Bibimbap is so ubiquitous on Korean restaurant menus that it's almost impossible to single out just one. Adding to the complications — as with so many other dishes in Korean cuisine — there are several varieties. Of course, so much depends on personal taste. Do you like your bowl to be sizzling? Egg or no egg? Seafood or meat? Spicy or mild?
The most popular is the dolsot bibimbap (dolsot = stone pot, bibim = mixed, bap = rice), served in a flaming-hot stone bowl, seasoned and lightly greased with a thin layer of sesame oil. Usually a raw egg is cracked into it just before serving. The pot cooks the egg and crisps the rice to a perfect golden brown crust on the outside. Toppings can be almost anything: mixed vegetables, meat or seafood. Diners can add as much gochujang (fermented chile paste) as they wish.
The Korean name for the restaurant is Jeonju Dolsot, which should tell you everything you need to know. Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla province in South Korea, is famous for its bibimbap. Most of its bibimbap is served in that signature black pot. You can't go wrong with its galbi dolsot, in which cubes of beef are added to the bowl of sizzling goodness.
2716 W. Olympic Blvd., No. 1 (inside J Plaza), Los Angeles, (213) 386-5678.
Although most people come here for the barbecue (the restaurant does have a silhouette of a cow on its sign), those in the know order its simple bibimbap. No frills and served in a plain white bowl, it comes with a fried egg and the usual banchan (side dishes).
3545 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 737-0809.
Tucked in the food court of the Koreatown Plaza, this unassuming joint serves some of the best and cheapest bibimbap this side of Seoul. So it's no surprise that it's the busiest food stand in there. Of their five varieties, the most unusual is the haemul dolsot (seafood stone pot) bibimbap, which is chock-full of seafood cooked in a sweet and spicy gochujang sauce.
928 S. Western Ave., No. 129 (inside Koreatown Plaza's food court), Los Angeles, (213) 387-5581.
This upscale barbecue restaurant, a little bit outside the fluid boundaries of Koreatown, serves more than 20 tiny banchan and delicious bibimbap. Although it may not be the best bargain in town (you'll pay extra for the atmosphere and the cute hostesses), its menu and waiters are friendly to English speakers.
5115 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 549-0760.