Every time it seems like new options might be beginning to dry up in Koreatown, the neighborhood just continues to give. One of my favorite restaurants recently revealed itself after Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang wrote about Jun Won and compared it to another compelling comfort food emporium, Seongbukdong. Given the recommendation, it wasn’t long before we met there.
Jung Ye Jun opened Jun Won 18 years ago, naming the restaurant for her son Jun. Enter through the back, passing a yellow sign with peeling blue letters. Inside, a “roof” resembles a country cottage, and paper lanterns light the room. Tables consist of dark stained, irregularly cut cross sections tree. Now that nearly two decades have passed, Jun Won runs the restaurant, and his mother owns Jun Won Ban Chan at 3160 West Olympic Boulevard. [Note to self: go, today!]
A vast array of panchan changes frequently and on my first visited included mild roasted Shishito peppers with chiles and garlic cloves; sauteed parsley, crunchy bean sprouts, pickled eggplant strips, steamed sheets of Nappa cabbage, spinach with sesame oil, and perhaps my favorite plate of panchan ever: green peppers stuffed with carrot and onion flecked pork meatball, prepared in the “jeon” style, meaning it was egg battered and pan-fried.
On August 14, they had a different roster of panchan, aside from the peppers and sprouts. They sent out bottomless bowls of bitter dandelion greens, nori flakes with scallions, aromatic sesame leaves dressed with light chile, and a soup of daikon rectangles, mushrooms, scallions and tofu.
Each meal comes with crunchy chile peppers that aren’t spicy and a bold fermented bean paste folded with chile paste. Amazingly, on neither occasion did they deliver straight kimchi.
On August 14, pan-fried fish was definitely on my mind again, and this time, Jun recommended an off-menu Sea Trout ($15.50), which is listed in Korean on a printout that’s taped to the back wall. This fish was also butterflied and served skin-on, with bronzed flesh and even better results than the atka. This specimen wasn’t as bony, and the white flesh pulled easily from head and backbone.
He also recommended sautes, either pork and/or kimchi, squid or octopus. We went for the Sauted Spicy Octopus ($15.50), which featured tender cross sections of tentacle bombed with sliced cucumber, scallions and gochujang, finished with sesame seeds.
Both meals ended with a bowl of burned rice in hot water, which was a palate cleanser that imparted toasty flavor.
Jun Won had a number of other tempting dishes, many with seafood, including salted shrimp and tofu casserole, and “seasoned oyster.” Jung Ye Jun grew up in Chungcheongnam-do, a province in southwest Korea that’s best known (food wise) for tiny oysters. That fact alone will be enough to warrant a third visit, but the first two meals already provided enough supporting evidence.