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Food

101 Best Restaurants: Eat your way through Koreatown

Braised cod from Jun Won in Koreatown.
Braised cod from Jun Won in Koreatown.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

[Looking for the 2019 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. list? Look no further.]

Koreatown, one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Los Angeles, boasts an impressive array of restaurants serving some of the most exciting food in the city.

Here, in this neighborhood of 120,000-plus residents, you’ll certainly find the best Korean food outside of the motherland. But it doesn’t end there.

From one of the best French restaurants in L.A. to a local landmark of Oaxacan cuisine, these are the Koreatown restaurants that made our 101 Best Restaurants list.

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The official L.A. Times list of the 101 best restaurants in Los Angeles, curated by our restaurant critics.

14. Here’s Looking at You

At first glance, Jonathan Whitener’s menu might jangle the brain. “Bone marrow, yuzu, green peppercorn, red onion, parsley, perilla” abuts “turkey tails, harissa, white bbq, parsley,” which bumps into “frog’s legs, salsa negra, scallion, lime, s&p.” Many ingredients, much splicing of cultures. His cooking is like Los Angeles in this regard and, to the point, has a beautiful cohesion. His dishes click. — B.A.

3901 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, 90020, hereslookingatyoula.com

The Holstein rib-eye at the Koreatown restaurant Here’s Looking at You.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

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In a Times op-ed a few weeks ago, the architect Thom Mayne suggested Koreatown as a candidate for future hyperdensity, doubling the population of what is already the most densely populated neighborhood in Los Angeles.

26. Le Comptoir

Dinner at Le Comptoir begins with a short preamble from chef Gary Menes, who stands behind the 10-seat chef’s counter inside the Hotel Normandie and explains the structure of the menu, the provenance of the ingredients (most of the vegetables are grown at his organic garden in Long Beach) and the virtues of the carefully sourced, single-origin coffees available at the end of the meal. Then Menes turns up the music — everything from vintage jazz to Jay-Z — and gets to work. What follows next is a procession of beautifully calibrated courses, centered around vegetables. You can supplement your meal with lobster or grass-fed beef, but Menes’ California-French cooking is most mesmerizing when he is extracting maximum flavor out of a sugar snap pea or slice of peach. — P.I.E.

3606 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, 90020, lecomptoirla.com

The vegetable and fruit plate at Le Comptoir.
(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
When you walk down 6th Street in Koreatown about a quarter to nine some night, perhaps on your way to an early cocktail at the Walker Inn or a late cheeseburger at Cassell’s, you are likely to run across an odd scrum of people lining the sidewalk outside the Hotel Normandie, not quite all of whom happen to be sporting important eyewear or $400 sneakers.

33. Sun Nong Dan

Much of the menu at this Koreatown darling, open 24 hours every day, focuses on variations of sullungtang, the cloudy, vitality-restoring soup made from slowly simmering beef bones. But the impatient crowds milling outside its strip-mall façade at noon or 6 p.m. aren’t here for a hangover cure. Most have come, friends in tow, for the galbi jjim, a crimson hill of short ribs, gochugaru-flecked potatoes and chewy rice cakes that easily feeds four. The stew is a miracle. It soothes, it burns, it satisfies, it exhilarates, and it will make you look like an Instagram baller. — B.A.

3470 W. 6th St., Suite 7, Los Angeles, 90020

Galbi jjim, a short rib stew, at Sun Nong Dan in Koreatown.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Lucas meets with comedian Margaret Cho and Eater’s L.A. editor Matthew Kang to explore some of the city’s best Korean food, ranging from kimchi pancakes to spicy Korean chicken wings.

46. Jun Won

Jun Won has been a fixture in Koreatown for so long that its greatness is easily taken for granted. The restaurant migrated to an upgraded space about three years ago, but its obscure new address, tucked into the rear of a Western Avenue strip mall, hasn’t dimmed its popularity. The dinner crowds keep coming, especially for seafood specialties like the braised cod; the fish’s ultra-tender flesh melts beautifully into its intensely garlicky red pepper broth. There is an excellent scallion pancake bursting with plump oysters; a dish of pan-fried mackerel plays up the dish’s warm, fishy notes. Don’t miss the bossam, a resolutely traditionalist take on the dish: a tower of sliced pork belly flanked with piles of raw garlic, sliced jalapeños, a thicket of pungent radish kimchi and a stack of napa cabbage leaves. — P.I.E.

414 S. Western Ave., Suite B, Los Angeles, 90020, jun-won-restaurant.cafe-inspector.com

Braised cod from Jun Won.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
Fresh produce, fish and expert seasoning by owner Jung Ye Jun make this eatery worth seeking out.

76. Soban

At the western edge of Koreatown, Soban feels far removed from the district’s barbecue specialists, karaoke bars and sullungtang parlors. The dining room is tranquil and genteel. The only thing over-the-top is the banchan presentation: A flotilla of 20 or so of the tiny side dishes covers your table when you sit down. The ganjang gejang, raw blue crab marinated in an herb-infused soy sauce, is on many tables for good reason: It’s impossible to resist sucking every last salty-savory clump of marinated flesh from the tangle of shells. — P.I.E.

4001 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, 90019, sobanla.com

A spread of banchan along with galbi jjim at Soban.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
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90. Park’s BBQ

Inside the dark halls of Park’s BBQ, you arrive at a sleek dining room where the defining feature is the scent of grilled beef. The initial sensory shock of the aroma combined with the enveloping cloud of grilled beef smoke leaves a stark impression: You have arrived at a meat palace. Park’s BBQ is one of the higher-end Korean BBQ restaurants in Los Angeles, a place where the tabletop grills are laden with impressively well-marbled slabs of beef. The banchan, which changes regularly, is bigger and fresher than the competition. — P.I.E.

955 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 90006, parksbbq.com

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Ribeye steak grills at a table with a variety of banchan at Park’s BBQ.
(Bret Harman / For The Times)

98. Guelaguetza

Guelaguetza is the spiritual home of Oaxacan cooking in Los Angeles, a restaurant that preaches the gospel of mole. On any given weekend, its cavernous Koreatown dining room is a welter of live music, futbol watch parties and michelada-soaked Mexican brunches. Start with an order of the chapulines, fried grasshoppers crisped in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Or try one of the restaurant’s terrific, pizza-sized tlayudas, gilded with toppings like chorizo, scrambled eggs, epazote leaves and queso fresco. The essential order is the festival de moles, a sampler furnished with a smoke-tinged coloradito variety; the fiery rojo mole; the bold estofado; and the most enigmatic mole of them all, the mole negro. — P.I.E.

3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, 90006, ilovemole.com

A tray of food leaves the kitchen at Guelaguetza in Koreatown.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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