While the world got a glimpse into South Korea for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, a taste of Korean culture is within easy reach for Los Angeles locals. Koreatown is a center for traditional Korean cuisine that continues to evolve and embrace innovative food trends, including some of these latest arrivals.
Gol Tong Chicken
Enabling the city’s insatiable appetite for saucy, spicy fried chicken is former movie director Kil-chae Jeong. Jeong is most known for his 2001 guilty pleasure Korean horror flick titled Hera Purple, earning him the nickname “Monster Director.” Gol tong is the Korean word for monster, which lends to the name of his restaurant, Director Gol Tong’s Chicken.
At age 65, Jeong hopes to follow in the footsteps of another career hopper who at age 65 began making a fortune selling fried chicken: Colonel Harland David Sanders, founder of KFC. To help matters along, like his new idol, Jeong’s menus feature his own friendly cartoon likeness, complete with glasses and mustache.
Jeong’s signature creation is the boneless chili chicken plate with sweet potato wedges and chunks of pineapple to temper the heat. The soy sauce garlic flavor is also popular. Other options on the menu include sausage and several seafood dishes. “It’s like making movies,” said Jeong, of his chicken. “Food is art.”
White & Brown Cafe
The phenomenon known as “cheese tea” has arrived in Koreatown after first proving itself in the San Gabriel Valley. This Taiwanese import isn’t exactly what it sounds like. The floating white cap that gives the glass the appearance of a draft beer is made of a whipped cream cheese that tastes like ice cream with a hint of salt.
White & Brown puts a healthy spin on the new drink by using real cream cheese instead of powdered milk. Plus, they import high-quality teas from China. The shop’s name comes from the two dominant colors of the cheese tea. They also make smoothies with no sugar added and a minimal amount of ice.
Shop manager Ben Cheng sees his cafe as a change of pace for a neighborhood that’s heavy on bars and all-you-can-eat barbecue. “It’s very refreshing,” he said.
Sharp Specialty Coffee
Among Koreatown’s dozens of coffee shops, Sharp Specialty Coffee meets the growing demand for space and caffeine among laptop warriors and lingering loungers. Sharp aims to upgrade the experience with premium coffee and sweets and appropriately mellow tunes in the background. Look for the musical “sharp” symbol (#) on the shop’s signage, which easily doubles as their social hashtag.
Coffee hunters will appreciate the chance to try espresso from Stereoscope Coffee, a new micro-roaster in Buena Park. You can drink it in a number of flavored lattes—vanilla, caramel, lavender, honey cinnamon, Spanish, and mocha—or have it as an affogato over vanilla or green tea Thrifty ice cream.
Pourover coffees are done with beans from Sightglass (San Francisco) and Coava (Portland, Oregon). Loose leaf teas are also available. All drinks would go well with something from the pastry case, courtesy of Cake Monkey.