Walking into Culver City’s Alibi Room bar is akin to walking into a boozy ski lodge with a fireplace along the back wall and a angular wood bar taking up the middle of the room. Low-lit tables and ottomans at the front of the room provide space for patrons to relax and enjoy Alibi Room’s selection of craft beers and specialty cocktails. Drinks like the “Breaking Bad,” with its heat and mix of tequila and mescal, and the Kentucky Mule, a bourbon-based take on the classic Moscow variety, help establish the space as a hotbed for cocktail lovers. But the bar’s biggest advantage over the local competition, by far, comes from its kitchen; Alibi Room serves up a menu of favorites from Kogi BBQ chef Roy Choi’s revolutionary gourmet food truck, as well as rice bowls and other representations of his growing food empire.
Mijin Namgoong couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing from Westside Los Angeles. The diverse community had plenty to offer, but there wasn't a restaurant dedicated to the sort of healthful, contemporary, Seoul-style Korean cooking that Mijin and many of her friends enjoyed. She decided to remedy this situation by founding Wharo Korean BBQ in 2004. Thrillist took note of this approach and placed the restaurant on its list of The Westside's 9 Best Korean BBQ Spots.
In Korea, family-style meals are traditionally cooked in a large stone pot, around which family members gather and socialize as they eat. At Wharo Korean BBQ, Mijin strove to capture this communal spirit by equipping each table with a central grill that diners huddle around while cooking their own meals. Charcoal-stoked flames flicker beneath the surface of the grill, lending a smoky flavor to certified Angus rib eye steak, thin-sliced pork that marinated in a spicy miso sauce, or tuna seasoned with sesame oil, salt, and black pepper.
What if You Don't Want to Grill Anything?
Back in the kitchen, the chefs keep themselves busy preparing a wide assortment of traditional Korean dishes as well as slightly updated versions of familiar classics. This selection includes pan-fried, Korean-style pancakes with crabmeat, chives, or homemade kimchi as well as salads of sauteed tofu and organic baby greens tossed with sesame dressing. Additionally, Wharo Korean BBQ deviates from its roots a little bit by offering Japanese-style shabu shabu meals, which allow diners to cook their own meats and vegetables using heated pots of savory or spicy broth.
We have a large selection of dishes from Korean, Chinese, Japanese, American and other cuisines. The buffet provides an international dining opportunity, allowing customers to experience new dishes, new cuisines and favorite dishes at reasonable prices.
In true Korean barbecue form, the grills at Park’s BBQ aren’t in the kitchen—they’re set into the tables where customers sit. This way, they can watch as strips of kobe-style beef, pork belly, and short ribs cook to just the right temperature. Park’s BBQ orders their cuts of USDA prime beef in small daily deliveries, which means that each morsel is impeccably fresh; a fair trade-off for the risk that some selections from the barbecue menu occasionally sell out. If they do, a selection of main and side dishes prepared by the staff do just fine. LA Weekly reporter Jonathan Gold especially enjoyed the “wondrous” small-plate appetizers of egg pancakes, small fish, and kimchi, along with the cold buckwheat noodles in soup known as naengymyon. Everything is served in the restaurant’s ultramodern dining room, where black tables sit beneath powerful, stainless steel fans that whisk away any smoke emitted by the tabletop grills and any bad jokes emitted by dining partners.
At Hae Jang Chon, the dolgooi, a traditional stone grill, is literally at the center of every meal. The circular stones sit in the middle of each table, two-inch-thick slabs that heat up as diners peruse the menu of meats. Most patrons order the all-you-can-eat buffet, for which parties of two or more can choose up to four meats for each round. Servers bring the raw morsels tableside, and arrange them on the grill to a growing chorus of sizzles. Diners look on as cuts of Black Angus beef brisket, baby octopus, squid, and beef bulgogi quickly brown, then pluck them from the slab with chopsticks, pile them on kimchi pancakes and steamed rice, and adorn them with pickled veggies and spicy sauces from a bounty of traditional garnishes. The drink list keeps with the Korean spirit, and includes herbal rice wine, Korean vodka, and pints of Hite.
Even the most interesting conversations tend to be put on hold when the barbecue dinners at Soowon Galbi commence. Something primitive takes over as soon as guests catch sight of the beef short ribs, pork cutlets, and butterfly shrimp that servers lay out on their sizzling tabletop grills. Despite these primitive instincts, dining at Soowon Galbi is an altogether civilized experience. Servers are always scanning the booths in the sleek dining room, ready at a moment’s notice to help guests flip, cut, and whisper words of encouragement to their meats. Chatter resumes once the tender morsels are cooked, with intermittent pauses for bites of grilled zucchini and sips of soju, a Korean rice wine. Of course, you can always forgo the hands-on barbecue experience in favor of a traditional Korean dish, such as spicy soybean stew.