698 S. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90005 | Map
For those not too familiar with Korean food the Kobawoo House – also known as Kobawoo Restaurant – offers a wonderful introduction to this great world of cuisine.
Kobawoo House has been open continuously since 1981, which is quite a feat in the restaurant world in Los Angeles or anywhere, for that matter. The atmosphere is traditional Korean, with heavy wood furniture and the walls adorned with Korean screen prints. There is a doorbell on every table so you can summon the waiter for any little thing at all. Don’t be shy about asking for things at any Korean restaurant. If you want some extra kimchee, they are not going to bring it unless you ask. And with all the panchan, or small side dishes, there are endless refills available. It is even acceptable in Korean establishments to raise your hands in the air and clap them together loudly to get the waiter’s attention.
Kobawoo House is the closest you likely will get to dining in the home of a wonderful Korean home cook unless you have Korean friends. All of the food here is prepared carefully from scratch and it’s easy to imagine the chef is someone’s grandmother.
You are going to wait a little while for a table at Kobawoo House unless you go at lunch time, but it is worth it. As you wait take a look at the tables to see what people are eating. It may seem that the same two dishes are on every table – the seafood pancake and the Bosam.
When you come here, bring your family and friends, because the portions are large and the food is served family style.
The panchan varies, but is always fresh and flavorful. On a recent visit, there was the garden variety seasoned kimchee, seaweed salad, poached spinach salad in rice vinegar, pieces of braised cold beef in a light soy sauce, daikon radish kimchee, and a lovely mung bean jelly with green onions and soy sauce. Kimchee is loaded with probiotics and is a super food. One 3 to 4 ounce serving contains about 70 percent of your RDA of vitamin C.
My favorite dish at Kobawoo House is the seafood pancake, served on a sizzling iron platter and cut like a pizza. It contains egg, potato, crab, little shrimp, squid, octopus, green onion and some shredded potato. The dipping sauce consists of light soy and sesame oil with some green onion. The pancake itself is crispy on the outside, with a fluffy center filled with seafood. I have feasted on this dish in a number of places over the last two decades and can say for sure this is one of the best bites in all of Koreatown. It is enough for two as an appetizer.
The Bosam is a giant plate of cold Korean offerings meant to be shared among three or more people. It is a whole lightly poached Napa cabbage torn into leaves, with a mass of fermented soybean chili sauce heaped in the center. It is surrounded with boiled, sliced pork and adorned with some nice vegetables. It also can be ordered with a bowl of seasoned poached mackerel, which I highly recommended. You are supposed to wrap the ingredients on a cabbage leaf and season it to your liking with the fermented mixture. Bosam is similar to Yunnan and Szechuan cold dishes which combine intensely hot chili infused ingredients with cool vegetables to temper the heat.
The Kobawoo House menu includes some nice grilled fish, including a wonderful oily mackerel, seasoned with a light coat of salt and white pepper and grilled until the skin is crispy. It’s served simply with a couple of lemon slices. While the mackerel is a little salty, it is especially good with the kimchee.
Another standout on the seafood menu is stir-fried squid with red chili and vegetables. It’s called ojjingo bokum. It consists of large pieces of giant squid, onion, red jalapeno, garlic, carrot, and chili paste sautéed in pork fat with a rather heavy hand on the sesame oil.
There are some vegetarian options to make any herbivore happy. I recommend vegetable bibmbap – a bowl of warm rice topped with sautéed spinach, carrots, mushrooms, dried kelp flakes, spring onions, black sesame seeds and bits of seaweed. The waiter will come to the table with a tub of fermented chili paste and add any amount you desire to the bowl, then carefully mix all the ingredients together, with or without a raw egg. Fresh, spicy, crispy, sweet and salty flavors come out in every bite. The chili paste is hot, but still flavorful. Be sure to inform your waiter that you do not want any meat in the dish as a precautionary measure.
Mainstream Koreans, who are not Buddhists, do not truly understand vegetarianism as we interpret it here in California. So when you tell them you don’t eat beef, they may look a little puzzled. But they will be all too happy to comply.
Kobawoo has a beer and wine license, but order soju instead. It’s a better compliment for Korean food.
The owners of the Kobawoo House want you to leave completely stuffed to the gills. It is a Korean tradition to make sure you don’t leave hungry.