I can’t make a visit to Los Angeles without visiting Koreatown. As much as I hate to admit it, the Bay Area has nothing on LA when it comes to Korean restaurants, and the last time I visited, I checked out Soowon Galbi in the heart of K-town. My colleagues and I were famished, and the intoxicating aroma of barbecued meat and garlicy banchan added to the torture while we waited to be seated.
Once we were seated, the soju was flowing, and meat was ordered. And I mean lots of meat. One beef short rib, pork belly, beef brisket, beef rib eye, and two platters of bulgogi were ordered, along with rice, salad, and radish soup. And banchan. Oh how the banchan overfloweth.
For good measure, we also ordered a seafood pancake, because why not? If you’re gonna go, go all the way.
The meat at Soowon Galbi was without question among the best Korean barbecue I’ve had. Tender, juicy, and flavorful, we sopped up every last bit with rice and palate-cleansing bites of banchan and soup in between. The seafood pancake was chewy and crispy, as it should be.
We walked back to our hotel that evening, trekking an hour from Koreatown to downtown LA. I don’t really want to think about how many calories we consumed that evening, but I do know one thing: it was absolutely worth it.
Let’s be honest: The Bay Area has nothing on Los Angeles when it comes to Korean food. San Francisco’s Koreatown dwarfs in size to LA’s, and while there are pockets of mouthwatering Korean restaurants in the South Bay and Oakland, Los Angeles simply has more. So it was with great anticipation that I visited Tahoe Galbi, located in Los Angeles’ Koreatown with a group of colleagues.
Tahoe Galbi bills itself as an all-you-can-eat barbeque restaurant, which, if you’re familiar with Korean barbecue, can be a very dangerous thing for your waistline. Sure, Korean food is healthy, but endless plates of meat? My stomach says yes, but my pants say no.
We nibbled on small plates of banchan while we waited for our first plate of meat to arrive. I went for the fish cakes and pickled cucumbers, my favorites.
Our plate of thinly-sliced rib eye soon arrived, and we grilled at the table, dipping into our bowls of chili bean paste to season the meat. A bite of rice here, a mouthful of steak there, and I was in heaven.
While we mostly ordered red meat, we opted for a plate of shrimp and baby octopus as well, which were very good. The shrimp in shell were messy but just perfect dipped in tiny plates of sesame oil and salt.
We shared a couple more plates of steak before moving on to pork belly, which was a first for me. I tried a bite and was surprised by the super rich flavor, which paired well with vinegary, spicy kimchi. My favorite, however, was the tender, marinated bulgogi beef.
Tahoe Galbi gets very busy, so service is accommodated by a buzzer at each table to signal for a waiter each time one wants to order something new. Want some more banchan? Buzz. Another plate of ribs, perhaps? Buzz.
I left Tahoe Galbi wishing we had an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue restaurant in the Bay Area. Although I’m not sure how much self-control I could exercise living so close to one, so maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s a good thing Los Angeles isn’t too far away.
Please don’t laugh. Despite the cheesy name, Wokano actually serves up some quality fare. I can’t speak to the Asian fusion entrees on their menu, but when a colleague and I arrived in Los Angeles for a work trip one late weeknight, we were craving sushi. Wokano was located just down the block from where were staying, so we decided to give it a shot.
Part lounge, part restaurant, I admit I was a little apprehensive about what to expect. But my colleague and I were ravenous, and in our hunger, we ordered the Sushi Love Boat for Two. Don’t judge us; it was a strategic decision.
But first, we started with the ubiquitous miso soup and salad, which were both very good. The soup was invigorating after our tiring flight, and I’m still wondering what they put in the salad dressing to make it so tangy and lip-smackingly good.
Next came our, ahem, Love Boat for Two, consisting of assorted sushi, sashimi, tuna hand rolls, tiger rolls, and eel avocado rolls, oh my. Okay, admittedly, this was not the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life. But for a late weeknight evening in what was an otherwise mostly deserted downtown Los Angeles, it was very satisfying. Our only disappointment was the tuna hand roll, which had been chopped into a paste-like oblivion. But the yellowtail, salmon, and ahi? I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
Service was prompt at Wokcano and if you can put your sushi puritanism aside for an hour or two, Wokcano is a good choice. I’m used to stumbling into the nearest eatery at random after a flight just to hold me over, so Wokcano was a welcome surprise.
i’m back from yet another quick weekend trip to southern california. like the last, i spent a considerable time stuck in the notorious los angeles traffic. this time around, however, i played tourist. i didn’t take nearly enough photographs; in fact i only snapped a few on saturday afternoon.
on friday i took the scenic route down along highway 101, and although it meant spending a couple extra hours in the car, it was nice to look out of the window and see san luis obsipo and santa barbara as opposed to endless overcrammed herds of cows. by the time i reached the hotel, i had just enough energy to have dinner at california sushi roll in west la. i’d been (and still am) craving authentic japanese food, but i willingly obliged and went with japanese-california fusion instead. i was pleasantly suprised. my house special maki of salmon wrapped around seaweed, rice and fried fish cake was pretty good, and the beef gyoza’s offbeat hint of lemon was a good match.
the next morning i set out for lunch at the infamous roscoe’s house of chicken and waffles. my fried chicken was seasoned well and the syrup-laden waffles were yummy too, but i’m sure my arteries were begging me to stop.
afterwards i set out with a friend to the museum of contemporary art to check out their new exhibit, ecstasy: in and about altered states. to my dismay photography was not allowed, but i was really impressed. in particular i enjoyed olafur eliasson’s, erwin redl’s, and fred tomaselli’s pieces.
i spent the early evening in santa monica along the beach, and continued along to the third street promenade.
that evening i ate at korean char-b-que with a friend. i mistakenly ordered naengmyon. i’d accidentally ordered it a few weeks ago at another korean restaurant and found it to be anathema to my favorite flavors prominent in korean cooking. to my misfortune, the menu we ordered from on friday night didn’t have english translations, only pictures. i ordered what looked good yet recieved something quite different. the slushy ice water, flavorless beef and rubbery noodles and slices of pear made me wish i had ordered something else.
we redeemed ourselves by going to westwood to grab a mango hookah and mint tea at habibi cafe. i was in awe most of the time; almost everyone was iranian. i’d never been around so many iranians in public outside of iran at the same time. i don’t quite know how to say this politely without generalizing, but a lot of iranians i saw were, how should i put this, special. glitzy clothing and makeup, glitzy cell phones, glitzy attitude. everything seemed a bit overdone. i wondered if any of them had ever been to the iranian countryside, to ramsar or tabriz, to isfahan or shiraz. it seemed so far-removed. still, i had a great time people-watching. the music was great, as was the hookah, but the tea was a sorry mug of lipton with a couple of crushed mint leaves thrown in.
sunday was spent having lunch at farmer’s market. we met up with another friend for brazilian at pampas grill churrascaria. little did i know how delicious brazilian food is. the hearts of palm and cucumber salad, fried bananas, okra stew, and grilled garlic steak were all mouthwateringly perfect.
after a quick stop for shakes (i had banana flavor), it was time to say goodbye to los angeles and its sunny weather. tony toni tone was right; it never rains in southern california.