Food for Thought – A tour through Koreatown

If America was ever a melting pot, Los Angeles didn’t get the memo. We’re not fondue. To keep it in culinary terms, L.A. is more of a TV dinner, with separate and distinct sections that, together, create a meal. A look at the city’s demographics reveal what Angelenos intuitively know: for the most part, our neighborhoods are rather homogenous. But in that homogeneity, certain traditions flourish, including dietary traditions.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our historically ethnic parts of town, and perhaps nowhere more so than East Asian communities. Our neighbors across the Pacific maintain deep roots here, and their culinary heritage is alive and well in places like Chinatown, Thai Town, Little Tokyo, Little Osaka, Historic Filipinotown, and Koreatown.

My K-Town tour began at Hangari Kalguksu for appetizers. (Photo by Scott Bridges)

A buffer between the old money of Hancock Park and the newly arrived immigrants in the Westlake and Pico-Union districts, Koreatown is centrally located within Metro L.A. Before it became “K-Town,” it was where Hollywood royalty hung out after hours, home to the so-called triumvirate of sin: the Brown Derby, The Prince, and Cocoanut Grove.

Today, K-Town is known for its thriving dining scene, which has elevated the emerging neighborhood in recent years. There are layers of history here begging to be explored. It’s a history that is best told in terms of food, a primary means of livelihood for many immigrants. And what better to learn this history than with a guided food tour. So I did just that.

Hot wings at The Prince (best with a pitcher of Hite). (Photo by Scott Bridges)

Avital Food Tours divulge a hidden history, using food as a medium. The company operates in several cities, providing insight into places you thought you knew. I ventured out with seven compatriots and a knowledgeable guide named Kristin Hwang (a Korean-born, U.S.-raised immigrant and recent UCLA graduate), who shared fascinating details about the origins of K-Town, while teaching us about the customs, etiquette, and culinary traditions of Korea.

Cocktails at Escala. (Photo by Scott Bridges)

The tour showcases some of the essential restaurants in the area, and we dined on a single course at each joint before moving on to the next (in heavy rain, by the way, which only added to the allure). Here’s a list of the eateries the tour included:

– Hangari Kalguksu (noodle place)

– The Prince

– HMS Bounty

– Escala

– Snow Monster

– Quarters (Korean BBQ)

– Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong

– Han Bat Shul Lung Tang

– Normandie (for drinks)

There’s a lot of nooks to explore in K-Town, off the beaten path. (Photo by Scott Bridges)

If you’re interested in food and history (or just food) and want to learn more about your city or meet interesting people, I highly encourage you to check out Avital Food Tours.


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