Had an absolutely wonderful dinner this week at a little homestyle Korean restaurant called Maru (356 S. Western Ave., # 201, LA, CA 90020 (213) 386-6188). The place is small and unassuming, upstairs in a strip mall on Western near 4th. Valet parking is easy, and costs $2. Maru is spotlessly clean, sparsely decorated, and their printed menu (fortunately for me) has reasonably good English translations. Also, the folks working there speak English well, so ordering shouldn't be too much of a problem for non-Korean speakers. We sat down and ate in the restaurant, but from what I could see, they do a pretty decent carry-out business as well.
Anyway, four of us had dinner together and shared pretty much all of the dishes. We ordered something called dak dori tang (and for those of you who speak Korean or have a deeper knowledge of the cuisine, I apologize in advance for my idiotic descriptions and Korean/English transliterations), which was a sweet, spicy stew of chicken, potatoes, onions, and lots and lots of chili. The density of flavor in this dish is really hard to describe; it's like everything about it was super concentrated and intense. I think could actually eat this every day. Wonderful stuff! Also got a galbi jjim, which was beef short ribs, mushrooms and veggies in a sweet soy broth. I love this kind of slow-cooked beef that's all tender and falls apart into individual beef fibers when you put it in your mouth. The sweetness and gentleness of the soy and cooked onions pairs really well with this sort of a slow cooked braise, and the broth is a perfect match for a bowl of hot, sticky rice. Also had a dish called dweji galbi, which was slices of pork belly and ribs slathered in sweet hot pepper sauce with onions and served sizzling on a iron plate. Seriously, I could barely stop eating this. Hot, sweet, rich, crispy, juicy and porky. We also shared a fiery red bubbling pot of kimchi stew and a nice pork soup, also served bubbling hot in a small iron cauldron. My least favorite dish of the evening, was of course, the one that I picked out -- seafood and scallion pancakes that were good, but not nearly as delicious as the chicken, beef, and pork dishes. Also, of course, lots of excellent, homemade panchan, including several very nice kimchi and a dish of blue crab marinated in chili and vinegar. Dessert was a glass of sweet ginger flavored rice tea -- a perfectly soothing cap for a wonderful meal.
Someone else picked up the tab, so I didn't see what the monetary damages were, but most of the entrees were in the $10 range. All-in-all, I loved this place. It is simple, clean, very friendly, and most of all, serves large helpings of food with deeply wonderful Korean flavors. Actually better, I think, than the vast majority of food I had in Seoul. I will definitely be back, and will, I think, be ordering take out on a very regular basis.