Koreatown may not be LA's destination for its many around-the-clock coffee shops or dive bars (diamonds in the rough, if you ask us). But while K-town's unsung gems are have yet to be discovered by Angelenos, the neighborhood's Korean BBQ is known the city over. DIY, grill-your-own meat is as much part of the experience as brute waitresses and smoke-filled dining rooms that range from posh to straight hole-in-a-wall. Grill up varying meats from pork belly to marinated short rib, but beer is a staple. The best part? This group-friendly dining is a meal deal, leaving plenty more change in your pocket to explore the rest of the 'hood.
RECOMMENDED: Koreatown neighborhood guide
Angelenos may be divided on their favorite Korean barbecue spot in this city, but Park's seems to be the one unifying constant. The quality meat and tried-and-true flavors always hit the spot. The vibe is more upscale with bright, modern furnishings and lines are never too bad with a sprawling bi-level dining room. And for novices, English is the norm here, while parking is never dreaded with convenient, on-site valet.
The sign says "Korean Black Angus" and that's just what you should order at Chung Ki Wa. Order up rib-eye marinated, sliced or bone-in; either way, carnivores can get their fill. Prices are reasonable, especially considering the full spread of banchan and attentive, friendly service. Cook on the flat top, but if you must, the kitchen can also do the cooking for you. And to pair, do as the regulars do: Pair your beef order with nengmyun, cold buckwheat noodles.
If Park's is where locals go, then Chosun Galbee is where to bring the parents and out-of-towners. This Koreatown spot offers an upscale setting with outdoor seating and—gasp—smokeless grills. With the more modern vibe, the food leans on the less traditional side with less-is-more approach to food and array of side banchan dishes. Wine by the glass and bottle add to the posh dining experience, while private rooms can be booked ahead for large parties.
Chapman Plaza is buzzing and lines of people are waiting to get into this celeb-owned Korean BBQ spot. Named after Korean comedian Kang Hodong, this casual eatery doesn't disappoint with top-notch barbecue beef and a raging (as in don't expect to have quiet banter with your date) good time. Groups file in around the open grill that's outfitted with side pockets of roasting corn, kimchi and egg. Start with the house specialty: the lunch box is a kimchi rice mix served in a tin box to share. It's all about group dining here so get into the spirit and fire it up.
Forget the usual Korean BBQ joints. For those suffering from kalbi fatigue can fill up on samgyupsal aka pork belly. And if that wasn't enough, eight different marinades—hence the restaurant's name meaning "eight colors"—give enough variety to tired tastebuds. Original and miso paste to curry and wine-flavored swine is cooked on the flat top alongside a seafood soup. The meal ends with kimchi fried rice cooked directly in the soup bowl, making this a three-in-one meal.
This OG Koreatown spot is a little fancier and pricier than other BBQ restaurants in K-town, but the charm and quality has been unchanged for decades. Original leather booths are stacked in the calligraphy wallpapered dining room, and a back tatami seating area gives an authentic, timeless feel. The order here is the roastgui, thinly sliced rib-eye, cooked with butter on a flat top. Plenty of tasty banchan fill out the table, but, if that wasn't enough, the best is yet to come: The meal is finished with a kimchi and beef fried rice that's cooked directly on the grill. Fight the urge to pick from the bottom of the pan, while it's cooking—the crispy rice is worth the wait.
There's no avoiding it: Soot Bull Jeep gets smoky and the grilled meat fumes will permeate everything and stick...for a week. Brave diners (and seasoned 'cuers in the know) file into this hole-in-the-wall spot for some of the best BBQ in town. Though the setting is drab and the side banchan is minimal, the star is the charcaol grill, giving marinated kalbi or whole squid a nice smoky char.
Don't be put off by the location—a dingy plaza in the far reaches of Koreatown. The long lines (expect at least an hour wait or book a week ahead) will tell you that you're in the right place. Inside, the dining room is more modern with a mixed crowd of locals and newbies. Combination plates of meat are a good place to start for first-timers, while a smorgasbord of banchan appease veterans. The meat's top-notch and the service attentive for the perfect gateway restaurant into Korean BBQ or more a fancier night out in K-town.