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

Hite Kwangjang

When I think of a Korean bar, I think of a place that’s pretty loud, not so clean, dark, and decent food. The crowd is either the ktownerz or middle-aged people drinking away. But once in a while, you’re thrown with surprises… I don’t know, maybe a family-friendly Korean bar? A clean Korean bar. A bar with mild-mannered customers. A bar with freaking great fried chicken wings in the Korean way. And they have alcohol and a bunch of tv sets as well if you’re into that kind of stuff.

I’m not much of a drinking person so I don’t frequent bars. Koreatown is famous or infamous, depends on how you look at it, for it’s night life. Yet, Mr. Koreatown right here does not know this night life. Sad, very sad. But I know a bar with great chicken wings, haha.

The chicken wings are fried to perfection. The outside is so very crisp. But be careful because these wangs are hot, temperature wise that is. It’s so hot that at first you think it’s spicy. But then you realize it isn’t and once you can get over the heat, the chicken fried perfectly dressed in that sweet sauce is amazing.  In between wings, eat the potatoes that are cooked in this sauce.  I’ve had the Korean-style fried chicken wings at a couple of other places in Koreatown, but I don’t think they come close to this.  Only place that might compare is Ogamdo on La Brea but it’s been years since I’ve been there.

I’m not sure if Labbokki is considered bar food, but here it is.  This thing was spicy.  And I can’t handle spiciness so I couldn’t quite enjoy this.  I don’t like ddukbokki in general for this very reason.  Labbokki is a mix of ddukbokki and lamyun (ramyun).  Ddukbokki is a mix of rice cakes, fish cakes, and of course gochujang (red pepper paste).  Lamyun is what most folk call ramen.

But to counter the spiciness of the labbokki was the staple of Korean bar food.  The sweet potato fries.  Thin crispy little things sprinkled generously with sugar.  You can never not order this if you’re at a Korean bar.

Hite Kwangjang
3839 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Phone: 213.384.7999

Hite Kwang-Jang 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

Hamkyungdo Abaii Soondae (Ham Kyung Do Restaurant)

Alright alright, when the Boodae Jjigae crew strikes, it’s gon’ be big.  This time it wasn’t Boodae Jjigae.  We went out for some Kimchi Jjigae; and like last time, we went to a place for Korean middle-aged men.  That’s usually where good Korean food will be served.  To add on top of that, Kimchi Jjigae wasn’t even on the menu.  And more?  You need to order it at least an hour ahead of time.  It’s overshadowed by Park’s BBQ as it is in the same strip mall.

H, CK, Dae, and goshjosh from UCLA, Juboy from Valencia, and myself were the culprits of the day.  The Kimchi Jjigae experience started off with me being in the hot seat.  While we were waiting for everyone to show up, we were waiting outside and apparently we were too loud.  An old lady from the restaurant comes out and tells us that we’re loud and we should go to the PC Game Room upstairs.  I tell her that we’re going to eat at the restaurant.  Then she starts asking all these questions, “what could you possibly eat here? how do you know we have kimchi jjigae? etc. etc.”  It seemed more like an interrogation, but my Korean held up surprisingly without a flaw and I managed to do it while keeping a smile on my face.

Maybe the old lady felt bad along with the other old ladies in there because what came next was a great time and great hospitality.  It was the six of us and I phoned in three hours earlier to order 3 servings of Kimchi Jjigae.  We ordered Soondae and also an order of Bossam.  Soondae is Korean blood sausage and that wasn’t real popular within our group.  CK and I like soondae, but I don’t think the others shared the same opinion.  Maybe it has something to do with soondae being made out of blood, but whatever.  CK also cleaned out the tongue, liver, and some other thing that was there.  I think he really likes this stuff.

I thought maybe the ladies would like the Bossam.  I don’t think that worked out either.  With Bossam, you get usually boiled pork belly or raw oysters as the meat, some fermented radish that’s marinated to be somewhat spicy, and wrap it in a huge white cabbage leaf.  I don’t too crazy over it but if it’s within reach, I wouldn’t mind wrapping myself a few.

So it seemed like the soondae and bossam wasn’t cutting it.  Then came the timely appearance of what we came for, the Kimchi Jjigae.  That Kimchi Jjigae that’s not on the menu.  That Kimchi Jjigae that you have to order ahead of time.  That Kimchi Jjigae where you need to bring your Korean A game, or at least bring someone who can speak Korean.  That Kimchi Jjigae that the old ladies put their time in to make.  Aside from the Kimchi Jjigae your mother makes, this jjigae goes somewhere up there.  They give you so much kimchi.  The pork belly that’s in there is cooked ’til it’s so tender.  The soup part of the jjigae was so hearty.  I mean, with jjigaes in most places, it feels a bit watery, but here, the jjigae was just… this is how jjigaes ought to be.

One thing is for certain, we had an atypical experience here.  I don’t think people would be greeted with “there’s a PC game room upstairs.”  The friendly service is probably typical though, not that sometimes annoying friendly service you find at the fanciest of restaurants but more of that genuine kind coming from old Korean ladies.  Maybe it was that awkward encounter in the beginning but the service turned into something you would expect from a family friend.  We got free Gyeran-mari (Korean omelette), not one but two.  And though our final bill came out to $80, the old lady told us to pay $50 because we’re students and students don’t have any money.  Where else would you be able to find such sincerity like that?

How to order: You MUST order ahead of time if you want Kimchi Jjigae.  I think it was an hour ahead of time but to be safe, do it a couple hours ahead of time.  If you can’t speak Korean, find a friend that can when placing the order.  I doubt any English is spoken here.  It’s going to cost you $11-12 per serving of Kimchi Jjigae.

Hamkyungdo Abaii Soondae (Ham Kyung Do Restaurant)
955 S Vermont Ave, Ste A
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone: 213.388.2013

Gonjiam

How can you get Trojans and Bruins to sit together and get along?  Over some bomb Boodae Jjigae.  Okay, I exaggerate the nature of this rivalry.  I guess it’s not so relevant among friends.  And maybe taunting flares up when football games, basketball games, or the Olympic games are at stake.  But it ain’t too bad.  But among strangers… I don’t understand why they would choose to go to UCLA.  It’s a true puzzle to me.

So I met up with friends from my church to get some Boodae Jjigae.  In the mix there were some Bruins (H, CK, Dae), some Trojans (P, myself), a friend all the way from Valencia (Juboy), and a soon-to-be Bruin (goshjosh).  H had a serious craving for some Boodae Jjigae after reading my post on Hanilkwan.  And judging by how serious I perceived her cravings to be, I didn’t think the Boodae Jjigae at Hanilkwan would have been able to cut it.  It was a while since I’ve been to Gon-Ji-Am but I was hoping they would pull through.  I used to live near the place and would frequent it.  And they had bomb Boodae Jjigae back then.

And it’s still damn good.  Read the post on Hanilkwan to get a description of what Boodae Jjigae is.  For the seven of us, we had two orders of 3 servings of Boodae Jjigae.  They were more generous with the spam and sausage.  They had rice cakes in there.  It was a little spicier.  And to quote what H said, “boodaejjigae hit the SPOT.”  And you know the place is good if the clientele is for the most part middle-aged Korean men (“ahjushi” in Korean).

This place is hard to find.  The sign is in the picture above in the post.  It’s on Beverly and a couple blocks west of the Beverly and Western intersection.  It’s in a small strip mall and next to some small Korean club or bar that changes its name frequently.  Right now it’s called “자전거.”

Gon Ji Am
4653 Beverly Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90004
Phone: 323.469.4648

Gon Ji Am on Urbanspoon

Hamheung Hwaegwan (Hamheung Restaurant)

Naengmyun literally means cold noodles.  The two most typical ones are Mool-naengmyun and Bibim-naengmyun.  Mool-naengmyun is the cold noodles in a cool beef broth.  Bibim-naengmyun is the cold noodles in a spicy marinade which is like a watered-down and slightly sweetened red pepper paste.

I am of North Korean descent, my paternal grandparents are from the North.  My grandfather’s hometown is Gyesong and my grandmother’s home is in the Hamgyong province (the city of Hamheung is in this province), which is way up North.  Well, apparently, the North is known for their naengmyun.  My grandmother, being from the North, loves this stuff.  The Korean food in Baltimore is not so good.  Not surprisingly, the naengmyun is bad there too.  So when my grandparents are in LA, my grandmother makes sure she eats naengmyun as often as she can.

My grandparents are in town to see my graduation ceremony this Friday.  I’ll be the first of their grandchildren to graduate from college.  They flew in for that.  So having ended school, I figured I would show them around my school.  So I gave them a little tour.  Once that was done, without fail, we went to go eat naengmyun.

I took them to Hamheung Hwaegwan; they’re known for their Hwae-naengmyun, which literally means “fish naengmyun.”  The fish they use are skates.  On a side note, eating fermented skates was one bad experience.  Anyways, the Hwae-naengmyun is marinated in an almost bibim-naengmyun-ish marinade but it isn’t as spicy.  And there is some skate in there.  If you bite into something hard, don’t fret, the bones are edible.

I don’t really like naengmyun itself.  If I get the Mool-naengmyun, it’s because I want to drink the tasty broth to cool me down.  If I eat Hwae-naengmyun, it’s because I want to eat the fish.  I find the noodles itself hard to chew and swallow.  And usually 30 minutes after finishing my meal I get hungry again.   At Hamheung Hwaegwan, I figure they do the Hwae-naengmyun right.  It wasn’t too spicy and it had a slight sweetness to it.  The noodles for naengmyun just ain’t my thing and it was no different here.  Though I did like the fish in it.  We also ordered soondae (Korean blood sausages) and I think that did most of the fill-me-up part.  This restaurant is under the same ownership as Western Soondae.  Maybe it’s my bias, but I like the soondae at Western Soondae better.

Hamheung Hwaegwan is one of the older establishments in Koreatown.   So is Dong Il Jang.  So is Jun Won.  They’re all on 8th St.  8th St. is the old school Koreatown.  6th St. is the new.

Hamheung Hwaegwan
809 S Ardmore Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90005
Phone: 213.381.1520

Ham Hung on Urbanspoon

Jeonju Hanilkwan

Boodae Jjigae.  It literally means military jjigae.  If I could compare jjigae to anything, it would be a cross between a soup and a stew.  Yet, I feel that’s inaccurate.  Some people call it a casserole, but when I think of a casserole, I think of some baked pasta which jjigae really isn’t.  I don’t like having to give “jjigae” a Westernized name.  It is what it is.  Jjigae is jjigae.  Now that I got that out of the way…

From the stories I’ve heard and from what I can deduce, Boodae Jjigae is a byproduct of the US military occupation in South Korea.  As unappetizing as it may sound, it’s pretty much scrap food if you think about it.  After the Korean War, poverty was rampant and so was hunger.  Poor Koreans scrounged up whatever they could find, leftover, spoiled sausages, spam, vegetables, etc.  Koreans love spam.  I’m no exception.  So this is the humble beginning that was Boodae Jjigae.

What Hanilkwan is known for is apparently their Boodae Jjigae.  I guess that’s why I came too.  And by looking at Yelp, it turns out Hanilkwan is pretty well known.  I guess you really can’t go wrong in making this dish.  It’s simple and it’s good… unless you don’t like spam.  Then I guess that becomes a problem.  The Boodae Jjigae here isn’t the best I’ve had, but it’s still good.  I used to frequent Gonjiam on Beverly Blvd., and I remember them making it really well but it’s been a while.  Hanilkwan is good though.

I also ordered a side of Gamja-jun.  Potato pancake?  I liked the outer parts as it had a nice crisp to it.  This usually takes longer to make.  They got to shred up the potato and that takes time.  For what it is, I thought it was a bit overpriced though.

So when you’re in the mood for some Boodae Jjigae and you’re in Koreatown, you should stop by here.  And it’s in the “happening” part of Koreatown so that’s not that bad either.  And they changed they’re sign too.  There’s English on it.  I don’t ever remember there being English on the sign.  I guess English-only folk were having trouble looking for this place.

Jeonju Hanilkwan
3450 W 6th St #106

Los Angeles, CA 90020
Phone: 213.480.1799

Chunju Han-Il Kwan on Urbanspoon

Finding my niche

For most of my life, I pronounced “niche” like so.  But last semester, while taking the introductory class for my major, International Relations, my professor drilled into our heads that it should be pronounced like this.  Strangely, I find myself pronouncing it like he does.  And to explain why I took an intro course for my major so close to graduation is a long story.

So I want to find my neeeesh.  The reason why creating a food blog first crossed my mind was because I wanted to share with friends what I knew about Korean food in Koreatown. That was my intention.  I’m no expert, but I know it well enough for my needs.  What this has become is something different.  I’m all over the place, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But knowing what my intentions were and seeing that I only have two posts on Korean food in Koreatown makes me want to get back on track and create my niche.

I’ve seen many many Los Angeles-based food blogs, and I have yet to come across one with a substantial amount of posts about Koreatown.  That will be my niche.

And I’m still going to go all over the place.

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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