Anthony Bourdain in Koreatown, Los Angeles: 10 Spots Where Tony Ate
Every great city is made up of a million smaller cities an communities. Los Angeles is perhaps one of the best examples of this: from Beverly Hills to Compton to Frogtown, you can find different communities and cultures stitched together across L.A. Through his many visits, Anthony Bourdain knew this well, and Accompanied by Korean-American chef Roy Choi and Korean-American artist David Choe, he set out to explore in depth one neighborhood in Los Angeles: Koreatown.
Anthony Bourdain visited Los Angeles many times, but dedicated one episode to Koreatown: episode 2 of season 1 of Parts Unknown. For other places that he visited and ate in L.A., be sure to check out my complete Los Angeles guide.
Korean food is one of my personal favorite cuisines, so I was excited to dig into the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Koreatown, to inspire my next trip to Los Angeles.
Whether you’re planning a visit to Los Angeles or have your heart set specifically on visiting Koreatown, this guide will help: below you’ll find all the places Anthony Bourdain ate in Koreatown, including a few non-Korean options!
Want to watch the episode where Anthony Bourdain visits Koreatown?
The Parts Unknown episode is available on Amazon and Apple TV.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Chumash and Tongva (Gabrieleno) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Don Il Jang
After meeting up with Choi to introduce us to the history of Koreatown from mid-70s and 80s immigration through the L.A. riots to today, the pair of chefs meet up with the second-generation owner of Don Il Jang, a traditional Korean restaurant.
Over banchan (small starter dishes of kimchi, cucumbers, pickles, and spicy squid), roast guy and bulgogi cooked at the table with Kimchi-bokkeum-bap (Kimchi fried rice), the trio discuss Korean immigration, culture, and Korean-American life.
Sticking with Roy, Tony then heads to several of the L.A. chef’s restaurants and food trucks. They start out at Chego, which is a prime example of Choi’s Korean-Mexican fusion cuisine. There, they have rice bowls with meat and veggies; you can’t go wrong with whichever combo of ingredients calls to you.
After that, the chefs visit A-Frame, another of Choi’s ventures. There, they dig into baby back ribs, ling cod tacos, and beer can cracklin’ chicken – I’ve had a similar dish elsewhere in California and can attest it’s a delicious way to cook a bird.
Unfortunately, this restaurant closed in late 2019 so isn’t an option for us to visit anymore.
Finally, the pair head to Kogi Truck, the food truck which put Roy Choi on the food map, so to speak. This is where Choi perfected his Korean street food, primarily tacos.
Bourdain orders the essential: Korean barbeque short rib with salsa roja and napa cabbage slaw on corn tortillas with all the sauces. You can still find this truck* wandering the streets of L.A., and daily locations are published on the website.
(There are actually four trucks, for even more options even if you’re not in the Koreatown part of the city.)
Switching companions, Bourdain meets up with artist David Choe to have his iconic portrait painted. After the early morning siting, the two head out to a decided non-Korean but beloved-by-Koreans restaurant in the neighborhood: Sizzler.
If you’re surprised as I am that Sizzler still existed in the early 2010s, you’re not alone: Bourdain has never set in foot in one before his visit. The pair opt for a steak with the salad bar; at said salad bar, David shows Tony how to make his own fusion dishes, including a meatball taco with guacamole and nacho cheese.
Unfortunately, since Bourdain’s visit over a decade ago, this restaurant location has closed, though you can still find them dotting the American West and even in Puerto Rico (of all places!)
Restaurant Swadesh (CLOSED)
Next, Choi and Bourdain meet up head to try some of the other cuisines you can find in Koreatown; despite its name, there are other ethnic groups that have moved into the area too.
At the now-closed Restaurant Swadesh (which was also a food market), the pair tuck into Bangladeshi food.
Following on Bangladeshi food, they hit up Jollibee – a Filippino restaurant chain with an outpost in L.A. (Tony actually ate here during his trip to Manila!) There, they sample flavors of the Philippines, including a “Little Big Bite” fried SPAM sandwich, an Aloha burger, and Halo-halo for dessert.
There are actually three Jollibee locations in L.A.; the Koreatown location is called “Beverly.”
Myung in Dumplings
Meeting back up with Choe, Bourdain then tucks into another fusion food: Korean-Chinese dumplings at Myung in Dumplings. Made by hand daily, these huge dumplings combine the flavors and ingredients of these two behemoth Asina cuisines.
The pair try the steamed King dumpling (pork, kimchi, and vegetables) and Mandu with red chili paste.
Next, Tony and David head to Monte Carlo Bar (on W. 3rd); the sign out front drops the “Bar.” Bourdain declares “If that sign does not sing to you, then we cannot be friends.” There, they meet up with some of Choe’s friends to talk more about Korean-American culture over drinks, and declare Tony an honorary Korean-American after learning more about their culture.
Beverly Tofu House
For one final restaurant meal in Koreatown, Choi and Bourdain meet up for a dish less well-known by Americans – even those who love Korean food. They visit Beverly Soon Tofu Restaurant, which has unfortunately closed since Tony’s visit.
There, they have Sundubu tofu soup with kimchi “and a bit of everything” (beef, oysters, muscles, clams, and a cracked egg) over rice. While you can’t get this dish at the same place Bourdain did, it does seem like the restaurant may someday reopen (if their social media is any indication).
Local Dining Experiences in Koreatown
It wouldn’t be a visit to Koreantown without some homemade food, would it? Tony is invited to a traditional homemade Korean dinner with David Choe and family; this is a chance to learn more about the artist and try dishes that are common to Korean dining tables but less often found on restaurant tables.
There, they dig into Galbijjim, Kimchi, chestnut “special” rice, stuffed peppers, Chung Po Mook, Japchae, avocado eggrolls, fried squid and shrimp, and potato pancakes; the spread looks as delicious as anything Bourdain ate at restaurants in the area.
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Koreatown, or do you have an update about one of these restaurants? Let me know in the comments below!