Tag Archives: koreatown


Korean BBQ Chain Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong Turns Up the Heat in NYC

photographs by VICTOR CHU

Since opening its doors in December, Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong in Manhattan’s Koreatown has been inundated by adoring late-night dining crowds and visits from such food world royalty as Anthony Bourdain.

It’s not hard to see why: Baekjeong, or “butcher” in Korean, specializes in Korean barbecue featuring high quality cuts of meat, including beautifully marbled rib eye, short rib and mouthwatering pork belly. Pillows of egg and cheese nest inside the ring, cooking as the meat sizzles and is tended to by a server. A full-service bar offers perfectly chilled soju and specialty drinks such as a melon makgeoli cocktail made with honeydew juice and sweet Korean rice wine.

Baekjeong, open until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 6 a.m. on weekends, is located on the busy corridor of New York City’s West 32nd St. It’s already seeing up to a two-hour wait for tables and is on track to replicate the critical success of the Seoul-based empire’s Los Angeles location (named one of the 101 Best Restaurants of 2014 by Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold) and other branches in Flushing, Queens; Hawaii; and Atlanta.

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-interiorInside Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong in Manhattan

Its namesake comes from South Korean gagman and former professional wrestler Kang Ho-dong, a colorful television personality whose caricatured image adorns the wood-paneled walls amid a lively, bustling atmosphere. Behind the scenes of Baekjeong’s Manhattan location—which doubles as the chain’s new U.S. flagship—is a triumvirate of New York metropolitan area-born and raised talent. Chef Deuki Hong, 25, trained under Momofuku’s David Chang and French culinary mastermind Jean-Georges Vongerichten and is collaborating with Food Republic contributing editor Matt Rodbard on Koreatown, U.S.A., a cookbook to be published later this year. Co-owners Joe Ko and Bobby Kwak are longtime entrepreneurs who have helped develop the hospitality and nightlight scene of New York City and K-town for over 15 years.

KoreAm sat down with the three-person team to discuss the arrival of Baekjeong in Manhattan and why they consider the restaurant the “Peter Luger’s of Korean barbecue.”

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-meat1Chadol, or thinly sliced brisket.

As Korean Americans from the greater NYC area, why did you feel a need to open Baekjeong in Manhattan?

Ko: Korean food is all about mahtjips (specialty taste houses), and that’s what we felt was needed in K-town. In Korea, you go to a soondae jip (blood sausage house) for soondae, jjim jip (braised meat house) for jjim. Baekjeong is maht jip for barbecue. A lot of K-town restaurants have menus with over 75 items. Here, we focus on really good barbecue and just three really good jjiggaes (stews)—a beginning-to-end, good quality meal from the banchan (side dishes) to kogi (meat) to jjiggae.

Besides, L.A.’s Koreatown goes on for miles but Manhattan’s Koreatown is only a block long. We know this block so well, especially since we helped develop the lounges and hotspots when we were younger. We have so much respect for the block, but we wanted to expand K-town. Our restaurant is more communal, and we wanted more of that Korea-like feel—that kind of after-work lifestyle.

Deuki, you’re a Momofuku and Jean-Georges alum. What made you decide to be head chef of Baekjeong’s U.S. flagship?

Hong: I’m learning an incredible amount here. I literally get my ass kicked every single day (laughs). Momofuku and Jean-Georges were 50-something seats. Baekjeong holds 150 seats, two floors and 400 people each night. Back then, it was fun when I could say, “I’m in a Michelin star kitchen” or “Oh, I work on a very cool staff.” Here, everything’s new, it’s a different animal. We want to treat our customers right, and the only way on my end to do that is making sure that, on any given day, this is the best jjigae I can make. Our meat is of the highest quality. The lowest we have is prime. Even our servers cook the meat for you on the spot, since it’s expensive meat. That’s our full service part.

Kwak:We’re kind of like the Peter Luger’s of Korean barbecue (laughs).

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-meat2Hanjungsal, or pork jowl. 

Besides the meat, which is obviously the star attraction, Baekjeong offers some fun twists, such as the doshirak (lunchbox) of rice, kimchi, vegetables and egg, or bibimbapWhat else makes Baekjeong different from other Korean barbecue joints?

Hong: The rings around the grills are iconic of Baekjeong. One portion has what’s like our version of gaeranjjim (steamed eggs). We ladle the eggs in the rings while the meat cooks so the eggs cook on one side and the cheese melts with the [sweet] corn on the other.

What’s the relationship between Kang Ho-dong, the person, and Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong?

Ko: Kang Ho-dong is the main celebrity face. It really started with Kang’s [South Korean reality variety] show, Il Bak Ee-il (2 Days & 1 Night), where they [feature] these competitions focused on food and travel all over the country. The show was all about [Kang] since he is a bigger guy who loves to eat and is known to eat well. When Kang eats, he always eats mashi-kae (deliciously), as my mom always says. I trained with him for ssireum (Korean wrestling) one summer. In the mornings, we would hike up to the mountains. Breakfast was kogi and banchans and jjiggae and after that a quart of milk. After afternoon practice, lunchtime was kogi and jjiggae and just bowls and bowls of rice. After weight training, dinner was … kogi again! (laughs) [Kang] eats mashi-kae even if it was just rice. So from gag to restaurant, he’s gotten so popular.

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-meat3Kkohtsahl, or prime unmarinated short rib.

Joe, can you talk more about your mutual interest in wrestling?

Ko: I’m a former championship wrestler, and my father immigrated to the States in 1974. My father was a ssireum wrestler who created the Korean American Ssireum Association of New York and brought over Kang to New York when Kang was a champion wrestler back in the day. My father passed away in 1997, but I continued to be involved in ssireum. That’s where the relationship and connection to Kang comes from.

When did you first think about bringing Baekjeong to Manhattan?

Kwak: Somebody told me that I had to check out [the first U.S. location of] Baekjeong, so I flew out to L.A. [with Deuki] last year. We went and it was an hour-and-45-minute wait. We get to our table and eat, and just stared at each other, thinking, ‘Holy cow. This is the best we’ve had.’ We have not had a meal like this in New York, ever. It was the whole experience. Like he’s (points to Deuki) eaten and cooked a lot of good food, and we were both on the same page.

So I get on the phone with my business partner, Joe Ko, and tell him to get on a plane to Korea and convince [Baekjeong’s corporate owners] to let us open one in New York. Joe literally got on the plane in the next few days, flew to Korea and rode on a bus for three hours to a ssireum tournament to track down Kang Ho-dong’s manager.

Ko: I pulled some strings and actually got the OK for the West 32nd St. Manhattan branch. It was a long journey to get to this point and open the restaurant.

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-barBartender Khris Stars prepares melon makgeolli cocktails.

Baekjeong landed in the No. 1 spot on NY Eater’s Hottest Restaurants of January 2015 and No. 11 on New York Magazine Grub Street’s Restaurant Power Rankings. Plus, there’s a two-hour wait! What’s that feel like?

Kwak: Yes, it’s an amazing problem to have. Corporate in Korea named us the flagship for the States, and they had the highest expectations from us since we’re in Manhattan. They’re ecstatic since Korean food rarely gets that type of recognition. I’m realizing how Korean food is really blowing up, especially in New York, thanks to guys like Hooni Kim and David Chang who put Korean cuisine on the map. Manhattan’s Koreatown, it’s now not just for Korean people, it’s for mainstream America. This block has changed tremendously and evolved—but it still has yet to catch up with the evolution of food. We feel that the time has come to raise the bar and to really give people that true Korean food experience. That’s what we want to do. We want people coming here because we serve great food.


This article was published in the February/March 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the February/March issue, click the “Buy Now” button below.  (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


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L.A. City Council Candidates Grace Yoo and David Ryu Make Final Push for Primary

by GRACE LEE | @grace_koream

With the primary nominating election for the L.A. City Council less than a week away, Korean American candidates Grace Yoo and David Ryu are actively canvassing different neighborhoods they haven’t visited to increase voter participation.

Grace Yoo, a longtime community activist who is running for L.A. City Council District 10, has been focusing on canvassing different demographics within her district. As of Feb. 25, Yoo has raised $72,886 in contributions while her opponent City Council President Herb Wesson has raised $401,950.

There has been an ongoing political battle between these two politicians over the issue of public safety problems. Yoo spoke out against Wesson in an interview with CBS saying that the city council president had been too slow to speak out against Koreatown’s karaoke bar La Defence, which was deemed to be a drain on police resources by the city zoning administrator, as there had been several reports of assault and two reported cases of rape after victims left the bar. La Defence is now closed for business for violating city permit rules.

When asked about the obstacles of running against a veteran politician, Yoo told KoreAm that many business members who donated to the political campaign were initially hesitant to make contributions as they were “afraid of retaliation.” She stated that many business owners feared that their permits would be revoked.

David Ryu, another Korean American running for City Council District 4 raised $367,868.87 in contributions with $299,181.59 in expenses and $71,522.21 cash on hand. Although Ryu started off with the highest number of contributions, his opponent Steve Veres, director to state senator Kevin de León caught up quickly with support from the Political Action Committee (PAC). Veres ultimately received $263,428.45 in contributions with $85,071.85 from PAC.

Ryu faces an uphill battle as other L.A. City Council District 4 candidates, such as Iranian American economist Sheila Irani and community activist Carolyn Ramsay, have drawn the highest share of their campaign contributions from ZIP codes within the district. According to the LA Times, Ryu received 34% of donations within the district while Irani and Ramsay drew 82% and 72% respectively. Ryu’s goal until the primary is set at $489,000 including matching funds from the city.

Ryu will be holding his final fundraiser at Koreatown’s lounge, Lock & Key tonight at 7 PM. Both candidates are still in need of support from the community as the March 3 primary is less than a week away.


Featured image courtesy of David Ryu and Grace Yoo

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[VIDEO] NY Times Explores Hot Spots in LA’s Koreatown

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

The New York Times recently gave a crash course on how to spend 36 hours in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, introducing readers to the vibrant neighborhood’s thriving night-life and rich culture.

The guide features some of the trendiest restaurants, bars, theaters and cultural sites in K-town, including Wi Spa, where Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead and Conan O’brien bonded over painful body scrubs and sitting naked in steam rooms.

You can read the New York Time’s full guide on LA’s Koreatown here.


Featured image via the New York Times

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‘Ktown Cowboys’ to Premiere at SXSW Film Festival

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Ktown Cowboys will be making its world premiere at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Directed by Daniel “DPD” Park, the indie film follows a group of hard-partying friends who band together in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Each of the characters struggle with their own unique issues as they transition into adulthood.

Based on a popular 2010 YouTube series of the same name, Ktown Cowboys features a Korean American cast that includes screenwriter and comedian Danny Cho, Bobby Choy, Peter Jae, Sunn Wee, Shane Yoon, Eric Roberts, Steve Bryne, Simon Rhee, Ken Jeong, Daniel Dae Kim and Kim Young-chul.

On a side note, another Korean American film that will be making its world premiere at SXSW this year is Twinsters, a documentary about identical twin sisters reuniting 25 years after they were separated at birth.

The 2015 SXSW Film Festival will run from March 13-21. You can view the festival’s lineup here.


Photo courtesy of SXSW

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Serial Robber Targeting Korean Women in L.A.

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

Police are seeking a man suspected of assaulting and robbing four Korean women in Los Angeles between November and December of last year, according to authorities.

The robberies took place between 10:50 p.m. and 4:30 a.m in different apartment buildings in Koreatown and the East Hollywood area. The robber, who appears to be a Latino man around 20 to 30 in age and 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-8 in height, followed each of the female victims into an apartment elevator and viciously assaulted them before stealing their purses.

Police said that the suspect sexually battered and punched one victim several times. In a separate instance, he slammed the victim’s head on the ground, kicked her and attacked her with a “sharp object” to the neck.

In addition, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) released a surveillance footage from one of the robberies.

Anyone with information about the robberies is asked to call LAPD’s Olympic Division robbery detectives at (213) 382-9460.


Featured image courtesy of the LAPD


NAKASEC’s Sponsored Post: Turning Out the Korean American Vote

Pictured above: NAKASEC youth volunteer, Max, phone banking to Korean American voters in Virginia

For the Nov. 4 midterm election, NAKASEC and our affiliates, KRC in Los Angeles and Orange County and KRCC in Chicago, led an exciting civic engagement campaign to get out the vote in the Korean American community. Through non-partisan voter education activities, staff and volunteers reached out to thousands of registered Korean American voters in California, Illinois, and Virginia, knocking on a total of 3,516 voter doors, phone banking to 36,504 voters, sending 48,845 direct mailings, and robocalling 76,133 voter homes. Our volunteers had conversations with 4,469 voters about the Nov. 4 elections.

Currently, over 4 million families have been separated from their loved ones and are caught in the immigration backlogs while over 11 million undocumented immigrants live as second-class citizens in the United States. NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC asked community members where they stand on the President using his executive power to provide immediate relief to undocumented parents and adults and to reunite separated families by issuing more family visas. Among the 2,435 voters we spoke with, 71% of Korean American voters expressed their support for the President to take executive action on immigration. These findings align with the exit poll data collected by Asian American Decisions, which found that 60% of Asian American voters and 78% of Korean American voters support comprehensive immigration reform.

Over 150 Korean American voters participated in KRCC’s two early voting events in Schaumburg, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in October and November. KRCC also hosted a candidates forum in Chicago with 11 Republican and Democratic candidates at the state and federal levels. With over 250 Korean American community members in attendance, audience members posed a series of questions to the political candidates on issues ranging from raising the minimum wage to their plans on immigration reform. The forum gave Korean American voters an opportunity to learn about the candidates’ positions on a wide range of issues in order to make more informed decisions on Election Day.

NAKASEC2_inhe_candidates_forumKRCC Executive Director Inhe Choi moderating 2014 Candidates Forum

NAKASEC and our affiliates also engaged many young volunteers to lead voter engagement efforts. Max, one of NAKASEC’s youth volunteers from northern Virginia, said, “I wanted to get involved and help in this election even though I am still in high school and cannot vote yet. I came to the U.S. from Korea when I was five years old, and I am asking all community members to vote for me and all immigrant families. Every voter can make a difference.”

Seungbo, an 18-year-old Koreatown resident and KRC Campaign Fellow, came to KRC every day in the weeks leading up to November 4 to phone bank to hundreds of Korean American voters in Los Angeles. Seungbo stated, “We need to vote so that our elected leaders will listen to our voices, especially on issues like immigration. Because so many Korean Americans who come to the U.S. face extreme difficulty gaining legal status, there is no other issue as urgent as passing immigration reform.”

NAKASEC3_krc_campaign_fellowsKRC 2014 Campaign Fellows

Though the elections are over, NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC are proud to say that our community’s voices have gotten louder and stronger. In the months ahead of us, we will continue to fight to keep our families together. And with overwhelming support for administrative relief from our community members, we urge President Obama to keep his promise and deliver bold and inclusive administrative relief without delay for our immigrant families.


National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, INC. (NAKASEC)

NAKASEC seeks to empower the Korean American community through education and advocacy. NAKASEC was founded in 1994 by five Korean American community organizations located across the U.S. Its program areas include education, civil rights and immigrant rights advocacy, civic participation, research, leadership, coalition-building and culture. NAKASEC programs focus on serving those with less resources and access, such as women, youth, seniors, low-income residents and recent immigrants.

2846 W. 8th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90005
t: (323) 937-3703
f: (323) 937-3753

Virginia office
7006 Evergreen Court, Suite 200
Annandale, VA 22003
t: (703) 256-2208
f: (703) 256-2558

KRC Orange County Office
6301 Beach Blvd., Suite 211
Buena Park, CA 90621

Korean American Resource &
Cultural Center (KRCC)
2701A W. Peterson Ave.
Chicago, IL 60659
t: (773) 506-9158
f: (773) 506-9159

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 11.23.05 AM

‘Ktown Cowboys’ Releases Teaser

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Musa Productions has dropped the teaser for their coming-of-age dramedy, Ktown Cowboys, which is slated to release in 2015.

Based on a web series of the same name, Ktown Cowboys follows a group of hard-partying friends, who all struggle with the transition into adulthood in their own unique but interconnected ways in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.

Directed by Daniel “DPD” Park and written by Danny Cho and Brian Chung, the indie film features five cast members from the original 2010 web series and has cameo appearances by the film’s executive producer Ken Jeong (Community), Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-0), Steven Byrne (Sullivan & Sons) and Simon Rhee (Best of the Best).

In addition to the teaser, the filmmakers also announced that they will launch a transmedia digital short series called Ktown Footnotes next Wednesday. According to the production team’s press release, the digital series will delve deeper into the film’s plot, introduce new characters and will consist of comedic stand-alone episodes that explore the Ktown lifestyle.

“Aside from the obvious production quality improvements, we’re able to go much deeper into the characters and the Ktown experience in the movie,” Park said. “Because Ktown Cowboys started online, we’ve always wanted to create a bridge between the Internet experience and traditional film. Danny and I created Footnotes to function as that bridge.”

To learn more about Ktown Cowboys, visit the film’s website and Facebook page. You can also watch the original web series here.


Electoral Wins Signal New Political Center of Gravity


Pictured above: Young Kim (left) and Michelle Park Steel, who won their respective races. (Photo courtesy of Young Kim for State Assembly)

Early last week, at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in the heart of Los Angeles’ Koreatown, a few hundred people gathered at the trendy Line Hotel to recognize a handful of individuals who are emerging as the next leaders of the Southern California Korean American community.

Guests dined on a banquet menu consisting of chicken, salmon and roasted carrots from a menu by celebrated chef Roy Choi as they listened to a seemingly unending number of speeches from the guests of honor—a roster of notable politicians.

The more succinct remarks of the evening came from the three U.S. Congress members in attendance—Democrats Judy Chu and Mike Honda, and Republican Ed Royce—each of whom received leadership awards from the Korean American Economic Development Center, which sponsored the event along with the Bright World Foundation and Korea Times.

But the true VIPs at the 4th Korean American Political Conference & Next Generation Leadership Forum (KAPOL) were the Korean Americans who won tightly contested races this November midterm election.

At the $40-per-person ticketed dinner, attended by young professionals and older Koreans alike, these victorious pols were touted as “Rising Stars.”

There was just one problem: the politicians did not represent the districts of the majority of those in attendance.

That’s because the list of honorees included Irvine Mayor Steven Choi, Cypress School Board member Sandra Lee, Orange County Supervisor Michelle Park Steel and California Assembly member Young Kim.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 4.33.31 PMPictured above: Michelle Park Steel

In the city of Los Angeles, Korean Americans running for office over the last two decades have failed, for the most part, to win over voters. While there is no lack of passion or desire to represent a place that is often considered the heart of the community’s social, cultural and economic existence, campaign execution has been deficient.

Just look at recent history as evidence: in the 1990s, Andrew Kim, an attorney, failed multiple times to win a seat to represent Koreatown in either the city council or the state Assembly. In 2013, three candidates—John Choi, Bong Hwan Kim and Emile Mack—threw their hats into the race for the same Los Angeles Council district, dividing the Asian American voting bloc.

Although Choi eventually made it to a run-off election, he lost to Mitch O’Farrell.

But if this past midterm election is any indication, in the suburbs of Orange County, a growing number of Korean Americans is gaining traction with voters—most notably, Michelle Park Steel, who has traded one elected post (eight years on the California Board of Equalization) for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and Young Kim, who will represent the district that includes her hometown Fullerton, in the California Assembly.

Steel, a Republican who is married to California Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel, will help govern a county of approximately 3 million people and which has an annual budget of more than $5 billion. Kim, a Republican who previously served as Director of Community Relations and Asian Affairs in Rep. Royce’s office, is now one of four Asian American freshmen in the lower house of the California legislature.

Both Steel and Kim have been involved in community work and politics for more than 25 years.

“I never liked meeting people; I was a very shy person,” Steel told KoreAm at the dinner. “[But] while you’re running, you build your own strength.”

As for her fellow victor, Steel added: “Some people think, ‘Oh my god, Young just came out of nowhere [to win].’ [But] we’ve been preparing for where we are at. I think of it like the swan — underwater moving really hard, but on the surface so peaceful. Nobody knows how much work we’ve been doing to get here.”

Marisala_stdYoung Kim at her election party in the Coyote Hills Country Club
(Photo courtesy of Marisela Gonzalez/Daily Titan)

Kim’s victory against Democratic incumbent Sharon Quirk-Silva, meanwhile, helped prevent California Democrats from obtaining, yet again, a supermajority in the state house. In a brief interview with KoreAm at the dinner, she said she sensed the pressure.

“I’m from a minority community, and I’m also a minority in the sense that I’m one of the very few women legislators,” Kim said. “I do represent the new face of [a more diverse Republican] party, something they’ve been touting for over two decades, but have not been successful with, until now.”

“That is a huge responsibility. … I do feel that I need to do everything I can to meet that expectation,” she added.

The recent twin victories by Kim and Steel may indicate that the new political center of gravity for the Korean American community is moving away from Los Angeles—and into Orange County. That is, unless the two Korean Americans running for Los Angeles City Council in 2015, Grace Yoo and David Ryu, have something to say about that.