Koreatown: The Hottest Neighborhood in Los Angeles
“Nobody walks in L.A.” So sings the one-hit wonder band Missing Persons, but they clearly never hung out in L.A.'s Koreatown. The three-square-mile district just west of downtown has recently exploded into a hub for creative types and a magnet for hipsters—and it's actually pedestrian-friendly. Come November, the cool quotient goes up again with the opening of The Line hotel (from the team behind Manhattan’s NoMad), which brings the city's best Korean-American tastemakers together to create the nabe's next hot spot. The Line (213-381-7411; doubles from $240) will feature two restaurants (both helmed by Korean BBQ master Roy Choi), a swank retro-themed lounge from L.A. bar scene VIPs the Houston Brothers, as well as an outpost of local design shop Poketo from Angie Myung. But the hotel isn't the only place these folks are making waves; they're the force behind K-Town's rise in general. That's why we tapped them, along with another trendsetter, LACMA curator Christine Y. Kim, to share their personal picks for the area's musts:
The Nightlife Impresarios
Jonnie and Mark Houston, The Speek
Best place to eat Korean food: "My favorite Korean barbecue place is Genwa, even with the constant crowds. Each table has a smokeless grill where you can cook beef, pork, chicken, or fish. It's worth the one-hour wait [5115 Wilshire Blvd.; 323-549-0760; entrées from $10]."
Best place to shop: "The only shopping we do in Koreatown is at HK Super, to pick out exotic fruits like Shingo pears and chameh melons as well as spices, which we use to make unusual cocktails [124 N. Western Ave.]."
Best Korean trend to go mainstream: "When we think of K-town, we always associate it with karaoke. It's a big thing here, and it's become really popular throughout the city." To do some singing of your own—or just have fun humiliating yourself while trying—check out the Houston brothers' latest venture: The Speek, a '60s-themed bar with private lounges for karaoke (3515 Wilshire Blvd.).
Best-kept Koreatown secret: "We like R Bar for its impromptu live music sessions and its lack of pretentiousness. It's a dive with zero curb appeal, yet it somehow attracts bands that could play at any venue in the world [3331 W. 8th St.]."
Christine Y. Kim, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Best place to eat Korean food: “Soot Bull Jeep for authentic, country campfire-style Korean barbecue. The kalbi is the classic beef dish, and the octopus is great, too. You must accompany the meal with beer [3136 W. 8th St.; 213-387-3865; entrées from $10].”
Best place to shop: “Palace Beauty at Koreatown Galleria is great for Korean, Japanese, and American beauty products. [3250 W. Olympic Blvd.]. And La Fleur by Tracy has excellent-value flower arrangements [3453 W. 8th St.].”
Best Korean trend to go mainstream: “Eyelash extensions, which are most expertly done at Lash Land. I love the girls there. Extensions have been popular in Korea for a while, and they’ve finally made their way to the United States. The doe-eyed Wonder Girl look can last up to a month if you take care of them properly [3832 Wilshire Blvd.].”
Best-kept Koreatown secret: “The Korean Cultural Center, just down the street from LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art], is a great place for emerging artists—not just of Korean descent, but for all those interested. They host workshops, juried exhibitions, and openings, and are constantly experimenting with their galleries and programming [5505 Wilshire Blvd.].”
Roy Choi, Pot
Best place to eat Korean food: “Mapo is a really good hole-in-the-wall that specializes in soojaebi [a soup with doughy dumplings and vegetables]. It’s around the corner from The Line. To be honest, though, putting Korean food in a box and saying one place is the best is unrealistic—different places serve different things. Korean restaurants are all about specialties [3611 W. 6th St.; 213-736-6668; entrées from $8].”
Best place to shop: “Koreatown Plaza is a huge part of my life. You can get anything—baked goods, handbags, clothes, eyewear, stationery, produce. It’s the hub for anything and everything you may want or need. I could spend a whole day there just chillin’ out [928 S. Western Ave.].”
Best-kept Koreatown secret: “Drinking clubs you can only find if you know someone who can take you. Palm Tree L.A. is a good example. It’s in an office building on the fourth floor with no sign telling you it’s there. Good luck finding it on your own [3240 Wilshire Blvd., No. 401].”
Angie Myung, co-owner, Poketo
Best place to eat Korean food: “Kobawoo House, which is known for its cold acorn noodle salad. It’s tangy and spicy, with lots of veggies. I also love its dweji bossam, which is poached pork wrapped in Napa cabbage [698 S. Vermont Ave.; 213-389-7300; entrées from $10].”
Best place to shop: “Kim’s Home Center has anything you can think of for the home, from electronics to ceramics. My mom bought her kimchi refrigerator and rice cooker there [2940 W. Olympic Blvd.].”
Best Korean trend to go mainstream: “Korean pop music, or K-pop. Come on . . . ‘Gangnam Style’? That would’ve never taken off like it did if it had been released even a few years ago. There are also all the boy and girl groups, like Super Junior and Girls Generation. One non-Korean girl came to our booth at Comic-Con this year asking for K-pop paraphernalia. That never used to happen.”
Best-kept Koreatown secret: “I think Koreatown itself is the best-kept secret. Some Angelenos have never been here, even though it’s right off several freeway exits. Everyone is slowly finding out about it, though.”
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