On the second floor space in a strip mall where the Brown Derby used to stand, this branch of a Cajun-Vietnamese chain greets diners with a red and white-striped lighthouse, wall-climbing “alligator,” faux great white shark head and dining room lined with cans of beers past. But the kitsch is all part of the experience. Step 1: What’s Your Catch? Select from blue crab, oysters, Dungeness crab, crawfish or shrimp, all sold by the pound. Step 2: What’s Your Flavor? The whole sha-bang is presented in a plastic bag “to preserve the flavors” of Ragin Cajun, lemon pepper or garlic sauce. Step 3: How Spicy Can You Go? Opt for Non-Spicy (plain n’ simple), Mild (just a kick), Med (It’s getting’ HOT in here!) or XXX (I can’t feel my mouth!). For newbies, start with crab, particularly if Dungeness ($16 per pound) is available. Helpful staffers provide a big shell cracker, a blue seafood spear and big plastic bib. Crack, eat and repeat.
Bulrocho is one of a handful of Koreatown restaurants that specialize in black goat stew. And with its doors open 24/7, it’s just as easy to order the hearty, lean red meat dish for lunch as it is after a night in the club. The name translates from Korean as “good for health,” so feel good about digging into the stew ($32-$70), cooked in the kitchen and presented on tabletop grills. The pot holds stewed goat meat and skin with scallions, enoki mushrooms and sesame leaves. Dress your relatively mild goat meat with a dish of soy sauce with garlic, onion and jalapeno; and "goat sauce" made of garlic, scallions, chile paste, whole grain mustard, vinegar and a few spoonfuls of broth. To end, the server will add rice to the stew, along with nori, sesame oil and kimchi for a goat-tastic fried rice.
Koreatown's seafood barbecue joint, Jae Bu Do, pays homage to the East China Sea serving its edible bounty in waves at the table. Go with one of the bang-for-your-buck combo sets—even the basic A set is enough to feed a family—that begins with airy, scallion-flecked steamed egg, crisp-edged scallion pancakes, sizzling creamed corn and a heaping bowl of chile-soaked shrimp and snapper ceviche. From there, DIY grill options include sea scallops and mussels on the half shell, whole clams both big and small that pop ready on the grill, large shell-on shrimp, spicy red chile paste–slathered octopus tentacles and plump, foil-wrapped oysters on the half shell. Upgrade to a B or C set to score creatures like abalone, which writhe alive in their shells before yielding tender meat after cooked. Wind down the seafood feast with a comforting (and nonetheless generously-sized) cauldron of chicken soup with vegetables and hand-cut noodles.
Twin cutouts of a smiling Kang Ho-Dong (as in the Korean celeb, duh) greet diners at this Chapman Plaza restaurant. The South Korean actor and former wrestler has translated his showmanship to the restaurant biz at this Korean BBQ spot featuring stainless steel hoods, hubcap shaped grills and high-energy music. The ingeniously designed grill is ringed by a moat that holds kettle-poured egg, corn cheese, kimchi and vegetables that cook with the DIY barbecue meat. Groups should start with beer and invest in pair of combos. Beef Combo (small, $45) consists of marinated prime boneless short rib, thinly sliced brisket, Prime rib eye and a choice of pungent bean stew or spicy kimchi stew. Pork Combo (small, $40) showcases pork neck, seared pork belly, thinly sliced pork belly and the same choice of stews.
The best reason to “gather everyone in house,” a rough translation of this K-town spot, is for duck. Call four hours ahead for the whole roast duck ($60) cooked inside an egg-shaped clay oven with a savory stuffing of glutinous purple five-grain rice, ginkgo nuts, seeds, sweet potato, chestnuts and walnuts. Charcoal grilled duck skewers ($24) are another great option. Dip the crispy skinned, rosy meat in salt and pepper or soy sauce with spicy mustard. Dha Rae Oak has a sizeable menu of Korean comfort food classics including knife-cut noodles. Wheat, red bean and sweet potato noodles combine with cucumbers, daikon, scallion, clams and chewy meongge (sea squirts) in the perfect duck supplement.
Set back from Western Ave, Jimmy and wife Yume Han have developed Koreatown’s most consistently impressive craft beer program. The Beer Belly family hosts monthly “One Night Stands” with leading local breweries, but even on other nights, the menu touts tantalizing options and the dual patios so welcoming, you’ll want to linger for hours. Menu categories include drinking-friendly Munchies, Share and Belly Busters, so expect duck fat fries—try it topped with cracklings and confit in the Death by Duck—pork belly “chips” with smoked salt, sweet onion sugar and Tabasco aioli; four cheese and bacon grilled cheese; and beer-battered catfish. Pair with a fridge and tap full of craft beer, and you’ll have no choice but to stay.
This two-story palace of beef features an AYCE (that’s “all you can eat”) Korean barbecue, which rise above the rest in K-town. For "Premium BBQ," the $25 price tag is quite reasonable: You'll get bottomless options of well-marble short rib, lean Kobe beef tongue and large shrimp. The ‘cue cooks on tabletop grills and comes with slippery rice wrappers, seasoned sesame oil, fermented bean paste, raw garlic, jalapenos and moderately spicy chile paste. Be sure to come hungry as Oo-Kook actually charges $12 for any leftovers. Really, though, after all this consumption, and hopefully several glasses of beer or soju, everybody will leave the restaurant well sated.
M Grill invites hungry Angelenos to experience traditional Brazilian cuisine. The fixed price menu ($27 lunch; $47 dinner) offers nineteen different cuts of lamb, beef and pork hand-carved in front of diners by waiters onto each plate. A salad buffet is filled with rice, salads, beans, salsa and vegetables to round out the Brazilian experience and fill your plate. Wine lovers can swoon over the 3,000+ bottle list, but the main focus at this steakhouse is, of course, the meat. Word to the wise: Ask for the caramelized, grilled pineapple to help digest in between plates...and elastic-waisted pants aren't a bad idea either.
If we were to play a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” in Koreatown, Isaan Station would inevitably be the goose. Porapat Neungjumrong’s northern Thai restaurant so clearly stands out in a sea of its Korean neighbors. The modern space in the Western Ave plaza includes one room with plaid booths and banquettes, and a second with a large communal table, both group-friendly options. The food nods toward Isaan, a region in northeast Thailand known for its fiery dishes. Dishes like kaemg khew ($9.95), a chicken and bamboo shoot salad soaked in green curry, seems to pack extra punch, while dtub waan ($7.95) cranks up the funk with pork liver bathed a piquant sauce of red onion, lime, rice powder and mint.