After almost a decade of living in/around Los Angeles, I still haven’t made up my mind on whether I love or hate the city. However, I have come to the conclusion that Koreatown just may be the coolest place in LA.
If you are looking for a night out in downtown Los Angeles… let’s say the kind of night where you eat good food, channel your inner rockstar, and maybe even chat up a cute girl (or guy)… and if you’re bored of the usual options and are looking for something a little more unique, Koreatown is your 1-step shop.
Here in Koreatown, anything can happen.
Unleash the carnivore at Korean BBQ
All you can eat. Endless choices. Mosaics of meat. Caveman dining at its finest. Enough said (though I know I had you at “all you can eat”).
Forget about refined, upscale dining… Korean bbq is a hands-on, multi-sensory, all-encompassing dining experience like no other. It is the ultimate social event for the ravenous and carnivorous. The meal is meant to be enjoyed leisurely, in between many many courses of sizzling meat and shots of soju. I think (almost) every Los Angelean can agree that a night out in K-town is rarely complete without first stuffing your face at a Korean bbq restaurant.
And forget about tea lights or flowers. The centerpiece of the table is the grill. Platters upon platters of raw meat (of your choosing) are brought out to you, and grilled directly on your table DIY-style. The meal only ends when every single person is (happily) bursting at the seams and reeking of meat.
Pricing and tips: A meal runs about $18-$25US per person, depending on the place. And ask for the bean paste. The table setting usually doesn’t come with it, but you can request for it (at no extra charge). It’s the best dipping sauce, in my opinion.
Suggestions: Hae Jang Chon | 3821 W 6th St. Los Angeles, CA 90020 – for their cast iron skillets in lieu of a grill Road to Seoul | 1230 S Western Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90006 – simply delicious meat (oh yeah, and their loud k-pop) Oo-kook | 3385 W 8th St. Los Angeles, CA 90005 – for the choosiest selection of prime cuts of meat Manna | 333 S Alameda St. Los Angeles, CA 90013 – technically not in K-Town, but Manna has the best sides buffet, hands down. And their signature birthday champagne toasts are a crowd favorite.
Channel your inner rockstar at Korean Karaoke
Just like the Korean culture, Koreatown is a town of night owls, and almost everyone inevitably ends up at one of the many karaoke joints, belting out songs in the wee hours of the morning.
Korean Karaoke is another one of those weird cultural phenomenons that only happen in Asian cultures. Instead of singing in a bar in front of a room of strangers, you rent a private room equipped with a flat-screen TV, mics, and songbooks with thousands of song selections. If you’re used to American-style karaoke, you may think this is boring. But think again. This is where you can hog the mic, sing for hours, and not give a damn that you are not in fact Beyonce.
Here in K-town, everyone can be a rockstar. Without being totally humiliated. Unless your friends are a-holes.
Pricing: Be expected to pay $10-$15US per person for a 3 hour room rental. Yep, CHEAP entertainment.
Suggestions: Rosen Music Studio | 3488 W 8th St, Los Angeles, CA 90005 – This is where we always go. Not the greatest selection of songs, but enough to keep a group entertained for hours. Max Karaoke | 333 S Alameda St. Los Angeles, CA 90013 – pricier than most, but has the best selection of songs, bar none.
Experience the strange world of the Korean booking club
Ah the Korean booking club – it’s definitely not for everyone (myself included), but you may as well experience it at least once.
If you’re not familiar with the structure, here is what goes down:
The night starts relatively quietly with girls and boys sitting at segregated tables, not unlike a sixth grade dance. So this pretty much necessitates you having a group of friends your own gender to go out with, or else you’ll be sitting at a table alone or footing the entire bill of bottle service by yourself (girls get in for relatively free; just have to tip the server). And yes, there is alcohol to be consumed. You will be offered the choice of a bottle of vodka or whiskey. And strangely, you will also get a platter of fruit.
After a while, club music starts and the dance floor will slowly start to fill with people. And it finally gets interesting.
If you are a girl still sitting at your table, chances are a server will come by and grab you, shuttling you to a boys’ table (the ‘booking’ part), where you will be asked to partake in drinks and make small talk. Don’t worry, if you don’t like your new forced company, you can make a feeble excuse to use the restroom, and then never come back.
If you are a guy and spot that cute girl 3 tables over (the kind of girl you will never have the guts to talk to in real life), you can ask a waiter to bring her over to your table. But obviously everything comes at a price; and the more the tip, the cuter the girls.
Needless to say, this is probably the best concept ever invented for men, especially men who have no game :). But both parties benefit, as this is easily a practically free night out for the girls.
My tips: If you’re a girl and don’t want to “get booked”, just stay on the dance floor. Waiters will not go so far as to grab girls from the dance floor. No promises on the sleazy boys who will try to dance with you though.
Suggestions: Feria | 682 Irolo St. Los Angeles, CA 90005 (though I’m not sure I really can suggest any)
Relax in a traditional jimjilbang
You have probably guessed by now that everything in the Korean culture is a social event. Spas are no different. The Korean jimjilbang is a public bathhouse, super spa, and social hub all in one. Typically, you will find different themed rooms, called a kiln, (jade, salt, clay, ice waterfall) to select from based on your need. But not only will you find spa rooms and saunas, you will also find a food court, TV’s, gym, and sleeping/lounging quarters.
The public areas welcome everyone, making the jimjilbang an event for the entire family. The spa areas are gender-segregated and typically clothing prohibited (as it’s thought that clothing promote disease within the rooms). A jimjilbang remains open until late, or even 24/7 (yes, 24 hours a day!), making it a popular late night hang-out or a rest spot for the weary commuter.
Disclaimer: Personally, I have not been to one, as I’m quite prudish about being naked in public. But it’s definitely something I would like to try one day.
Suggestions: Wi Spa | 2700 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90057 – open around the clock
Koreatown is mesmerizing and strange, charismatic and exotic, the new “city that never sleeps”. It’s odd because you probably would never expect Koreatown to be one of the hippest places in Los Angeles to see and be seen. If you can look past the potholed streets, crazy drivers, and run-down strip malls, it is definitely worth a visit whether you’re a local or a visitor. Koreatown boasts seriously good eats, a bubbling social scene, and one of the best nightlife around. All while delivering a unique, cultural experience like nowhere else.
Practical Info for Navigating Koreatown
- Location: Koreatown is located in central Los Angeles, about 3 miles west of Downtown and 4 miles southeast of Hollywood.
Getting there: Everyone drives in LA. So you’ll need a car (or friends with cars) to get yourself to K-Town. If you must use public transportation, the Purple Line serves the neighborhood (Wilshire/Nomandie Station).
Parking: Sometimes, I don’t go to a place just because I know I won’t find parking. And while parking is hard to come by in K-Town, it’s not a reason to stay away. Most everywhere have valet parking (for only $2). It’s a marvel to see the valets juggle cars like Tetris. Or you may luck out on street parking during non-prime-dinner time hours.
Reservations: K-Town has gotten so popular in the past years that it is in your best interest to make reservations beforehand for any activity. There were times when I waited 2+ hours for dinner at a K-bbq restaurant. Trust me, the smell of grilling meat is the most torturous when you’re hungry.
Would you visit Koreatown and check out any of the above activities?
If you found this article useful and want to visit these places, you can download this on GPSMyCity here. You’ll get a GPS-guided map of these locations that you can use offline! This means you can spend less time looking for directions and more time exploring!