48 Hours in Koreatown
Where to eat, stay and eat some more in L.A.'s up-and-coming foodie neighbourhood.
Long before Anthony Bourdain brought his TV show to Koreatown in Los Angeles, foodies have known that the continent’s best bossam is to be had in this oft-overlooked neighbourhood (west of downtown and south of Hollywood). It’s the birthplace of a new Korean fusion scene that you need to sample before it goes mainstream, but leave any white-tablecloth pretensions behind; real Korean dining scenes are family-style, casual and even a little rowdy—with no interest in such foppery.
There’s but one hotel option if you’ve come to experience the renaissance of Koreatown. Check into The Line (thelinehotel.com), a mid-century building that’s been fully renovated to hit a very high design bar. K-town foodie kingpin Roy Choi handles the hotel’s two restaurants, the café and a superb bar. Choi first won attention in L.A. for his travelling food truck, but he’s now in serious empire-building mode. The Line, which feels like a grown-up version of the Ace hotels, is his ideal HQ.
Before hitting the dining scene, decompress (and burn some calories) with a walk down Wilshire Boulevard to Robert F. Kennedy Inspiration Park, a grassy release from L.A. gridlock. En route, feel free to lament/fantasize about what gentrification is going to do to Koreatown’s crowd of 24-hour karaoke joints and dive bars in 20 years’ time.
Come dinnertime, start dinging your plush booth’s built-in bell at The Prince (theprincela.com), where a dimly lit vintage interior will remind you of scenes from Mad Men and Chinatown (both filmed here). Tuck into deep-fried chicken and generous, deeply satisfying plates of kimchi fried rice. Notice those beautiful people walking by? A movie’s throwing its wrap party in the back room.
If you’re still wired, nearby downtown is worth a jaunt—it’s also experiencing a serious reboot. Cab to Seven Grand Whiskey Bar (sevengrandbars.com) where they’ll fix your old-fashioned with your pick from the hundreds of whiskeys on hand. Enjoy it at the pool tables or cozy up on leather sofas (beneath the gaze of a wall-mounted boar) in their quieter side room.
Breakfast, coffee and crisp copies of the Los Angeles Times are waiting for you downstairs in The Line’s chicly appointed lounge. The papers are mainly for show, though; everyone here (hoodie-clad music execs, Korean Air flight attendants and tech-start-up thirtysomethings) is deep into their iPhone.
Don’t fill up on breakfast: you’re about to experience—hands down—the best Korean meal of your life. Chego (eatchego.com) is the only Roy Choi restaurant on this itinerary, but you’ll be looking up more once you lunch at the picnic tables outside this humble establishment. All the rice bowls are worthy, but try a Chubby Pork Belly: filled with kochujang-lacquered Kurobuta (the Wagyu beef of pork), it comes with Chinese broccoli and pickled radishes and is topped with cotija cheese and peanuts. Score a sriracha Bar—dark chocolate with a crisped rice bottom and Sriracha ganache—for a treat later on.
After an obligatory ogle through Beverly Hills, return to K-town to find the matriarch of Soban (sobanusa.com) watching Korean soaps on her iPad by the counter. As for you, focus on appreciating the 10 beautiful banchan (side dishes) that will appear alongside your entrees: go for soy-marinated crab and the deservedly Yelped-about short ribs.
Swing by LACMA in the morning to take in their underappreciated Korean art collection before lunch at humble Myung In Dumplings. They’re famous for jumbo, supremely fluffy (and not too chewy) pouches of pork and kimchi, but get the fried dumplings, too—they’ve got the texture of pot stickers and become addictive when doused in their vinegary chili sauce. From the tarmac, shout a “Jal meogeosseumnida!” (That was delicious!)