Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang has his finger on the pulse of Koreatown like few other people in my social circle, so of course he knew about O Jang Dong’s return to the neighborhood. Steve and Graci Yi first opened a soulful restaurant by that name in 1987, retired, and returned to Koreatown earlier this year, replacing another Korean restaurant on 3rd Street. They previously operated further west, in current home of Sun Ha Jang. Circle of life.
Windows line the west and south walls, with a planter subdividing the dining room of what’s basically a diner. Push a button for service and staffers know to look at digital numerical readout that corresponds to your table. O Jang Dong’s logo is of a man happily slurping noodles, which makes sense since the house specialty is neng myun, cold noodles that are nearly ideal for summer.
Panchan remains pretty constant at O Jang Dong, but expect some rotation. My first visit included dishes of spicy scallions, crisp kimchi with residual punch, creamy potato salad, and marinated eggplant strips punctuated with red and green peppers.
Panchan at my second meal was even better, including kimchi (natch), spicy radish cubes, steamed broccoli florets tossed with sliced krab, sweet fish cake strips folded with onion, pepper, scallion and sesame. However, three times was clearly the charm as my third visit included the discovery of an oyster in my kimchi, which to me, seems about as cool as finding a pearl in an oyster.
Mandoo Jupshi ($6.90) were steamed homemade dumpling with thin, sticky flour skins cradling a crumbly jumble of pork, glass noodles and more. The half-moons rested on a lettuce leaf to keep them from sticking to the metal steamer, and they ended up doing da dip in savory soy sauce.
Apparently Hwae Neng Myun ($8.28) wasn’t the correct neng myun to order, since the cold, vermicelli-like noodles involved rice instead of buckwheat. However, they were still good, tossed with a sweet and spicy chile sauce called gochugang, assorted vegetables, a single hardboiled egg and pieces of seasoned skate, which required some nimble nibbling to pry the sweet meat from the sea creature’s firm but boneless “skeleton.”
The Yis started my second and third meals at O Jang Dong with a metal cup filled with hot, salty, murky beef broth. It was a comforting way to kick things off in cooler months.
The star of Meal #2 was Pork Rib Soup w/Potatoes ($6.44), which was a misnomer. This turned out to be one of Koreatown’s better pork neck soups, rivaled only – so far – by Mapo Jip. The spicy pork broth supported mustard seeds, a single skinned potato and sesame leaves. The pork oil and mustard seeds float on top of the soup, pork shreds and veg sink to the bottom of the bowl. After stripping the chambered bones of tender pork shreds in a display that requires chopstick dexterity, place the bones in a metal bowl, then dredge for more goodness.
Meal #3 involved the largest group of people – four – and a rainy day. We split several hot, fortifying plates and bowls, beginning with Bindae Duk ($5.98), a ground mung bean pancake studded with scallions, pork and red peppers. We tore off swaths and dipped them in a dish of soy sauce studded with minced scallions and sesame seeds. The flavor was good, but other establishments deliver more satisfying texture, meaning crispier, and less gritty.
My main course was Tuk Bulgogi ($8.28), a restrained stew with bundles of enoki mushroom, scallions, broth-softened leeks and onions, glass noodles and peppers in savory-but-not-salty beef broth. The idea was to spoon lean beef and broth over white rice before indulging.
Mattatouille’s fellow church member – Candice – opted for a bowl of mild, comforting Hand Rolled Noodles w/chicken ($7.36). This was a light soup, with irregularly shaped, fettuccine-like noodles seasoned with little more than scallions, nori and egg strands.
O Jang Dong is one of the better value propositions in Koreatown, and considering the menu has one of the biggest selections, the quality level was far better than it had to be.
FYI: O Jang Dong also has locations in Garden Grove (714 530 8850) and downtown (213 627 8282), though it’s unclear whether the same owners are involved.