Soowon Galbi: Making Char-Grilled Meat Accessible in K-Town

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Korean BBQ Los Angeles

Birthdays are a great excuse to indulge, explore, and get together with friends. All of those factors were considerations when choosing Soowon Galbi for my latest celebration. The name refers to Seoul’s city center and the neighborhood specialty: galbi. Of course we didn’t stop with short rib, and we soon learned why restaurant’s been generating buzz since opening in 2009.

One of the great things about Soowon Galbi was how accessible the owners made Korean cuisine for diners, complete with printed “Cooking Instructions,” plus guides to “Dipping Sauces and Condiments” and “Banchan (Side Dishes).” If you’re unfamiliar with Korean food, Soowon Galbi is a great place to start learning. Bonus: their charcoal-grilled meat is some of L.A.’s best.

According to our handy panchan guide, we learned that a “Jeolla region chef” prepared Soowon’s complimentary sides, which change daily. Apparently “Jeolla-do is known for their rich cuisine, spiced with red pepper flakes, sesame oil, garlic and fermented soybean paste.”

At Soowon, we received a style of kimchi specific to Jeolla called “Gut Juh Lee,” featuring fresh, unfermented cabbage. We also scored dishes of sweet, spicy and crunchy cucumber kimchi; fish cakes called Oh Deng sautéed with carrots, onions and scallions in a sweet soy-based sauce; crunchy blanched bean sprouts; sweet potatoes braised in a sweet soy-based sauce; pan-fried zucchini slices battered in egg, a style called jeon; strips of seaweed tossed in a sweet vinegar; strips of rehydrated radish in a tangy, spicy sauce; Go Sah Ree, bracken fern stems; and spinach in sesame oil, crunchy light mayo slaw and more

We should have been paying closer attention, since they also have three special kimchis available by request: fermented Nappa cabbage, cubed daikon called Ggakdugi, and fermented green onion. Basically, you need to be in the know, or have better reading comprehension than me.

Soup Los Angeles
With our order, we received sweet-ish soup with julienne daikon and beef chunks in a savory beef broth.

Salad Los Angeles
They also supplied mixed green salad with sliced onions and a chile-seasoned soy dressing.

Korean BBQ Los Angeles
Soowon Galbi offers four levels of Combo Special, ranging from $39.99 – $99.99. We went with the second tier, B ($79.99) featuring marinated large beef short rib, sliced rib eye, pork neck, seasoned beef rib eye, and beef brisket.

Korean BBQ Los Angeles
Thin-sliced beef brisket cooked quickly, which allowed the meat to develop a winning sear.

Korean BBQ Los Angeles
Juicy sliced rib-eye was a crowd pleaser.

Korean BBQ Los Angeles
Well-marbled beef rib-eye was similarly buttery.

Korean BBQ Los Angeles
Lean slices of pork neck appeared with flavor fat rims that caramelized on the grill.

Korean BBQ Los Angeles
At the end, we had four meats blanketing the grill, including two varieties of rib-eye, pork neck and bone-in sheets of the signature galbi, which our server cut with scissors.

With the charcoal grilled meat, we received fermented soybean paste, the mysterious “galbi sauce,” a mildly spicy chile sauce, and slippery rice paper wrappers. It was wrap, dip and repeat. The combo also came with a bottle of soju or Hite beer. We went with the latter.

Bibimbap Los Angeles
The one meat-free diner at our table pounded panchan and ordered Octopus Bibimbap, which had no detectable octopus, but did have a bunch of vegetables. The ‘bap arrived on sizzling platter. Our server stirred tableside, squeezing on a sweetish chile paste, gochujang.

In L.A., there’s a pecking order for Korean barbeque restaurants. Park’s pretty much stands at the pinnacle, with single orders of Prime beef. Down low, there’s a spate of all-you-can-eat establishments of questionable and varying quality, and in-between, you’ll find several sleek, contemporary grills with high-value combo dinners. Soowon Galbi is a contender for best of that bunch, and more than justified its birthday meal selection.


Joshua Lurie

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

Blog Comments

soowon is my favorite kbbq spot! great sides dishes, quality meat and friendly service (which is not always so common in ktown).

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