Ganda-Ganda's Guide to LA's Koreatown Eats

Hands down, my favorite area in Los Angeles is Koreatown, but is anyone really surprised? Our friends, Kara and Mike, took us to Koreatown to explore it's finest offerings, which of course involved food. The main thing I wanted to do was eat Korean bbq. It's very good in Chicago, but it's not like how it is in Korea. It's close, but not quite there. I've heard that in LA it's like eating in Korea, so I wanted to see if this was really true.

Every where I researched, the only place consistently recommended was Kang Ho Dong Baekjong. As usual, the critics were right and the bbq was just like Korea. We decided to order the Pork Combo ($39.99) that consisted of pork neck, seared pork belly, pork short rib, steamed egg, kimchi and kimchi stew. At that price, it was a steal and more than enough to feed four people. We obviously supplemented the meal with soju, beer and cider to really make it authentic! It was a delicious meal and the perfect start to our day in Koreatown. 

After stuffing our faces full of delicious barbecued meats, we decided to walk around Koreatown and see what other delights we could find. We passed by the Wiltern, which is a great vintage concert venue and theater. After picking up a few little kawaii things from Daiso, we came across Caffe Bene, one of my favorite Korean cafes. When Markus and I lived in Korea, we spent many nights at a Caffe Bene in Seomyeon brainstorming for Yehey. We have such fond memories of that place, so it was only natural for us to stop and have an iced Americano for old times sake.

After taking a lengthy coffee break, we realized that we were a bit hungry and headed over to Myung In Dumplings, a place that Anthony Bourdain recommended. We ordered the king steam dumpling pork and kimchi ($8), the spicy steam roll dumpling with pork and shrimp ($10), and fried dumpling with shrimp, pork and vegetables ($9). I could see why Bourdain recommended this place. The king steam dumplings were so fluffy and the kimchi wasn't overwhelming. The spicy steam roll dumpling was meaty, savory and just the right amount of spice. The fried dumplings were crunchy, juicy and everything you want in a fried dumpling.

Our last stop of the day was another popular spot that I kept seeing all over Instagram.  California Donuts is known for being fun and colorful, but most importantly the panda donut! When I saw them in the window, I definitely squealed in delight and each couple had to get one of their own. There was no way I was gonna share that cute panda with anyone but Markus! We sampled the Panda, Reeses, Chocolate Bacon, Fruity Pebbles and Samoa donuts ($18). They were all good, but my favorite was the Panda donut, but let's be real there was never any real competition.  

Even though Markus and I spent a whole day eating our fill in Koreatown, a few days later we returned with my cousin and visited another hot spot, Yu Chun. One of my favorite Korean dishes is naengmyeon, or cold noodles. I can seriously eat it every day in the summer, it's so delicious and refreshing. So, I made it a goal to have some before we left LA. We ordered the BBQ and Bibim Naengmyeon Combo ($17.50) and Mul Naengmyun ($8.50). I'm so glad we decided to eat at Yu Chun, because everything was perfect. Eating that food was like coming home and felt so familiar and comforting. I swear to you, I almost cried it was that close. If I lived in LA, I think I would be in Koreatown every night or at least every weekend. The food there is that good and I worth a visit if you're close by! 

Japan Cheap Eats #3: Matsuya | Kyoto

This is part of a series about eating on a budget and I've titled the series, "Japan Cheap Eats". Many people think Japan is expensive, but I'm here to prove them wrong! We found many budget options and I wanted to share them with you!

Just like most countries, Japan has many fast food restaurants. They have Mickey D's, Wendy's and my personal fave, KFC. You know me and fried chicken, we're soul mates. In addition to these places, they have even better options. They are on a completely different level when it comes to fast food, which isn't surprising, because it's Japan. Throughout the country, they have various gyudon shops. Gyudon literally means beef bowl and it's incredible. Delicious simmered beef and onions are served over white rice. The first gyudon place we visited was Matsuya in Kyoto and it was an awesome experience.

After an afternoon of hiking through Fushimi Inari Taisha, Markus and I were starved. Up to this point, we ate a lot of mart food and we wanted something a little more sophisticated. We scoped out a few places that were within our budget. We almost settled on some burger place, but then we happened to walk by Matsuya. It was like a beacon of light and we couldn't help but go in.

Places like Matsuya have everything down to a science and it's really efficient. The inside is set up like a diner and usually manned by one or two people. I think they wanted to limit as much human interaction as possible. You don't even order through the employees, but through a ticket machine. It's actually kind of cool. I liked that there wasn't any pressure to make an order right away, especially in a place where I don't speak the language. After we placed our orders, we sat down and gave the guy our ticket. He quickly whipped up our order and it was ready in less than 5 minutes.

The gyudon itself was really delicious and I enjoyed the flavors. The meat was both sweet and salty and was complimented by the rice. It's not going to win any awards, but it gets the job done. It's a great healthier alternative to burgers and fries. Overall, we both enjoyed Matusya and gyudon so much that we stopped at almost all the other similar shops. If you're in Japan, this is definitley a great budget eat and something that should be tried, even if it's to use the ticket machine to order your food!

Cost Breakdown:
Large Beef Gyudon Bowl: 480
Medium Beef Gyudon Bowl: 380
Miso Soup: free with beef bowl
TOTAL: 860 yen or $8.41

Wendell Smith Restaurant | Nashville, Tennessee

While in Nashville, Markus and I were determined to get some Southern food. Being in Korea for two years, you start to crave it. The closest is Korean BBQ and while it is delicious it really can't fulfill that craving. For dinner we wanted to eat somewhere inexpensive and well known. I read lots of reviews about Wendell Smith. It's definitley a dive, which I love.We went around 5pm so it was filled to the brim with the elderly there for the early bird special. I think we were the only ones there that didn't have white or gray hair. It was pretty awesome.

All three of us decided to order a "meat and three" which is exactly what it sounds like. We tried to get a wide variety of sides, my cousin Joy even ordering this weird fruit jello concoction.  Before we knew it, our table was filled to the brim with heaps and heaps of food. For the most part, it was good but it wasn't to die for. The fried fish and hush puppies were really tasty, but it's hard to ruin fried food. The fruit jello was exactly what I thought it would be, terrifying. I tasted a little and couldn't continue. It reminded me of hospital food. Everything else was just okay. If I were to go back to Nashville, I probably wouldn't go back and would try another dive. It's definitley worth a try if you're in the area, but it left me wondering if there were other delicious places.

One Piece at KFC | Kyoto, Japan

So, I have another confession. I'm a super otaku for One Piece, especially Tony Tony Chopper. If you aren't familiar with the term otaku, it's Japanese for someone who is obsessed with popular culture, but it's usually used for fanboys. When I was younger, I watched a lot of anime and read so many mangas. I was a huge fan of Sailor Moon. I though I was gonna grow up to be Sailor Jupiter, but instead I ended up being Sailor Mars. It's true. Think about it, I'm super fiesty and I have long black hair.

Anyway, so as I got older, I sort of grew out of that phase of my life. I was just coming out of it when Markus and I started dating. I feel bad, because I think I misled him a bit. When we first got together, we watched a lot of anime together, especially Naruto. Then all of a sudden, I just stopped and became really interested in clothes and other things. Throughout the years, Markus asked me to watch anime with him especially One Piece, but I always refused. He always seemed disappointed and sad because he would watch it alone.

Then one day, I got really sick and had to stay home from work. I didn't have anything to watch and decided to watch an episode of One Piece. I was hooked and spent the three days off from work binge watching One Piece. I was a woman possessed and couldn't stop until I watched all of them. I watched all 500+ episodes in three months. It was crazy. When we were in Japan and I had the chance to combine my love of fried chicken and One Piece, I couldn't refuse, even if it was fast food.

While in Japan, I kept seeing adverts for these lil' mini One Piece ice cream makers. I was dying to get one and one night we finally decided to give it a go. We went to the counter and asked the lady if I could get a Chopper ice cream maker, but she said she didn't know what was inside the box. They were meant to be a surprise. I was a bit iffy and really didn't want to sacrifice a good meal, if I couldn't get Chopper. I decided to give it a go anyway, because when would I have the opportunity to get a One Piece ice cream maker? The lady ended up putting three boxes on the counter and told me to pick a box. I chose the box on the far right and hoped I picked the right one. As you can tell from the photos, I did and got Chopper. It's like it was always meant to be as if it were my destiny!

Japan Cheap Eats #2 | Nagasaki

This is part of a series about eating on a budget and I've titled the series, "Japan Cheap Eats". Many people think Japan is expensive, but I'm here to prove them wrong! We found many budget options and I wanted to share them with you!

Previously, I posted about eating cheap in Japan. As most people know, Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Everyone always talks about how expensive it is, but Markus and I were determined to enjoy Japan despite being on a budget. One of the best ways to control your budget is eating frugally. For most of our time in Japan, we ate really cheap, but there were times that we splurged. I mean, I couldn't travel all the way to Japan and eat at 7-11 the whole time!

Another really cheap place to eat is the grocery store. Japan, like Korea, has really great supermarkets. They are filled with ready to made meals at reasonable prices. There is so much variety and it always took us a long time to decide what to eat. The food is made fresh daily and really affordable. They have everything you could want, sushi, bento boxes, salads etc. It's a really great alternative to eating fast food, which is always the last resort for us. When Markus and I got sick of going to marts, we always trekked to the nearest grocery store. 

For our second cheap eats, we decided to go a bit healthier. We didn't want to overload on ramen and fried foods. Markus and I always split everything, so that we can have a nice variety of tastes and meals. For this meal, we chose a salad, grilled eel with rice and sashimi with udon. Everything was really good. I couldn't believe that our meal was only $10. It was also nice to eat something that felt fresher and a bit healthier. If we spent all our time eating instant ramen and fried chicken, I'm sure our bodies would've hated us!

Cost Breakdown:
Salad: 105 yen
Salad Dressing: 20 yen
Grilled Eel with Rice: 498 yen
Sashimi with Udon: 398 yen
TOTAL: 1021 yen or $10.06