In Korea’s culinary pantheon, sul lung tang holds a special place, and with any revered dish, people of course have strong opinions on how to prepare it. My friend Matthew Mattatouille Kang, who grew up eating the beef bone soup in L.A.’s Koreatown, led me to sul lung tang enlightenment. He pointed me toward Hanbat, which touts cloudy broth, but took me to Young Dong, which resides less than a mile away and serves a clear broth in an austere setting. As I learned, the differences are in the details, and even though I later enjoyed sul lang tang in several other Koreatown restaurants, Young Dong serves our favorite bowl to date.
The name of Ho Bin Choi’s 15-year-old restaurant, Young Dong, refers to a central Korean district. Choi’s also got a branch in Buena Park. In the L.A. original, the wall-mounted menu features 14 options, the best of which are variations on sul lung tang.
Of course we weren’t about to order “beef with no fat soup,” since fat equals flavor. We wanted Young Dong’s Special Beef Soup ($8.32), since it has the restaurant’s name and the word “special,” which are normally both good signs. However, Kang convinced me that Beef Cheek Soup ($8.32) would be a better bet. The broth was clear and fairly light, with very few noodles and in my case, tender sliced beef cheeks.
The ritual associated with sul lang tang is very specific. The soup is purposefully bland to start, but Young Dong provides flavorful additives, including scallions, salt, pepper, chile, steamed white rice and pungent kimchi (cabbage, scallions, radish), which diners can cut with scissors. Remove the meat and it’s dippable in soy jalapeno mustard sauce. Refreshment comes in the form of a pitcher of cool barley tea.
We returned a second time for Spicy Beef Brisket Soup w/Vegetable ($8.32), shredded beef, scallions, bean sprouts and broth-soaked daikon cubes in a chile-flecked beef broth. I wasn’t convinced that Korean food could be spicy, until this bowl of brisket soup.
We visited Young Dong for a third time for variety’s sake, ordering Spicy Cold Noodle w/Vegetable ($8.28), which was good on a warm summer day. We enjoyed mixed greens and sesame leaves slathered in gochujang, sprinkled with sesame seeds and laid on soba submerged in spicy broth. The plate appeared with warm beef broth and two the same two types of panchan: crunchy chile’d radish and kimchi sheets.
It took a couple bowls to appreciate the nuance of sul lung tang, but now we’re hooked.