A chef expands his spicy seafood soup empire to Koreatown

Name of restaurant: Lee Mangu Kyodong Jjamppong — or Kyodong Jjamppong, for the sake of brevity. 

Chef/owner:  Lee Mangu is a chef famous in Korea for his Chinese Korean jjamppong restaurants, which started in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. Mangu taught 10 people the methods and retired from the business. But then he returned — apparently he wasn't happy with the way others were doing things — and is expanding all over Korea.

Concept: Now Mangu is hoping to expand in the U.S. as well, and opened his first location here on the second floor food court of Koreatown's City Center on 6th Street in March. (He's hoping to expand to more locations in L.A. soon.)  The sign is only in Korean, and the food court is tucked away in an unobtrusive corner of the shopping mall.

What dish represents the restaurant: There's a reason the namesake jjamppong (spicy seafood soup) is No. 1 on the menu. The soup has a complex flavor underneath the spicy chile-oil loaded exterior. The generous bowl brims over with shrimp, mussels, clams and squid. The proprietors claim to have captured the original flavor by importing the chile powder (gochu galu) and dried shrimp from Korea. For a different texture, order it with soon dubu (soft tofu) instead of the usual fat noodles.

Runner-up: The mangu jjajang (black bean noodles) have a satisfyingly rich meaty flavor. A simple dish, it's perfect for a quick workday lunch.

Who's at the next table: Korean salarymen on their lunch breaks. In the midst of the din, you can also make out Korean ajummas (middle-aged women) trading gossip over a quick meal before finishing their shopping at Zion Market downstairs.

Problematic: This is messy food that tends to splatter. Don't wear white. 

Service: Just like the food courts on the bottom floors of Korean department stores, service consists of calling out your number when your order is ready.

What you're drinking: Coke, Diet Coke or a glass of the self-served water, since the place doesn't have a liquor license.

Info: 3500 W. 6th St., No. 225, Los Angeles, (213) 384-1716.

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