The mall issue: Koreatown Plaza

Los Angeles Times

Location: 928 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles. From the 10 Freeway, take the Western Avenue exit and head north.

Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.

What you'll find: A quick drive by Koreatown Plaza won't yield a lot of information. It sits like a monolith on Western Boulevard, between 9th and San Marino streets, offering few clues to what's inside. Three floors of shops face inward, with second- and third-floor walkways overlooking a low-key courtyard area on the first floor. The plaza is not exactly architecturally distinguished, but it avoids the gloom of many indoor facilities thanks to enormous skylights topping the structure. Floors two and three are dedicated, primarily, to the art of style, whether it's beauty, clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry or eyeglasses. Several boutiques sell designer clothing and accessories for women. Other stores cater to a younger crowd and feature jerseys to drape the sleekest of frames or cute accessories or snowboarding and skateboarding fare. Most of the shops are small to medium in size, except for the Plaza Market selling groceries on the first floor and a handful of stores that sell goods and appliances for the home.

Vibe: On a Friday afternoon, the mall is quiet with only a few well-groomed shoppers on floors two and three; women stroll alone or with a friend. A few couples walk by. After 3 p.m., schoolgirls, backpacks in tow, start to make an appearance. Activity picks up on the first floor with families headed off to the grocery store, a large food court and the Bosco Bakery Cafe.

Survival strategies: Koreatown Plaza sits on a densely populated street in a densely populated part of Los Angeles. For those who relish a quiet experience, visits during the week, before rush hour, are advisable. Enter the parking lot on the north side of the building (on 9th Street) and remember to get your pass validated at a store inside for three hours of free parking.

Take a break: Much of the first floor is devoted to food, and the atmosphere at this level is livelier (and slightly darker — the second level of the plaza is at street level so the first level is in the basement). The sprawling food court features sushi, pho, noodles, dumplings, rice cakes, soondae (blood sausage), tofu and porridge. The Bosco Bakery Cafe serves up breads and rolls, cakes, pastries, doughnuts and sandwiches, and business is brisk on a Friday afternoon.

Nearby: El Cholo, near 11th and Western, is an old-time hangout for Angelenos, many of whom stop for Mexican food after a USC or UCLA football game. And if you haven't shopped enough, the Koreatown Galleria is a short walk away on Olympic Boulevard.

Impressions: Koreatown Plaza is a different kind of mall experience — and that's the reason to go. Not surprisingly, it caters to the locals: Korean Americans and Koreans. Sales clerks are as lovely and sleek as most of the clients; their manner is helpful but unobtrusive. Displays matter — racks aren't jammed with garments and in one moderately priced store I observe a clerk steaming the nonexistent wrinkles from a long gray cardigan. It's not exactly the anti-mall, but it's unlikely you'll be reminded of your usual haunts as you explore.

—Alice Short

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