Los Angeles

6 Celebratory Korean Lunar New Year Dishes and Where to Get Them in LA

Seollal, a three-day lunar holiday, calls for a feast.

Sun Nong Dan
Sun Nong Dan
Sun Nong Dan

Until recently, my understanding of Seollal, or Korean Lunar New Year, was limited to the more popular Chinese Lunar New Year traditions. As a Korean-American adoptee raised by a white family in the Midwest, my Korean holiday celebrations were limited to annual Korean heritage events for Korean-American adoptees. Decades later, only a few memories stand out: playing yutnori, a game that involved painted sticks; wearing hanbok, a traditional Korean dress; and, most memorably, bowing to elders in exchange for money, or sebae.

Seollal is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice, this year falling on February 12. In Korea, Seollal is a national holiday lasting three days, with most Koreans given time off work so that they can gather with family. Here in the US, absent federal days off, Koreans and Korean Americans fit their celebrations in however they can: feasting on delicious food, making offerings to ancestors, spending time with extended family, and generously exchanging gifts, especially expensive fruits, all to welcome a new and hopefully prosperous year.

Much like 2020’s Christmas, Halloween, and Independence Day, Seollal’s long-awaited, perfectly timed holiday weekend has been thwarted by the pandemic. The lunar holiday will largely be celebrated within households or over Zoom or KakaoTalk, a South Korean messaging app. Many Korean Americans will spend the holiday working, especially those who work in the restaurant industry and are hoping to fulfill large, holiday orders.

As a resident of LA’s Koreatown for nearly three years, I’m lucky to live in an area where being Korean feels ordinary or, sometimes, even fun. The greater LA area is home to the largest Korean population outside of Korea, so, for me, living here feels like the next best thing to moving across the world. Here, I can sample the tastes of my motherland-her flavors, customs, and language-and feel a bit closer to my Korean heritage. The surest way to fall in love with a culture’s traditions is to share in their holidays, so this year I set out to make the most of my Seollal celebrations, learning which dishes are most significant to the holiday and where to find their best versions in Koreatown. Here are six traditional Korean Lunar New Year dishes to try this week and beyond:

Photo courtesy of MDK Noodles
Photo courtesy of MDK Noodles
Photo courtesy of MDK Noodles

Tteokguk at MDK Noodles

Ask any Korean what makes Seollal “Seollal”, and the first words out of their mouth will be, “tteokguk.” A rice cake soup, tteokguk is to Seollal as turkey is to Thanksgiving. According to a Korean superstition, eating more tteokguk during Seollal will bring abundance and good luck, as well as add another year to one’s life. MDK Noodles makes their noodles, rice cakes, and dumplings from scratch every morning, ensuring excellent texture and unmatched freshness. When served in tteokguk, their chewy rice cakes are hand-cut into the traditional coin shape, which is associated with prosperity. The restaurant offers all three soups typical of Seollal celebrations: tteokguk (rice cake soup), manduguk (dumpling soup), and tteok manduguk (rice cake and dumpling soup). In Korea, the type of soup eaten varies by family and region, so you’ll be able to satisfy your craving no matter which tradition you follow (or want to start!).
How to order: Call 213-385-7789 or visit MDKNoodles.com for takeout orders; pickup and delivery via UberEats, DoorDash, Caviar, GrubHub, Seamless.

Galbi jjim (braised short rib) at Sun Nong Dan

The first galbi jjim recipe dates back to the mid-1700s, but this dish has royal roots and was served exclusively to the monarchy and aristocrats during the Joseon Dynasty. Near the end of the Joseon Dynasty, the Korean government began promoting the consumption of cattle, and eating galbi jjim became more widespread. Nowadays, galbi jjim is enjoyed anytime but especially on special occasions and holidays. One of the younger establishments on this list, Sun Nong Dan has already earned a reputation among Korean cuisine lovers for their melt-in-your-mouth galbi jjim, which is meticulously simmered in herbs and marinade. When dining on-site, be sure to order it with shredded mozzarella, which your server will melt with a blowtorch at your table.
How to order: Call 213-365-0303 for takeout orders; pickup and delivery via GrubHub, Postmates, DoorDash, Caviar, Seamless, and UberEats.

Flickr/T.Tseng
Flickr/T.Tseng
Flickr/T.Tseng

Jeon (pancakes) at Chunju Han-il Kwan

Jeon is both an everyday and a celebratory food in Korean culture. During Seollal, the most commonly served jeon are seafood (because Korea is a peninsula) and kimchi (a food considered essential to every Korean meal). Although most know this restaurant for their delicious budae jjigae (Korean Army stew), locals also love Chunju Han-il Kwan for their authentic jeon: savory, fried pancakes in flavors like seafood, oyster, potato, scallion, and kimchi, that are served in cast-iron skillets. The jeon served here is perfectly cooked, with a crispy exterior and a soft and slightly chewy inside. Like many of Koreatown’s best restaurants, Chunju Han-il Kwan sits inside a strip mall off a very busy main street. Its unassuming exterior belies its charming, traditionally inspired interior, which is reminiscent of hanok, traditional Korean homes featuring broad white walls and wood accents. It’s no wonder why this restaurant has been a Koreatown staple since 1993.
How to order: Call 213-480-1799 or visit hanilkwanla.com for takeout orders; delivery via UberEats.

Japchae at Kobawoo House

A local favorite since 1985, Kobawoo House is a no-frills establishment whose menu reads like a must-have list of Korean comfort foods, offering everything from bulgogi¬† (Korean BBQ beef) to bossam (boiled pork wrapped in cabbage) and everything in between. Just as an American diner might be expected to serve grilled cheese sandwiches, Kobawoo House serves japchae, a sweet and savory dish made of sweet potato glass noodles stir-fried with spinach, scallions, peppers, soy sauce, and sugar in sesame oil. The colorful vegetables in japchae represent the five elements of East Asian cosmology: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. According to legend, during the Joseon Dynasty, one of King Gwanghaegun’s servants created the dish for a royal celebration, and the king enjoyed it so much that the servant was promoted. Most authentic japchae recipes, like that of Kobawoo House, add thin slices of beef to the mix. Next time you’re visiting for their much-vaunted bossam, be sure to order their mung bean pancakes, which are deliciously accented with a side of soy-citrus dip.
How to order: Call 213-389-7300 for takeout orders; pickup and delivery via GrubHub, Postmates, UberEats, and DoorDash.

Photo courtesy of Myung Dong Noodle House
Photo courtesy of Myung Dong Noodle House
Photo courtesy of Myung Dong Noodle House

Samgaetang at Myung Dong Noodle House

The origins of samgaetang date back to 1541, in Yeongju, Korea, when meat was scarce. In order to give what protein they had more nutritional value, Koreans would stuff it with medicinal herbs like ginseng. Samgaetang, a soup consisting of a whole, young chicken stuffed with ginseng, sticky rice, Korean dates, and garlic, is traditionally eaten on the hottest days of the year. East Asian medicine believes in “fighting fire with fire”- meaning that the negative effects of hot weather are thwarted by hot food. But its immense popularity means that the soup is often eaten on celebratory occasions, as well. According to Myung Dong Noodle House owner Myounghun Kim, his family-owned restaurant serves the best samgaetang in the city. This spot is the epitome of “jibap” (homestyle) cooking: Kim’s restaurant only has two full-time employees, himself and his mother. In Korea, recipes are passed down through families, so each family has a unique way of preparing food. Kim credits his mother’s expertise in the kitchen, and locals swear that their banchan, small side dishes like pickled radishes and pan-fried zucchini served with rice, tastes like it was cooked by a Korean grandmother-and, well, they’re right. It’s no wonder that, in the three years since Kim’s family has held ownership of the popular Koreatown restaurant-27 years after it first opened-its popularity has only grown.
How to order: Call 213-251-1066 for pickup and delivery.

Sikhye at Awoolim

Nestled inside the food court of Koreatown Plaza, Awoolim satisfies your Korean street food cravings with snacks like kimbap (Korea’s take on sushi), fried seaweed rolls, takoyaki (fried octopus balls), and fish cakes with broth. And just like actual street food, most menu items cost around $5 or less. After your Seollal feast, complete your meal with a glass of sikhye, a sweet rice and barley dessert punch. High in fiber, this malted beverage is enjoyed after large meals to aid with digestion and often poured directly over cooked rice. Awoolim is a local go-to spot for sikhye, which they serve in slushie form, making it especially refreshing on hot summer days. Preparing sikhye at home is tricky because of the fermentation process, so enjoy it easily courtesy of the experts at Awoolim.
How to order: Call 213-388-0053 for takeout or visit in-person at Koreatown Plaza, 928 S Western Ave, Ste 125.

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Lynn “Jeong” Stransky is a Korean-American artist, activist, and assembly delegate to the CA Democratic Convention based in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles

How to Spend a Weekend in Topanga Canyon

Nature and the arts collide in this beloved canyon community.

Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains and known for its vibrant creative community, Topanga is one of Los Angeles’s most prized destinations for art and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And while LA boasts its own sprawling landscape of fun to tap into, you’d be remiss to miss a chance to explore this tucked-away collection of state parks, and cafes, and restaurants-especially when it all rests just 20 minutes away from the city. From a quaint caf√© with dazzling canyon views to a world-renowned, open-air theatre, here are the best ways to pass some time in Topanga now.

Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray

Friday

Book dinner at Inn of the Seventh Ray
Owner Lucille Yaney opened this iconic restaurant in 1975 after spotting the property on a drive through the canyon with her late husband Ralph, and it’s safe to say she had a good eye. The land perfectly fits into Yaney’s vision of a romantic, alfresco dining space with tables tucked into cozy nooks and gazebos, all beneath canapes and fairy lights. Today, Yaney co-owns the venue with executive chef consultant Brad Miller. Together, they continue to fulfil the restaurant’s original mission to serve pure, natural foods reflective of the season’s best. That approach appears in dishes like 8-Hour Black Vinegar Braised Short Rib with creamy rosemary polenta, duck bacon Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and fig jam; Roasted Mushroom Toast with oyster mushrooms and sherry tarragon cream; and Beets & Whipped Black Pepper Creme Fraiche. Consider the carbs here. Pastas and sauces are made in-house and from scratch, as is the bread (available regular or gluten-free), an order of which you won’t want to miss. Check out the wine list, too, which offers a robust organic and biodynamic selection that has helped the restaurant garner some impressive accolades in recent years.

Check into Topanga Canyon Inn
In addition to plenty of excellent Airbnbs available to rent in the Canyon, there’s Topanga Canyon Inn, a charming bed and breakfast comprised of two Mediterranean-style buildings-Casa Blanca and Casa Rosa-both built by the owners. Guests can enjoy bespoke design details in each room, along with gorgeous mountain views from their own private balcony. Come morning, join other travellers for breakfast, served daily at Casa Rosa.

Saturday

Get coffee at Café on 27
Ready your camera for a coffee date at this AM eatery and caf√©, where ample (and busy) outdoor seating offers some of the Canyon’s best views. A full breakfast and lunch menu is available (complete with hearty orders like eggs Benedicts, soups, and club sandwiches), but for lighter morning fare, spring for a pastry and any of their specialty drinks, such as the turmeric latte or Moroccan mocha.

Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock

Hike Topanga State Park
Spanning 11,000 acres and 36 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the largest state park within the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the world’s largest parks within city limits. Visitors can access the grounds via more than 60 entrances. Once on the trails, enjoy sweeping vistas while exploring the region’s range of plants, habitats, and wildlife, including several resident bird species.

Grab lunch at Topanga Living Café
Guided by their Topanga upbringing and need for a community gathering spot with great eats, sibling team Agustina Ferguson and Bayu Suryawan opened this daytime eatery in 2016. Ever since, locals and visitors have found refuge in the caf√©’s warm, airy space and nourishing, hyper-fresh fare-all California-inspired with global influences. Check it out in plates like the Island Style, a breakfast salad with Balinese corn fritters, a poached egg, and house-made chilli jam, or the tacos (Baja Fish or Baja Shrimp, Carne Asada, or Kabocha Squash), made-to-order and served on handmade tortillas. If you’re seeking something shareable, try the Farmers Market Crudite, a seemingly humble order whose bright beet hummus reminds us that eating your vegetables is, indeed, very cool. And take a drink to-go. The team here takes great pride in their coffee (organic espresso, courtesy of their iconic pink La Marzocco machine) and a lineup of made-to-order smoothies, juices, and teas. Shop your way through town
Visitors can stroll through the town centre’s most popular shops for various fun finds, including Moona Star, Pebbles, and Topanga Homegrown. Be sure to stock up on specialty, local snacks at Canyon Gourmet and satiate your sweet tooth while you’re at it. The organic soft-serve there is a must. Pro tip: Top it with any of their artisanal syrups for a winning combo, namely, the vanilla with cardamom.

Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Catch a show at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
This beloved open-air theatre has hosted productions for decades and is recognized worldwide for its Shakespeare interpretations. In addition to its annual summer season, which includes works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the venue hosts concerts, rehearsals, and classes throughout the year for budding actors and playwrights of all ages.

Snag a slice at Endless Colour
This family-run pizza joint specializes in from-scratch pies with clever topping combinations (think purple potatoes, fontina, and truffle oil in the Purple Molly Potato or spinach, leeks, and goat cheese in the Super Greens). Bring some friends, order a pie or two, and check out the drinks list, which includes offbeat options like orange wines and hard kombucha.

Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery

Sunday

Check out The Canyon Bakery’s “Sunday Funday”
Situated on the grounds of the aforementioned Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, this bakery specializes in naturally leavened breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies using locally sourced, whole grain flours. There’s a takeout window on Sundays, from 9:30 am until the bakery sells out. A strong following lines up for favourites, such as whole grain croissants and gluten-free pizza, so be sure to arrive early to get your fill.

Try tacos to-go at La Chingona
On your way out of town, grab some tacos at La Chingona, where a team puts forth fresh, organic, gluten- and dairy-free tacos. Orders range to include options like grass-fed beef (carne asada), shrimp (wild-caught), and soy chorizo and can be fashioned into plates beyond tacos, too (think tostadas, salads, and bowls). Open only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; this taco stand sees good demand. Plan accordingly, pending your travels, especially to savour an order or two of the churros.

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Nicole Schnitzler is a contributor for Thrillist.

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