Mapo: Making a Koreatown Strip Mall Comfortable

Restaurant Los Angeles

There’s a big difference between Ma Po and Mapo, at least according to Google’s search engine. Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang originally told me about the restaurant months ago, but a Google search directed me to Ma Po Dak Gal Bi, a restaurant located further south that specializes in spicy pan-fried chicken with vegetables. The restaurant did a good job with their chicken, but it wasn’t what I expected, and that’s because I went to the wrong Mapo. Apparently the right Mapo was just where Kang envisioned, at the corner of 6th & Normandie. C. Thi. Nguyen’s recent LA Times review revived my interest in the restaurant. In a final twist, when Mattatouille and I met there, it turns out that I had eaten at the restaurant before, way back in 2001, long before Kyuong Sun Lee assumed control and righted a listless ship.

The menu doesn’t really feature that many unusual dishes. You can get kalbi and bulgogi at a number of restaurants in Koreatown, along with spicy pork, broiled cod, jap chae and an array of hearty soups and roasted fish dishes. It’s more about the execution than differentiation at the homestyle restaurant.

Korean Food Los Angeles
Mapo’s banchan are some of the best in town, highlighted by crunchy pickled daikon cubes slathered with chile sauce. You’re also liable to find mayo-tossed macaroni salad studded with raisins; soy-soaked potatoes and carrots; crispy scallions tossed with chile sauce; squares of firm acorn jelly doused with chile paste, scallions and sesame seeds; kimchi with just the right amount of fermented funk; spinach and julienned carrot lavished with sesame oil; floppy discs of fermented cucumber; and an addictive green with a salty finish and a flavor that neither of us could place. It’s worth visiting Mapo just for their complimentary small plates, but then, where’s the fun in that?

Korean Food Los Angeles
Delicious Soup with Dough Flakes in Stone Pot ($7.75) basically lived up to the arrogant name. The bubbling broth was loaded with irregular “noodles,” scallions, a few strands of cooked egg, a few shelled clams, and, at least in our bowl, a single shaving of daikon. The broth was delicate, even though the dough was not.

Korean Food Los Angeles
Roasted Yi Meun Fry Fish ($11.40) was butterflied and bronzed, with luscious fillets whose flavor really popped after a squeeze of lemon. Just be careful about tiny bones.

Each of us received a complimentary metal container of rice that was stained purple with wild grains and flecked with oats. The healthy dish was a satisfying complement to the chopstick-plucked chunks of fish.

If you’re still not convinced that Mapo is worth a visit, go for lunch, when the specials are way beyond low-risk. You can score bi bim bap, hand made knife-cut noodle soup or beef soup, plus an array of bottomless banchan, for only $5.99. This has to be one of the city’s best bargains.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jo Stougaard. Jo Stougaard said: "Mapo’s panchan are some of the best in town" by @FoodGPS […]


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