The one thing I thank Anthony Bourdain for is making the food cultures of the world seem so accessible to everyone, especially in regards to my visitors who come from outside California. The shows he has done about Los Angeles and Koreatown specifically have opened up that area of Los Angeles without me having to sell it too hard. Spicy ddeokbokki at Dang Sung Sa will cure the strongest of head colds, the amazing Korean fried chicken from a very seasoned fryer at the Prince, corn cheese and hundreds of other skewered bar food items at Toe Bang Cafe, the list goes on.
When I did my stint in Koreatown, as many Angelenos do at one point or another in their L.A. tenure, I got to learn and explore the foods of my neighborhood. When my parents came to visit me a while I lived there, I decided to take them up the block from my apartment to Soot Bull Jeep, a place I had started to frequent. This place is one of the few who still does barbecue over charcoal fire, which makes everything taste infintely better. Soot Bull Jeep also sets itself apart because it offers more seafood than its neighboring restaurants that are pork and beef focused. I prefer Soot Bull Jeep because their marinades are some of the best in town, perfect balances of savory, sweet, salt, and sours. Their meats are very tender, which you won’t find if you choose to go to an all-you-can-eat instead.
KBBQ is family style and best eaten with a group. This proved to be a sad reality when I was a resident of Koreatown, as eating for one isn’t an option at most establishments, although I wanted to try. Everything served is large and plentiful from the plates of meat to the giant beers. It is best eaten with family or friends.
I went easy on my parents, staying away from the more intimidating items on their menu, like eel. We ordered marinated galbi (short rib) and dak galbi (chicken) then received a handful of banchan dishes which I explained in as much detail as I could, then defaulted to saying it’s pickled or fermented. Kimchi (Fermented cabbage), pickled radishes and cucumbers, seaweed, etc. These are said to be good for digestion and are probiotics, a perfect antidote to charred and sometimes fatty meats and liters of beer and/or soju. (I wouldn’t take that as health advice.)
If you are a first timer, like my parents were, here are some tips:
At all Korean bbq places you are sitting at a table with a grill in the middle. Your table becomes the kitchen, where all the items you order are cooked. The other part people may find intimidating by KBBQ is that although the server does the first turn at putting the items on the grill, you are an active participant in making sure it is cooked the way you like it. Sometimes the server disappears, working with other tables, and if you leave it to them to come back you end of with charred remains of what could have been something very delicious. Don’t be afraid to pick up those tongs and flip to your required doneness or put ice on the grill when it gets too smoky. If you like your meat more well-done or crispy, don’t be afraid to put it back on the grill after the server has turned their back.
All and all my parents had a great time. They were concerned that they were eating things wrong, which is also what I felt my first time, but not to fret no one is watching you eat and judging your technique. They really aren’t so wrap that meat in lettuce or rice wraps and dip it in whatever sauce they give you. Everyone around you is eating and not looking at you. My parents admitted to me that this was the first meal they ate completely with chopsticks and those pointy flat metal chopsticks are hard! They were actually afraid to ask for forks. I would be too, the servers are pretty salty.
You come out smelling like campfire and grilled meats. Which to me is heaven.
Costs: At Soot Bull Jeep it is a pretty strict 2 dish per table order. BBQ items run from $19 to $33 and stews and noodle dishes are $8 to $19. All items are shareable. I usually spend $25 to $30 when I go out with a group of 3. Less when there are more of us.
[Getting there: Metro Red or Purple lines, 20, 720]
I will give more recommendations on my Facebook page for more kbbq places.