Michael Pak’s Guide to Koreatown
How do you feast, sip, slurp, and grill your way through LA’s Koreatown? Take your cues from one of K-town’s most reliable sources: Michael Pak.
If there’s one person you can trust for a solid dining recommendation in Koreatown, it’s Michael Pak. Pak is the enthusiastic eater behind a few of the neighborhood’s favorite institutions: the @koreatown Instagram account, the Koreatown Run Club (which has partnered with everyone from Nike to Netflix), and Love Hour, a burger pop-up that has become a fixture of its booming food scene.
Ask anyone who knows Pak, though, and they’ll probably just describe him as the “Unofficial Mayor of K-town.” But let’s leave politics out of this. Pak’s connection to Koreatown began with family (as a kid growing up on the East Coast, he’d visit his grandmother here.)
“I remember when I would come out as a four or five-year-old,” says Pak. “I would walk the streets, we would eat Korean food all day, and I was kinda, like, mesmerized: Wow. LA to me is just all Korean people and you get to eat Korean food every day. Little did I know that we were in the neighborhood of Koreatown. Obviously, I found out later that there were different parts of Koreatown and Los Angeles, but I was always drawn to it—and the food always came first.”
Since then, Pak has spent over a decade in K-town, watching it grow and change as a destination for Angelenos and out-of-towners: “In the past two or three years,” says Pak. “It’s become a hub for food and nightlife.” One reason? Its variety of restaurants: “In just this neighborhood alone, you have Korean food, but then you have Mexican food, Guatemalan, Chinese, Halal, Bangladeshi. Koreatown is made up of so many diverse cuisines and cultures.”
We asked Pak to pick just 9 neighborhood spots (no small feat) that are worth a stop—or two. Dig in.
3014 W Olympic Boulevard
Guelaguetza is an awesome, awesome Oaxacan restaurant in Koreatown. You would never think something like this exists, but of course it does, because of how diverse the neighborhood is. It’s been around for so long. It’s one of my go-to places for mole, an Oaxacan specialty. They have an awesome cocktail program as well. They have mezcal flights, so if you’re a mezcal fan, that’s the go-to spot to try different types. It’s a huge restaurant and it’s perfect for birthdays. If you’re celebrating anything, I always recommend Guelaguetza.
869 S Western Avenue
My favorite place right now to get Galbi-tang, which is a beef rib soup. The soup is a really dark broth and it’s just one of those perfect hangover cures. I crave it everyday. They give you a big beef shank right in the middle and you just pluck at it. I’m a big soup guy and it’s one of the best soups I’ve ever had.
Polla A La Brasa
764 S Western Avenue
A good friend of mine, Ivan, owns this place with his family. They have a unique story. When I first moved to LA, I walked in there and I was shocked that this Japanese family was speaking Spanish. They are from Peru, and when they came to LA, the family opened up a restaurant for Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken and it’s been a legendary spot since. Not only do they have the best Peruvian rotisserie chicken in LA, they definitely have the best in Koreatown.
2819 James M Wood Boulevard
When I was visiting LA as a kid, my mom’s side of the family would take our family to this one Korean BBQ spot—Corner Place. It’s very unassuming. It’s an OG restaurant. My parents would always tell me, or the family would say, you get two things: you get the galbi and then you get the cold noodles. A lot of Korean BBQ places do that combo—the meat and the cold noodles—but I would say that Corner Place does it best.
3185 Western Olympic Boulevard
This is probably my second favorite spot for cold noodles. There’s a pattern here: when it’s hot outside, I tend to just go for cold noodles. Cold noodles are essentially a beef broth, with ice cubes, and then you have noodles. Every restaurant does it different, but [they] all usually use buckwheat noodles. Yuchun does awesome cold noodles and an awesome galbi dish as well.
3062 W 8th Street
Aca is a family-owned business; it’s mom and pop. It’s Argentinian BBQ and it’s no frills. You literally go there for the to-go plate and it’s just mounds of barbecue meat like sausage, pork belly, beef ribs, and you get a side of rice and salad. They have empanadas, too. It’s one of my favorite places to go to just get super full and take a really nice nap after.
3575 Wilshire Boulevard
[BCD Tofu] is just so iconic. It’s open late. You can go there super drunk and kinda sober up. But, who doesn’t like spicy tofu, right? It cures every hangover, but it’s also an awesome breakfast that I love to do once in a while to start my day. The younger generation, they might not think to eat it for breakfast—or during the day—but it’s a huge breakfast thing with Koreans and it’s the perfect breakfast, for sure.
532 S Western Avenue
I just had to do a Shameless plug. So me and two of my partners actually started Love Hour. We never worked a day in our life in the food industry and we were kinda just like let’s just try it out in the food space and see where it goes—and we’re still alive which is great. It’s been two and a half years of doing an outdoor pop-up. We just think it’s the best burger in Los Angeles. We’re a group of guys that loves burgers and we went through a lot of changes figuring out what the burger would be with our head chef Aaron. We’re just really happy that the neighborhood can have access to a simple cheeseburger. The feedback that we get is awesome and we’re just really stoked.
414 S Western Avenue
I’ve been on a skewer kick lately. Feng Mao is this Chinese-Korean restaurant where they specialize in skewers. You go in there, they have this Sichuan powder that literally numbs your tongue, and you put that on every single meat. They have so many awesome Chinese dishes there but, on top of that, you can order a bunch of skewers and cook them yourself. It’s similar to Korean barbecue—it has that community aspect where you get to cook your own food and drink around the table. I love going there with a group of friends. You really feel like you’re in an authentic Chinese spot. All of the employees not only speak Chinese, they also speak Korean which is so awesome to see.