Name of restaurant: Gonjiam (sometimes spelled Gon Ji Am), which is named after a neighborhood of Gwangju city in Gyeonggi-do (Gyeonggi Province), Korea.
Concept: Old school Korean restaurant that serves up a variety of soups and hot pots.
What dish represents the restaurant, and why? The budae jjigae, or "Army base stew," is brought out piled high with crown daisy sprigs, slices of Spam, wiener pennies, kimchi, ramen noodles, gochujang (fermented chile paste), baked beans and vegetables. Let it boil on your table until the noodles get cooked, and dole out spicy bowls to share with friends. You’ll have to dig for little slices of ddeok (rice cakes).
The dish got its name during the Korean War when food was so scarce the only meat available was from American GIs, who shared their rations of Spam and Vienna sausages with the war-weary Koreans. It's a nostalgic bit of history from the old country.
Runners-up: The so muhli gookbap (which literally translates to “cow head soup rice”), which is a rice-based meal served with a personal serving of beef stew. Their beef stew is boiled for a long time to bring out the deep umami flavors. The fact that it's made without MSG is even advertised in their sign outside in Korean.
Their jokbal bossam (steamed pork) is also a good dish to share. They bring out the usual Napa cabbage and seasoned radish for wrapping with the tender slices of pork.
Who's at the next table: A couple of Korean guys call out to the server to change their order once they see the budae jjigae arrive at our table. A group of twenty-something Koreans take over the whole middle of the tiny restaurant.
Appropriate for: Sharing a meal with close friends or family, especially those who aren’t afraid of Spam.
Language: The English here is limited, since the staff is used to serving a mostly Korean clientele. But don't worry — the menu has English subtitles and there are pictures of items on the wall with both English and Korean.
Service: The service here is Korean-friendly — they’ll come when you call them, but they don't really check on you. And you'll have to flag someone down to get any extra banchan (side dishes) or the bill.
What you're drinking: The usual Korean beer and soju work well with their dishes, especially if you’re not there for a jjigae hangover cure. (Because the salty, hot pots and soups are supposed to help cure a hangover.)
Info: 4653 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 469-4648, cafe.naver.com/gonjiamusa (Korean only, but there are some photos).