With one of the largest Korean populations outside Korea, L.A.’s Koreatown makes up an important part of the city’s ethnically diverse landscape. There is a wealth of things to see and explore here, from entertainment venues to restaurants to nightlife.
The area's grocery stores and restaurants are a must. California Market has a wide variety of Korean ingredients, like gochujang (a fermented red chile condiment), kimchi, various vegetables, and prepared foods like bulgogi and japchae. Galleria Market is a larger shop, also worth a look, with similar goods at a slightly higher price. If you’re not familiar with Korean ingredients, make sure to ask a sales person for help.
If cooking is not your thing, there is no shortage of places to eat. During the day, crowds flock to KyoChon for their famous Korean fried chicken. This small fast food restaurant can get crowded later at night so it's best to go during the day or place a pick-up order. The chicken comes in two varieties: spicy and soy-garlic or you can go with a combination. Make sure to grab plenty of napkins and water as the spicy variety is really spicy. If you happen to dine in the restaurant, vanilla soft serve ice cream is free for dessert (it will cool your mouth).
One of the area’s best restaurants, Feng Mao, is known for its southern Chinese cooking. Try one of its famous skewers, such as chicken hearts or beef — or, if you're feeling especially adventurous, bull’s testicles. The waiters will help you decipher the menu and they prepare the food right at the table. You eat when the skewers are ready and they come with a variety of Korean banchan, small dishes, to supplement the meal. Make sure not to leave without ordering one of the delicious scallion pancakes.
Restaurante Guelaguetza may be in Koreatown, but it serves topnotch Oaxacan cuisine. Be sure to try one of their famous moles (black, red, coloradito, oreEstofado) and wash it down with mezcal.
Taquitos with mole are a must-try at Restaurante Guelaquetza Photo credit: Esi Impraim
For a mellow vibe with inexpensive beer and inventive bar food, Beer Belly is becoming a fast favorite in the area. The duck fat fries with duck confit, smoked salt, and raspberry mustard are the stuff that dreams are made of. iPhone users can control the soundtrack at the bar with the interactive jukebox while sampling craft beers on tap.
Not surprisingly, there's good Korean food in Koreatown, too. Known for its seafood, Wassada is not for the faint of heart. There is no set menu, just decide how much you want to spend per person and the restaurant brings out its offerings for the day which can include sashimi, rice bowls with fish roe, and trays of live octopus, live shrimp, and live lobster.
Wassada is famous for its seafood. Photo credit: Esi Impraim
There are plenty of karaoke bars in Koreatown, like Brass Monkey, where you may just spot a celebrity or two in one of the bar's private rooms. If you happen to indulge a bit too much while you are out, a number of restaurants and bars can hook you up with a free ride home. This take on a free taxi has a responsible driver taking you home in your own vehicle free of charge. You can ask any bar owner for the service or call New Courtesy cab at (323) 962-6262.