Anthony Bourdain’s CNN foodie travelogue Parts Unknown takes viewers to exotic locations to experience the local culture through food. It’s without a doubt one of the best food shows out there, offering an insider’s culinary guide to many far-flung places. But Angelenos know you don’t have to travel far for a great bite or a new cultural experience, and lo and behold, in the series’ second episode Bourdain turns his tongue towards L.A.’s Koreatown, where local chef Roy Choi and artist David Choe take him – and us – on a mouthwatering journey. This list explores their favorite places in recap.
Dong Il Jang is old-school Korean barbecue done right. A higher price tag ensures top-notch hospitality – servers barbecue the meat for you so you can eat right off the grill without getting your hands dirty. Bourdain recommends the roast gui, thinly sliced beef ribeye. Once you’re done with the meat course, the server will make kimchi fried rice using the leftover beef drippings. With unlimited crisp and spicy banchan, pickles, and kimchi adding dimension to every bite, Dong Il Jang is the complete package. Bring a friend along if you plan on ordering barbecue, as there is a two-order minimum.
This no-frills dumpling shop is a diamond in an inconspicuous strip mall. The ambience is far from fancy – it contains no more than 10 laminated tables under fluorescent lights with a limited, numbered menu. The handmade dumplings, however, are worth writing home about. Dumplings are pan-fried, steamed, boiled or served in hot soup and filled with kimchi, pork, beef, shrimp, or vegetables. You’ll need both hands to eat the King steamed dumplings – the fluffy and slightly sweet dough pockets are the size of grapefruits. With quick and easy service and a quiet atmosphere, it’s a pleasure to dine in, or you can order takeout, like Choe’s mom does for him on the regular. With generous portions, Myung In is a great place for a meal that’s full of flavor and light on your wallet.
A worn-in and homey feel are suitable trappings for the belly-warming comfort food served up at Beverly Soon Tofu Restaurant. Try any variety of the soon tofu (sundubu jjigae), a traditional Korean soup made with a chili-based stock, fresh curdled silky tofu, and meat and seafood combinations that seem to contain everything but the kitchen sink. The soup is served while it’s still roiling, at which point it’s recommended to crack a raw egg into it, spoon it over rice and enjoy. In Parts Unknown, Roy Choi says this dish is served with a disregard for the American palette; distinctly Korean though it may be, it’s unequivocally delicious.
Unbeknownst to even many locals, amid the karaoke and kimchi of Koreatown, there is a small and spicy enclave of a different variety: L.A.’s Little Bangladesh. Little markets – mostly divey, but there’s charm in the disarray – pedal Bengali sweets, spices, and specialties, and in one of these markets lies Swadesh, a little eatery with lots of flavor. Order inexpensive hot food at the counter, like traditional biryani, goat stew (Bourdain loved it), tandoori chicken, daal, and made-to-order roti, then enjoy some complimentary chai and peruse the aisles for ethnic treats and other surprises on your way out.
This Filipino fast-food joint sits right on the border between Koreatown and West Hollywood, and their ethnic twist on America’s favorite cuisine hits the spot. From their signature crispy fried chicken served with gravy, to sweet spaghetti, this place serves up all the Filipino favorites. Choi and Bourdain enjoyed a fried spam sandwich (the Little Big Bite) and the Aloha burger, a thin, charbroiled patty with a sweet creamy sauce and a slice of pineapple. But the real marvel was the Halo Halo, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink dessert that includes layers of shaved ice, red bean paste, white beans and chickpeas, several flavors of jello, young coconut, ice cream, and flan. As Bourdain said, ‘It makes no sense. I love it.’