Cheap Fast Eats, Koreatown After Dark! Asian American Pizza, Hot Cheeto-Encrusted Corn Dogs And More
Koreatown is one of the more dense, diverse, and complex neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
Composed of the four major thoroughfares of Olympic, Western, Beverly and 3rd Street, it makes sense that when Hollywood needs a stand-in for New York, film and television crews come to K-Town to achieve its facsimile.
Walking along the crowded streets after battling it out looking for parking — which seems to serve as a Koreatown rite of passage — we’re reminded of the ending of the 2015 documentary City of Gold about food writer Jonathan Gold, who lived in the neighborhood following the 1992 uprising.
Gold paints a picture of a hodgepodge of cultures coexisting almost on top of each other — Asian, Latino, Black and white in once-grand, now slightly crumbling large 1930s apartment buildings, with the sites of formerly impressive venues such as the Coconut Grove (housed at the famed Ambassador Hotel), mishmashed against post-modern designed buildings (like everyone’s favorite KFC).
Every month, we scout out eateries, stomach-filling burrito joints, and hidden gems so you can eat without breaking the bank or sacrificing your palette. We focus on dishes that are $10 or less, but, hey, inflation's a thing, so it's probably best to check the prices yourself before you head out. Also, if you have an area you'd like us to try, drop us a line at the bottom of the story.
Koreatown comes alive at night, with its bright lights and big-city feel, with certain bars and restaurants staying open well into the wee hours of the morning.
So, for this edition of Cheap Fast Eats, we decided to venture into the night to help you discover some tasty, eclectic, easy-on-the-wallet dining options.
(If you end up calling in late to work the next day, you can blame it on us.)
Advertised as a Chinese restaurant per its signage, Zzamong doubles as a Chinese-Korean restaurant, featuring a menu with dishes from both countries. There’s the silky-meets-spicy plates of mapo tofu, and savory-sweet helpings of japchae noodles, but it’s another noodle dish that’s always caught our attention — the jjajangmyun (or jjajangmyeon), a dish that was created in Korea by Chinese immigrants.
The fermented black bean saucy dish is packed with salty umami flavors, mixed with a bounty of chew-tastic noodles that, when served, are so long and thick, the wait staff provide kitchen scissors to cut them for a more manageable bite.
It’s customary to mix the sauce — a viscous mix of soy sauce and oyster sauce — with the noodles, to make everything uniform before delivering it to your gullet.
Traditionally made with pork, their jjajangmyun can also be prepared vegan, as well as in different sizes and price points. It makes Zzamong a perfect place to satisfy your cravings after catching a show at the Wiltern or visiting some of our favorite dive bar haunts, such as Blipsy Bar and Frank N’ Hank.
Zzamong is located in an unassuming strip mall, another type of architecture that dominates the K-town landscape. What the location might lack in curb appeal is made up in what’s best described as table-side antics, supplied by wait staff who take it upon themselves to entertain diners by spinning trays filled with plastic cups or creating origami out of discarded receipt papers. All the while, a booming soundtrack of contemporary indie rock plays loudly, which seems a bit out of place given the surroundings — but who are we to question when the noodles are this good?
Address: Serrano Plaza, 4255 W 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90020.
Open every day, 11 a.m.- 9:30 p.m.
Two Hands Seoul Fresh Corn Dogs
Sure, we’ve all had a corn dog before, but more recently, Korean-style corn dogs have begun to inhabit our shores, creating a stir with their distinct textures.
The Two Hands establishment is a perfect example, poised for world domination as the chain catches on in shopping mall-like spaces throughout SoCal.
We visited their Koreatown location on Western, situated on the third floor of California Marketplace, whose bottom floor is occupied by a supermarket (which you may remember from our first Snacking in the City installment).
Make your way past the snack aisle and go up a couple of floors, and you’ll find a delightful al fresco food court with a nice selection of outdoor seating, many occupied by families and young people chowing down on these delicious Korean corn dog creations.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of options at Two Hands. First, select the outer toppings: Some standouts include the Two Hands dog with sweet ranch sauce, or the Spicy Dog, featuring a combination of Two Hands spicy sauce and hot Cheetos powder, to name a few. Then, you need to pick the contents of your dog which include half hot dog, half mozzarella cheese, a spicy hot dog and a plant-based option.
It makes for a sweet, crunchy, chewy creation that serves as the perfect accompaniment for a visit to K-town at night — or any time of day.
450 S. Western Ave., #313, Los Angeles, CA 90020
Open every day, 11 p.m. - 9 p.m.
What is it about ghost kitchens these days? The commercial kitchen spaces that exclusively offer pick-up and delivery, with no dine-in.
In Los Angeles, already known for entry-level additions to the restaurant business, the ghost kitchen provides a new frontier for chefs and cooks looking to capture the hearts and stomachs of hungry eaters without the high overhead costs a brick-and-mortar establishment can bring.
Chefs Janet Kang and Robin Kloess, who met while at culinary school a few decades back, are very much in this camp, with their new operation offering some of the more creative pizza pies we’ve had in recent memory.
Kang and Kloess formed a bond when they were both making pizzas in San Francisco. The two had had their fill of the male-dominated restaurant industry and wanted to create something for themselves that was reflective of their own experiences and cultural backgrounds.
Enter Pizza Baby, with an emphasis on seasonality and flavors that aren’t specifically Italian, but more what they describe as “Asian American pizza."
Take, for example, their kimchi margherita pizza, which contains equal parts tomato sauce and kimchi, both homemade and layered in holy matrimony. Gochujang and fish sauce add a bit of fermented funk, which, along with melted mozzarella and hints of basil, make for an extremely fresh and satisfying bite.
Another option to consider is the Rose Marzano, which contains a tomato tteokbokki sauce, usually found in a Korean rice cake dish, but found here instead playing nicely with a touch of cream and melted bits of smoked mozzarella. With such flavor-forward offerings as these, it’s almost impossible to go wrong.
The pizza crust also deserves mention, an immediate standout upon first bite, conjuring up comparisons to both the thin, crispy textures of New York-style pizza and the soft airiness of Napoletana-style pies.
Kang and Kloess say customers use pick-up as much as delivery; so
think of Pizza Baby as a drive-up pizza window, (which sounds like a uniquely Los Angeles experience), a perfect stop before painting K-town a nice color of pizza-sauce red.
Address: 1842 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007
Open Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
(Pick-up or delivery only)
How does one begin to capture the essence of a place like Guelaguetza, one of the premier eateries in Los Angeles? The heart of Oaxacalifornia, the large population of people hailing from one of Mexico’s most southern states, with the name Guelaguetza in the indigenous Zapotec language translating as "to give and receive," usually used to describe the act of giving to one another during times of celebration.
In the case of the Lopez family (now in its second generation), which owns and operates the restaurant on Olympic Boulevard, the name perfectly sums up the vibe cultivated on any given night.
For many of us who grew up in Los Angeles, Guelaguetza serves as an introduction to the food of Oaxaca, illustrating how not all food from Mexico is the same. Even in the state of Oaxaca itself, diverse foodways exist reflecting the individual Chinateco, Triqui and Mixteco cultures, to name a few.
It’s the type of a place that’s perfect for large get-togethers such as family gatherings and work dinners, due to the sheer volume of some of the bigger family-style dishes, which, for good reason, tend to be at a higher price point. (It’s something that Guelaguetza has in common with many Korean-owned establishments in the neighborhood). That being said, there are plenty of good options for individual plates that are guaranteed to fill you up.
Start with the traditional Oaxacan entree section of the menu. A great example is the memelas, griddled disks made from fresh masa that feature crispy, almost burnt edges, smeared with aciento, a paste made from chicharrón — aka pork rind and black beans.
You can then add cecina, a thin cut of pork rubbed with chile guajillo adobo sauce, chorizo, or a large helping of Oaxacan cheese. Also consider the Tamal Oaxaqueño de mole negro con pollo (Oaxacan tamal with black mole and chicken) that’s wrapped in banana leaf, adding to its already complex flavor and big enough for two people to share.
Finally, no trip to Guelaguetza is complete without sampling one of the more famous antojitos on the menu — the chapulines, or grasshoppers. The protein-rich snack is a great dish to order, especially for those who are visiting Guelaguetza for the first time. You may be squeamish, but trust us, it’s worth it. Dried and then roasted with morita chiles, sea salt and lime, they deliver a umami crunchy bite that works perfectly, either folded inside thick handmade tortillas or popped into your mouth while sipping on some mezcal or horchata.
3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90006
Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m.- 9 p.m., Friday-Sunday 9 a.m.- 10 p.m.
Born just prior to the pandemic, LOVE HOUR is a smashburger pop-up that’s the brainchild of friends Jimmy Han, Mike Pak, and Duy Nguyen, who wanted to feed the community of Koreatown while offering a place to hang out.
The LOVE HOUR burger is a perfect example of the L.A.-style smashburger that currently dominates our culinary landscape. As far as burger patty intake is concerned, the best option is the double. All burgers come on a soft and squishy Martin’s potato roll, with cheese, diced white onion, house pickles, and their signature Love sauce.
If smashburgers aren’t your thing, LOVE HOUR also offers crispy hot honey chicken sandwiches or the fish filet sandwich that’s made with melted American cheese and tasty tartar sauce. There’s also an assortment of fries and onion rings, with added seasonings like sour cream and onion, bbq, and garlic parmesan. You could also opt for any one of their stellar dipping sauces such as the honey sambal sauce, which is one of our favorite tastes in recent memory.
LOVE HOUR is currently open Wednesdays - Saturdays at the Koreatown walk-up window location on Western, and on Sundays at Smorgasburg LA.
The Koreatown location provides a cool open-air space that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the action that Koreatown offers. Recently, the owner also opened up a bar serving a selection of craft beers and natural wines, only adding to the overall sense of conviviality.
532 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90020
Open Wednesday-Saturday 5 p.m.-midnight
Cruise off the highway and hit locally-known spots for some tasty bites.
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