(Formatted with All Pictures here:
A quick survey of the countless threads in cyberspace on great Korean BBQ in Los Angeles will net you a pretty clear winner: Park's BBQ. And with good reason, as this venerable LA restaurant consistently delivers very good quality meats (USDA Prime and American Kobe Beef) with good Panchan (Small Side Dishes) in a bright, modern setting (compared to many of its competitors).
Sitting inauspiciously in the corner of a crammed mini-mall near the corner of Vermont and Olympic Boulevard, its location and nondescript sign do nothing to attract passerby traffic or first time visitors. But seeing the consistent crowd of people pouring out of the entrance, waiting for a table, should be the first sign of promise. And then when you step inside, notice all the bright polished metal and amazing smell of their grilled meat, and finally take the first bite, you realize that Park's BBQ is something special.
For those new to Korean BBQ, every table has an open grill in the center, where the various meats that you order are grilled on. Many standard Korean BBQ restaurants are a do-it-yourself setup, where you grill the meats and pull them off when ready. Nicer restaurants will have their waitstaff grill it for you, and they pull them off to the side when ready, letting you enjoy at your leisure with less work. At Park's it's technically the latter, but we've found ourselves manning the grill many times when it gets too busy (more on this later).
Seeing the smartly dressed waitstaff (black on black uniforms), along with numerous pictures of celebrities' and athletes' visits to the restaurant framed along the wall, might give pause for some who worry that they've stepped into a tourist trap or a place that's more scene than substance. But those worries should go away the minute the first wave of Panchan arrive. :)
The Panchan (Small Side Dishes) are complementary and usually a good gauge of the quality of the restaurant (FYI: You can ask for seconds on whatever Panchan you want, another nice bonus :). They change daily, depending on what the kitchen has access to and wants to serve that day. It can range from simple marinated Kelp, to the ubiquitous Cabbage Kimchi, to Stewed Omasum, and many other items. Over the past 3 years worth of visits, I've found their Panchan to be consistently solid.
(Note: All Korean names' English spelling courtesy of Park's BBQ waitstaff.)
After placing your order, a server will come out and plop a nice piece of Beef Fat to grease up the grill (mmm... :).
The one dish that I almost never fail to order when going to Park's is their #1. Kkok Sal ('Kobe' Style Beef).
They use an American Kobe Beef, and while the marbling may not compare to Grade A5 Wagyu Beef from Japan, it's pretty impressive and yields a tender, huge, meaty bite of buttery Grilled Beef. The portions are generous and there's a level of quality that's hard to surpass from other local KBBQ joints.
Their #3. Yang Nyum Gal Bi (Gal-Bi (Seasoned Prime Beef Short Rib)) is another popular item, with 2 huge strips of their marinated USDA Prime Beef Short Rib.
While they use USDA Prime, the Gal Bi turns out to be too thick and chewy each time I've ordered it (over the last 3 years). I've tried it medium-rare, medium and medium-well and I find myself coming to the same conclusion. Still for those that appreciate a heartier, meatier cut of Beef, it's worth ordering.
As tempting as it might be, their Pajeon (Pancake with Rock Shrimp & Green Onion) is the one disappointment I've run across at Park's each time I've ordered it.
While they manage to have a nice crunchy outer crust, it's always turned out too thick with the center being extremely mushy (with some uncooked batter).
Pork lovers should give their #12. Sang Oh Gyub Sal ("Tokyo X" Style Pork Belly) a try. (Note: On their new menu, it's been renamed as simply "Pork Belly." The waitress confirmed that it's the same cut as the Tokyo X Pork Belly, but they renamed it (she didn't know why and neither did the manager on duty).)
This American Pork Belly is tasty (how can you go wrong with fresh grilled fatty Pork? :), but the super thick slabs of Pork can be overwhelming after a few bites. I've found Sansui-Tei's Buta Toro (Pork Toro) and Tsuruhashi's Kurobuta Bara (Berkshire Natural Pork Belly) to be more enjoyable for pure porcine goodness in terms of texture and flavor.
Chili Fiends will be delighted by the Housemade Chili Dipping Sauce that's served with their Tokyo X Pork Belly. It's actually not that spicy and looks more menacing than it actually is. :) Still, it's an interesting augmented flavor if you prefer a little heat with your Pork Belly.
While I've been enjoying Park's BBQ for the better part of 3 years, it's the most recent visit that shows how Park's continues to improve and change for the better. I bring 3 budding Hounds who love Korean BBQ and have eaten at more KBBQ restaurants around K-Town than I have, but have never been to Park's.
As we're seated, we're greeted by another beautiful wave of Panchan (Small Side Dishes).
Our favorite this evening is their always excellent Gaejang (Spicy Seasoned Raw Crab) that has a good burn from the chili, but also a nice garlicky sweetness.
During this most recent visit is when we discover that Park's has now added a new "Wagyu Special" section to their menu. They just added the new items last month according to our server. Intrigued, I find out that their "Wagyu" is actually an American Wagyu (similar to the branding for American Kobe Beef (versus real Japanese Kobe Beef)). They source their American Wagyu from the East Coast.
There are 3 different cuts of their American Wagyu on the menu, and we order their #1. Kkok Sal (Wagyu Style Beef). Their #2. Gal-Bi (Wagyu Beef Short Rib) and #3. Wagyu Rib Eye Steak are sold out (and sold out the next 2 times I inquired about it as well). They seem to be having sourcing problems (very limited quantities) with these cuts, just like Tsuruhashi and Sansui-Tei's best offerings.
One look at the marbling on this American Wagyu and it's clear that they've found something that's beginning to look like real Wagyu Beef from Japan. With some quick grilling, their Wagyu Style Beef is ready.
Taking a bite, the Beef is creamy, buttery and exhibiting a flavor and mouthfeel far superior to Park's own famous "Kobe" Style Beef. It doesn't come close to the Washugyu Tokusen Ro-su (Kobe Superior Rouse - Supreme Kobe Beef Rib Eye), Thin Cut, at Sansui-Tei, or the ever-elusive, but oh-so-amazing Kobe Ro-su (U.S. Kobe Rib Eye Cap) at Tsuruhashi, but I've found my new "Must Order" at Park's BBQ now. After their new #1. Wagyu Style Beef, I don't think I'll go back to ordering my original favorite "Kobe" Style Beef. :) Delicious!
My guests are completely blown away at this point :), and our next order begins grilling: #10. Hu Dib Gu I (Prime Beef Tongue).
While it's a thin cut (compared to the other meats on the menu), it turns out to be a bit denser and chewier than my preference. It turns out better than the regular Beef Tongue at Tsuruhashi and Sansui-Tei (places known for their Beef Tongue), but falls short of the highest grade offerings at both places, like Tsuruhashi's Jotan Shio (Salted Prime Fresh Beef Tongue).
We continue on with another favorite, the #2. Sang Gal Bi (Gal-Bi (Prime Beef Short Rib)) from their original main menu.
This is a classic item from the Korean BBQ experience, and this latest visit reaffirms my preference for their plain USDA Prime Short Rib over their marinated version (#3).
This non-drenched version just allows the natural beef flavors of the USDA Prime Short Rib to really sing. And despite the huge slab of meat, the staff manages to cook it just right, resulting in a series of juicy, satisfying, gristle-free mouthfuls of delicious bovine happiness. :) Still my favorite Gal Bi in So Cal. :)
We finish off the evening with their #13. Yang Nyum Oh Gyub Sal (Seasoned Pork Belly) (formerly known as "Marinated Tokyo X Style Pork Belly" on their old menu).
Like their regular Pork Belly, it's served with an "ancient Kimchi" called Nuk Uan Kimchi that has a wonderful, super funky characteristic. Kimchi newbies should probably steer clear of these long-pickled vegetables and just concentrate on eating the delicious Pork Belly. But together, there's this sweet, spicy, sour pungency combined with the juicy Pork Belly that really puts a smile on your face. :) Excellent.
Service is quite interesting at Park's and a bit uneven over the past 3 years. I remember my first visit years ago, when our party was sent upstairs to a corner table. It was at 100% capacity and we had to cook everything ourselves (no server stopped by to help us cook), which was fine by me (since many of my guests and I were used to cooking at various Korean BBQ restaurants around town). After that, on subsequent visits, we had great service with the waitstaff diligently cooking and flipping all the items we ordered, plate after plate, with no issues. On my final visit recently, it was another busy night, and the staff ended up forgetting about our table for half of the meal (we ended up cooking many items ourselves).
Prices range from $15 - $45 for their BBQ items. We average about ~$40 per person (including tax and tip).
Park's BBQ continues to serve some of the best quality meats for a Korean BBQ restaurant in So Cal. And with the addition of their new American Wagyu Beef to the menu, it makes Park's even more appealing than most of its competitors in the area. While I've recently found myself gravitating more towards Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) eateries like Tsuruhashi, seeing the starry-eyed reactions from budding Hounds on my last visit - "Wow. It's the best Korean BBQ I've ever had!" - and enjoying their new American Wagyu additions have renewed my love of Park's. Recommended.
*** Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0) ***
955 S. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Tel: (213) 380-1717
Hours: Sun - Thurs, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. Midnight
Fri - Sat, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
955 S. Vermont Ave, Suite G, Los Angeles, CA 90006
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