The Koreatown Guide

March 20th, 2019

There are three square miles west of Downtown LA known as Koreatown, and this relatively small pocket of the city manages to pack in so many restaurants, karaoke lounges, cafés, and day spas that it feels like we could be there all day every day and still find new treasures. While the neighborhood is rightly famous for its food (you’ve probably heard of the BBQ—it lives up to the hype), there are also great new hotels, shops, and markets right next to the old-school spots we’ve loved for years. Spend a day, spend a weekend, or move in for good—you’ll understand why K-Town is LA’s best-kept-but-wide-open secret.

EAT

Here’s Looking at You

3901 W. 6th St., Koreatown | 213.568.3573

If we could recommend only one dish here, it’d be the tomatoes: juicy, deep-red Momotaro tomatoes sliced fresh, served with crème fraîche, and topped with candy-like crispy fried Chinese sausage. The dish is unexpected and indulgent. It’s also what co-owner Lien Ta says keeps her regulars coming weekly. But in truth, every item on the menu is worth ordering—we’re suckers for the crispy, umami-esque Brussels sprouts finished with a savory, smoky miso sesame sauce and the hot shishito peppers perfectly wilted and charred atop a creamy tonnato dip. Ta and co-owner and chef Jonathan Whitener (they met while working at Animal) serve an unparalleled seasonal menu that showcases flavors inspired by their favorite global foods and family recipes, including jerk spice, Asian fish sauce, coconut milk, and tamarind. The space is tiny and incredibly popular (make a reservation), but the servers are friendly and helpful and the cocktails are as incredible as they are inventive. (The pungent, sweet Arroyo Seco—a blended malt scotch kissed with raw buckwheat honey and bitters—is a goop favorite.)

Parks BBQ

955 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown | 213.380.1717

This is the gold standard of Korean BBQ in this city. The original Parks, in Seoul, is still going strong, and the LA outpost is similarly known for using prime cuts of meat (including American Wagyu and Kobe-style beef) and some of the best-quality banchan—the complimentary small dishes like kimchi, bean sprouts, and soy-brushed lotus root that arrive before your meal—you’ll ever try.

Guelaguetza

3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown | 213.427.0608

Guelaguetza is the most authentic Oaxacan food you’ll find outside of Mexico. There, we said it. And it’s all thanks to its owners, Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio, who brought their family recipes with them to LA—and have been faithful to those recipes since they opened their restaurant in 1994. Today, the couple’s children run the place, but the menu remains unchanged and includes Oaxacan classics like enmoladas (black mole chicken enchiladas served with queso fresco) and salsa de carne frita (pork ribs fried in a spicy tomato sauce served with rice and beans).

DRINK

Break Room 86

630 S. Ardmore Ave., Koreatown | 213.368.3056

This ’80s-themed club behind the Line Hotel is entered through an alleyway on Ardmore, on the west side of the building. Once you pass the bouncer, you’ll be taken through the back halls of the hotel and through a false refrigerator door into the actual bar. The private rooms play karaoke, and there’s a burlesque show every hour where dancers do a Michael Jackson routine in their Calvin Kleins; it’s the kind of place you go for a long night of dancing.

The Normandie Club

3612 W. 6th St., Koreatown | 213.263.2709

If you’re looking for a bar to impress visiting friends, you have now found it. The space is as classy and refined as it is cool—dark leather chairs, painted brick, and low lighting. The drinks are, in a word: impressive. The mixologists at the Normandie Club have invented house specialties that all put a unique spin on a classic: a daiquiri with a salted-grapefruit cordial, an old-fashioned with coconut bourbon. Our favorite is the shandy: a crisp lager elevated with Suze, blueberry mint syrup, and a squeeze of lemon. The drink is crisp, refreshing, and sweet without being cloying. There’s also a generous selection of global liquors, including brandy, Irish whiskey, Japanese whisky, mezcal, tequila, and cider on tap. Given there’s no food, this is a perfect spot for a nightcap after dinner.

Soopsok

4070 W. 3rd St., Koreatown | 213.380.0909

Since 1986, Soopsok has been the place to belt out Top 40 hits, classic rock ballads, and current K-pop favorites in one of its twenty karaoke rooms (some of which can accommodate up to thirty people). Order a couple bottles of soju (Korea’s national drink) and some plates of spicy chicken wings and nachos, and it’ll be impossible to not have a fun night.

SHOP

California Market

450 S. Western Ave., Koreatown | 213.382.9444

What was formerly called Gaju Marketplace has recently been remodeled into an incredibly vast food court and grocery store that’s a staple for the goop staffers who live in Koreatown. The banchan (small prepared sides like bean sprouts with sesame oil) are convenient to pick up for a light solo meal or for an impromptu dinner party. And because of the big Latino community that also lives within K-town, you’ll find the freshest avocados and papayas alongside daikon and jars of kimchi. The best part: the free, on-site, five-floor parking structure with panoramic views stretching from DTLA to Culver City.

Poketo

3513 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown | 213.381.7411

Poketo founders Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung—partners in business and in life—have a whimsical aesthetic that’s all their own, and their shop in the Line Hotel explodes with color and a sense of playfulness. We’re usually tempted by everything here, whether it’s the beautifully illustrated notebooks, a stack of richly patterned textiles, or a set of quirky ceramic mugs. It’s clear that much thought has gone into the store’s curation, but at the same time, nothing is taken too seriously, and you can sense the joy Vadakan and Myung must have had finding everything. We rarely leave empty-handed.

Western Comics

730 S. Western Ave., Koreatown | 213.385.7025

This comic book store—hidden at the top of a strip mall stairwell—consists of two rooms of floor-to-ceiling shelves tightly packed with Korean comics, manga, and graphic novels. The difference here is that you rent—not buy—what you read, and for fifteen bucks, you’re free to browse the archive and settle into one of the comfy leather sofas for an entire day (beverages and Korean shrimp crackers included), or check out a few comics to take home, like a lending library. It’s entirely normal (and encouraged) for people to set up shop for an afternoon, their feet on the table, a stack of comics—and a refreshment—by their side.

RELAX

Wi Spa

2700 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown | 213.487.2700

Fans of traditional Korean spas—kids included—tend to feel right at home here, with its clean, meditative “Jimjilbang” communal room, it’s spacious, super hot saunas, and its no-nonsense massages and body scrubs. Head to the sauna, get a massage, and your nails done, too.

Beverly Hot Springs

308 N. Oxford Ave., Koreatown, Los Angeles | 323.734.7000

This is a traditional Korean bath house, built over the city’s only natural hot springs and fueled by a 105-degree artesian well. We love to come and soak in the hot and cold therapeutic mineral-water pools, but the roster of treatments is compelling on its own. A powerful dose of AHAs and topical probiotics help clear congestion in the Pure Acne Oxygenating Facial, while the TCA Peel is enormously effective at helping to soften hyperpigmentation, support collagen, smooth lines, and brighten skin.

Crystal Spa

3500 W. 6th St., Koreatown | 213.487.5600

The thought of someone walking on your back as you lie facedown on the ground may not sound like fun, but once you’ve tried it here (and experienced the subsequent tension relief), it’s hard not to get addicted. Both the communal and private spaces are beautifully turned out, with staff giving full tours—and etiquette advice—for first-timers. After a rigorous body scrub where no patch of skin is left unbuffed, go for the intensely hydrating algae-and-green-tea body wrap. It’s rarely crowded here, which is a godsend for those looking to spend a full, uninterrupted afternoon or evening unwinding.