Great Tapas (and BBQ) in Koreatown: LaOn

Abalone

I arrived to our 7-top reservation on account of an invitation from Josh of Food GPS, but only after first following the noise and crowd into the very popular Don Dae Gam, which was located in the same plaza. I turned to each occupied table (they all were), and when I didn’t recognize one face I went back out the door.

Sliced Daikon "Taco"

At LaOn, we were one of two parties total that dined there in the duration of our feast. As the only non-Caucasian in the party, I had also learned that before I arrived, the servers verified repeatedly that indeed, this was the restaurant at which they wanted to be, and not next door.

Don’t judge a palate by its cover…

As each cooked or uncooked dish arrived in the practically empty restaurant, it became apparent that we were one of the first to discover this little gem. The best thing about our big party was that we were able to order a lot to ensure getting a bite of everything while not leaving a scrap by the time we were finished.

Steak Tartar

With the same people behind Park’s BBQ masterminding LaOn, this surprisingly pleasant dining space – though furnished with the obligatory fans above each table – isn’t the spot to court your singularly focused meat-minded friends (often the stigma I’ve found associated with Korean food). Sure, you’ll get an on-table iron charcoal grill on which to cook your skirt steak, beef tongue and skewers (the bacon-wrapped duk, or tubular rice cakes, are a must), but you’d really be missing out if you overlooked the peewee fingerling potatoes in green pepper & green chile sauce to start, the pork/egg/shiitake/cucumber/carrot wrapped in daikon “tacos,” the rice paper-wrapped steak tartar topped with quail egg, the garlic abalone dish, the roe-uni stone pot rice … I think you get the point.

Bacon-wrapped Duk, Sausage and Onion on the Grill

With the only included banchan being pickled, thinly sliced cucumbers and more-than-decent kimchi, it’s clear that this isn’t a Korean restaurant that rests its laurels on filler. But the servers and chef/owner were more than courteous – even friendly. Now gone are the days where I had to “corner a Korean” (UCLA proved useful for this) just so I could have a go-to guy that could order for me without the awkwardness of the language barrier and risk of being taken a less-than-courageous customer. A nice surprise was a dish that we hadn’t ordered but was gratefully sent out: A kind of chapchae, but made with rice cakes, instead. I would definitely classify this as a staple and would order this next time.

The best part about it? The raw cuts are of quality while LaOn’s location and audience in Koreatown prevents the BBQ as well as the small plates from being too precious. Just make sure that in a party this big, you order 2 of most things. Proof: By the end, we were stuffed, and had only spent $34 per person including tax, just one bottle of wine and 20%+ tip (no dessert).

So go forth and visit LaOn. “Small plates” is the arguably hackneyed phenomenon these days, but this little Don Dae Gam-adjacent place in Koreatown is a stand-out gem that does it all so well. And for those cravings of the Americanized Korean tradition of BBQ – there’s more than enough to go around.

Mon – Sat: 5 PM – 1 AM
Sun: 5 PM – 11 PM

LaOn
1145 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
323.373.0700

La Descarga: The Underground Rum Revival

Main bar at La Descarga

The speakeasy isn’t dead.

Due to fatigue induced by Mark Gold’s wonderful fried chicken over at Eva, I had missed a late reservation on opening night at La Descarga. Luckily, thanks to Mattatouille and the company of H.C. of LA-OC-Foodie and Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, I was able to avoid the rush and visit the new, under-cover, reservation-only rum bar the very next night.

Struggling under the weight of a wine-paired meal at The Raymond in Pasadena, I was determined to see what all the fuss was about. Back in a part of Hollywood that actually borders on Koreatown, comes experience from other parts of town like the membership-only Doheny.  With additional cocktail friend in tow, we admired the neighboring taco stand (complete with lucious spit of meat in the window) while being cleared by the well-dressed, courteous doorman with a clipboard. And up we ascended, up narrow stairs and through jaggedly winding hallways and into an … office with a beautiful lady behind the desk.

At La Descarga, she let us know, there are two bars and one smoking room. The bar in the back smoking room is reserved for rum only while the main, front bar will serve us their cocktail menu. Cigars are available (10 hand-rolled and aged varieties, that is, for your pleasure). From what I heard about Bill and H.C.’s opening escapades the night before, I had already known this – as H.C. had been lamenting about his dry cleaning bill earlier.

The hostess walked around the desk and toward us. Naturally, we backed up. And it was then we noticed that to our right there was a wardrobe, which she opened. We saw white linen Havana shirts hanging with a passageway behind them.

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