The Korean barbecue struggle is real. You'll likely over order and spend a sizeable chunk of cash on the meal. If you do it right, you'll leave with a serious food baby and will smell like smoke for a week. That’s not to say it isn’t worth the trouble though. The grilled gluttony best enjoyed in groups that is Korean barbecue is always a good idea.
Los Angeles is an especially great place to go thanks to the largest Korean population outside of South Korea, a thriving Koreatown, and easy access to quality proteins and produce. Of course, once you decide to stuff your face with fine cuts and fermented sides, that’s when the true carnivore’s dilemma begins — which of the dozens of bulgogi-peddling businesses to patronize? This list of the top 11 restaurants should help narrow the field.
Frequented by food critics, diplomats, K-pop bands,Hollywood stars and area residents alike, Park’s was opened in 2003 by Seoul transplant, Jenee Kim. By applying her culinary science degree to the traditional dishes she grew up cooking and eating, Park’s quickly became the KBBQ standard-bearer in Los Angeles and possibly America. Their banchan (the all-you-can-eat, complimentary side dishes of mostly veggies, pickles, and fermented things) are tasty but the gigantic seafood pancake and the insane array of grade-A meats including American Wagyu, beef tongue, seasoned pork belly, and a sweet-savory marinated kalbi (short rib), are the real reason to book a reservation. Which by the way is necessary, even on most weeknights. If you must wait, there’s an upstairs bar with light bites.
So named because portions are ordered by the quarter pound, this modern space with exposed brick walls and a patio is a good option for picky eaters, first-timers or those with small stomachs who want to try a little of everything. You’ll find all the standard fare here, but they also carry beef belly, pork jowl, pig collar, lobster tail, and spicy octopus. More surprises are in store in the tapas section where kimchi fried rice, Korean nachos, cheese sauce, and rib fondue are available. While many of its peers only serve beer, wine, or soju (Korean rice alcohol), Quarters has a full bar. The scene is younger, but also quite a bit rowdier.
Soot Bull Jeep
This place is OG, which in this case might just stand for old grills as SBJ is one of the last remaining restaurants with all-charcoal tabletop grills and uni-directional grates. The equipment imparts a distinctive and delicious smoky flavor and a backyard burger-style sear to cuts of chicken, squid, pork, eel, and honeycomb tripe. Play it safe with baby back ribs, the house special, or be bold with beef tartare in “special” sauce. Add an order of soybean paste stew, cold sake, or cold noodles to tame the heat as the neighborhood regulars do.
If pigging out on pork belly is your jam, E!ght is the only number you need to remember. Sure, they offer other porcine parts and different cuts of a variety of land and sea creatures but their signature is samgyeopsal, thick-cut pork belly taken from pedigreed pigs. Whether or not the cleansing power of samgyeopsal is blown out of proportion, you can’t argue that it tastes wonderful going down. Order the titular meal consisting of eight hearty slabs of pork belly, each which comes in a different flavor (plain, wine, black sesame, garlic, herbs, curry, miso, and chili paste).
It may share the same plaza as Quarters, but the vibe at this sizzling staple, beloved by the late great restaurant reviewer Jonathan Gold, is worlds away from its neighbor. Even though it’s owned by and named after a Korean wrestler turned comedian who insists on putting up cardboard cutouts of himself, it’s far more traditional in terms of décor (simple wood furniture, stainless steel bowls, industrial metal ventilators hanging low, nostalgic posters) and menu (prime rib kalbi and paper-thin slices of brisket). The circular cooktop is rimmed with troughs filled with bubbling egg soufflé and a cheesy corn combo. The Koreatown installment always has a line, but you can fan the same flames at Baekjeong (an archaic Korean word for butcher) chapters in Torrance, Buena Park, Irvine, and Rowland Heights.
Contemporary, clean, and consistent, this is a great place for parents, out-of-towners, less adventurous consumers, and folks uninterested in feasting on fatty meats. First, the menu has many alternatives to Korean barbecue like broiled salmon, marinated raw crab, pan-fried tiger shrimp, and rice cake and dumpling soup, all prepared in the kitchen by professionals. Though the list of grillable items does not disappoint. The waiters dress in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) but speak fluent English. Whether you sit on the patio or inside, you don’t have to worry about inhaling fumes as the ventilation system and smokeless grills are top notch.
Oo-Kook Korean BBQ
Not all all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue places are created equal. When you’re in the mood for meat, and we mean a lot of meat, you could do far worse than the massive two-story Oo-Kook Korean BBQ. The caliber of meat is pretty good given the price and the amount of meat served every night. There’s even a few fairly unique items available here like ox intestine, abomasum (the fourth cow stomach compartment), and duck breast.
Wharo Korean Charcoal BBQ
Wharo brings bulgogi to the bayside suburb of Marina del Rey along with spicy scallops, calamari marinated in a fruit-forward soy sauce, cube-cut tuna in sesame oil, and miso skirt steak. The best night to go in is when they are grilling up dry-rubbed ribs. You can also try several versions of Korean-style pizza, called jyun, here. It’s very approachable for newbies and non-Koreans, but credible enough for connoisseurs. All customers can appreciate the starter soup and the extremely smiley staff. It’s also easy to park thanks to the connected lot and a good stop during long layovers at Los Angeles International Airport.
Genwa Korean BBQ
More upscale than most of the genre’s restaurants, Genwa, which also has a location on mid-Wilshire and one coming soon to downtown, is great for large groups, celebrations, and diners who fear language barriers. The menu even includes shoutouts to the ranches where their product was sourced. They have all the meaty favorites including American and Australian Wagyu beef, as well as a ton of seafood and vegetable-based dishes. But what really earns them a slot is the unrivaled banchan selection; 23 different, fresh, house-made sides like rolled omelets, seaweed, peppers, pickled sprouts, kimchi, and potato salad. The meal finishes with a sweet rice drink to cleanse the palate and a lollipop.
BBQ + Rice
Craving barbeque but don’t have time to sit and flip? This fast casual chain with outposts in West and East Hollywood is the perfect place to go; though the quality, authenticity, and dining experience aren’t on par with the other picks on this list. Your order online and eat there, or take your food to go, either way you'll get your barbecue fix. A protein like black pepper chicken, spicy pork, or wok-fried tofu is served over rice with a custom combination of pickles, veggies, crispy chips, crispy garlic, nuts, or gochujang (chili paste) in the tidy and popular bowl delivery system. Another bonus: there are two types of fried chicken.
Concrete floors, exposed ducts, minimalist furniture, top-of-the-line smokeless tech, an adorable logo, and an emphasis on pretty plating mean that the social media set will be particularly pleased by this Pasadena player. The beef and pork basics are covered, but they go the extra mile with tangy chicken wings, lobster, mung bean pancakes, vegetarian dumplings, kalbi tacos, and tofu stuffed with carrots, shitakes, and cucumbers. Refresh the taste buds with lemon, peach, or coconut sorbet as a finale.