has kimchi that’s a whole lot better for the purposes of grilling so it is now my go-to spot for samgyupsahl. They have the trifecta.

But in addition to good samgyupsahl, they have amazing “Dwaeji galbi” (pork ribs). Dwaeji galbi is probably what they are most known for actually. It’s not overly sweet. The pork is great. And the portions are definitely generous. This is probably as good as it’s going to get in Koreatown.

For the pork variant of Korean BBQ, come to Hamjibahk. You really wouldn’t need to go anywhere else.

Pictures taken a while back… the kimchi wasn’t good then.  But now you don’t need to worry about that.

Hamjibahk
3407 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
Phone: 213.365.8773

Ham Ji Park on Urbanspoon

Park Daegam-nae (Park’s BBQ)

I love the name… Daegam.  The dictionary says it means “his excellency.”  All I know is that the title was used to address the elder statesmen of the Chosun Dynasty.  Chosun had many problems of its own but for some reason, I always find myself romanticizing that time period.  Just imagining myself in the silk garb with the traditional hat to match, walking with my hands locked behind my back.  Hey, a guy can dream can’t he?

Anyways, Park Daegam-nae is a great name literally meaning “Mr. Park’s place.”  Such a simple and great name.  The quality of the food there matches the high standard that the name might bring.  The food is excellent and so is the service.  When people ask where the best place for Galbi is in Koreatown, I direct them here.  I’ll be honest with you, I was not too crazy over galbi until I came here my junior year in high school.  I fell for it.  Mr. Park made me fall for galbi.  The unmarinated and marinated galbi are great, though for those with a more American palate, I recommend the marinated galbi.  In addition to great meats, Park’s has a great assortment of banchan and some great jjigae.

Lately, they have been skimping a bit on the quantity, but it’s still good here.  And like most Korean barbecue establishments with the exception of the all-you-can-eat places, the price for gogi is high.  But if you were to choose from all the other places in Koreatown for some good galbi, Park’s is where I think you should go.  Yes, this is taking into consideration “Chosun Galbee.”  Yes, this is taking into consideration “Soot Bull Jeep,” though I have to say, Soot Bull Jeep is pretty darn good too.  But the elder statesman when it comes to galbi in Koreatown is Mr. Park.

Park Daegam-nae (Park’s BBQ)
955 S. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone: 213.380.1717

Park's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Choiganei

With most all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ places, I don’t go in with very high expectations and I go in expecting the goal is not so much to enjoy the meat but to find myself full. It’s rare to come across an all-you-can-eat place that I like. And not surprisingly, only one all-you-can-eat place tops my list of favorites for Korean BBQ, and that one place is up there not because of their meat. And for the most part, it’s the previously-not-so-popular-on-the-verge-of-closing-down places that are the most popular all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ restaurants.

Now that I set a negative tone, let me turn it to a positive one. Choiganei is an all-you-can-eat place that I would recommend. What turns me off most about all-you-can-eat places is not so much the food as it’s not usually not too bad, but it’s the service. These places are usually bombarded with requests for more “Ssam” made with “Dduk” (rice wraps) and you usually get unenthusiastic servers with pissed off looks on their faces with attitudes that follow. Choiganei doesn’t have that. If they have the patience to accommodate seven people for two hours without being pissed off, or at least not expressing it, they probably will do the same for other groups. Yes, TWO hours. It was kind of disgusting.

As far as the food goes, ordering the Chadol Bagi (brisket) is usually standard. Thinly sliced cuts of meat with a nice piece of fat on it. It cooks fast, it’s soft, and people say it goes well with the Dduk. On a side note, this whole wrapping the meat in Dduk business is a Los Angeles Koreatown thing, not an authentic Korean thing. It’s still good, but I prefer the true Korean way of Ssam…  get a nice big leaf of sangchu (cabbage), kkaetneep (perilla leaf), a spoon of rice, meat, and ssamjang… wrap it all and then stuff it in your mouth.  You can show your affection for your significant other by wrapping one for him or her and hand feeding him or her.  I digress, the meat at Choiganei is good.  They also give you complimentary gaeranjjim (steamed egg) and a never ending bowl of dwaenjang jjigae (bean paste jjigae).  At the end you can get a bowl of naengmyun too.  All for a grand total of $14.99+tax… I mean, can you really complain?

Enter through the back on a small side street called Ingraham which is parallel to Wilshire.  It’s on the same block as the Noraebang-turned-Wilshire BBQ with medieval decor-turned overpriced Tahoe Galbi turned-all-you-can-eat behemoth Tahoe Galbi.

Choiganei
3916 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Phone: 213.382.8858

Chweh Ga Neh Korean BBQ on Urbanspoon

Dong Il Jang

One question I don’t like is, “What’s a good Korean restaurant?” I kind of dig that I’m being asked that, but to me, that’s such a general question. I like it when it’s specific like “Where can I find good Galbi?” or “Where can I find good Sullung-tang?” or “Where can I find some good (fill in the blank)?” Though a friend did stump me once when he asked “Where can I find good Gamja-tang?” To cut myself some slack, I DID know of a place, but it was so long since I’ve been there to know if they still had good Gamja-tang. Plus, the parking there is horrendous. I digress. Though I find the what’s-a-good-Korean-restaurant question a bit too general for my liking, I’ll probably still respond and I’ll probably respond with this answer: “Dong Il Jang.”

Dong Il Jang is good; they just do a good job overall and it’s very consistent. They might not have the best Galbi in town, but it’s still good Galbi. They might not have the best Chadol-Baegi in town, but it’s still good Chadol-Baegi. They might not have the best Eundaegu-jorim in town (see Jun Won), but it’s still pretty darn good. But I suppose Dong Il Jang has a specialty as well. It’s called “Roast-Gui.” To be honest, I don’t know what cut of cow this is. And the meat isn’t seasoned at all. But I sure do like the taste of meat and that butter on the grill pan sure helps. They do give some sesame oil with salt and pepper in it for you to dip the meat in and also some sort of green onion salad,if you will, to eat along with the meat. I don’t go too crazy over the oil as well as this salad. They do have this other salad made of lettuce that comes as ban-chan (side dish) with some dressing on it and I replace my green onion salad with that. Just simply ask for more of it and they’ll get you some for yourself.

Once you’re done with the meat, the waitresses come along with this mixture of kimchi and some cut up pieces of the Roast-gui. They dump it on to that grill pan you were cooking your meat on. By this time you’d have all sorts of oily goodness on the grill pan and they start making kimchi fried rice once that kimchi mixture gets cooked somewhat. Mmm Mmm Mmm~! That fried rice is freaking awesome. What’s more awesome is when you start scraping off the scorched rice from the grill. We Koreans call that “noo-roong-ji.” There’s a technique to this. Get your spoon and drag the grill pan into the corner of the grill pit(?). You’ll know it when you see it. This will hold the grill pan steady and scrape away with the spoon. For me it’s a gold mine. That rice is good but that stuff on the bottom is better.

My goodness, I love this place.

Dong Il Jang
3455 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Phone: 213.383.5757

Dong Il Jang on Urbanspoon

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