Los Angeles

Yangban Society Is a Hybrid Deli and Night Market That's Steeped in Korean-American Pride

Owners and partners Katianna and John Hong share the inspiration behind their new concept in Downtown LA.

Image by Grace Han for Thrillist
Image by Grace Han for Thrillist
Image by Grace Han for Thrillist

The humble urban deli occupies a special place in American culture-oftentimes serving as an expression of the immigrant experience. But while delis have primarily been rooted in European and Jewish communities, evolving from the kosher butcher shops that cropped up in New York circa the late 1800s, a new, Korean-American concept in Los Angeles is upending our idea of a deli. Located in the Arts District, Yangban Society is an all-new deli/super hybrid, dreamt up by co-chefs and partners Katianna and John Hong and told through their Korean-American lens.

While this more casual endeavor is a departure from the husband-and-wife team’s fine dining resume-which includes a stint at Santa Monica landmark, Mélisse, where they first met-it’s by far the most personal and meaningful. Yangban serves as the brick-and-mortar expression of the culinary power couple’s shared Korean-American heritage and distinct perspectives-Katianna grew up in upstate New York with adoptive parents and John hails from Illinois. It even pays tribute to their identities outside the kitchen, displaying their mutual love of hip hop, fashion, and streetwear culture.

“We both have vivid memories of visiting delis with our families, absorbing what we later realized is an experience that spans so many different cultures,” Katianna explains. “A deli is a place where people come together, and we love that aspect; there’s a universality and an approachability that makes it instantly recognizable regardless of the cuisine. Yangban Society was born out of that, but is also truly autobiographical for us. It’s a reflection of our individual and shared trajectories navigating the spaces between our Korean heritage and our experiences growing up in America.”

Photo by Frank Wonho Lee, courtesy of Yangban Society
Photo by Frank Wonho Lee, courtesy of Yangban Society
Photo by Frank Wonho Lee, courtesy of Yangban Society

While Yangban Society is more laid-back than the white-tablecloth restaurants they’ve previously worked at, both Katianna and John leverage the creativity and technical acumen they’ve absorbed from critically acclaimed places like Napa Valley’s The Restaurant at Meadowood and The Charter Oak.

While Katianna and John have mused about this concept for years, it wasn’t until 2019-when the couple relocated back to LA from Napa-that their plans started to solidify. When Bon Temps shuttered as a result of the pandemic’s economic fallout, much to the disappointment of many, its newly vacated Arts District location appeared perfectly suited to the Hongs’ vision. Now the 5,000-square-foot space serves Yangban Society well-a silver lining for Angelenos who miss the beloved brasserie.

“The linear space is ideal for the flow and layout of our deli counter and also allows for a dedicated section for our super,” says Katianna. The Hongs worked closely with design firm Folklor on the restaurant’s statement-making visual identity, inspired by founder Shin Irvin’s passion for color. “We all loved the bold juxtaposition of the red and blue color blocks against the wood and brick textures,” she explains. “That duality of modern and historic feels fitting for the duality of what we are doing at Yangban as well.”

The best way to describe Yangban Society? It’s a choose-your-own-culinary-adventure, starting with an expansive deli counter of hot and cold side dishes, inspired by the idea of banchan, that can be plated or packaged to go. Korean-inflected seasonal veggies, pickled items, and ready-made eats-like coal-roasted cabbage slaw dressed in ssamjang vinaigrette and chilled acorn noodles with pickled perilla seeds-live alongside the Hongs’ delicious homage to Italian and Jewish deli culture, such as giardiniera-style pickles, egg salad, and hot smoked trout schmear.

Photo by Dylan + Jeni, courtesy of Yangban Society
Photo by Dylan + Jeni, courtesy of Yangban Society
Photo by Dylan + Jeni, courtesy of Yangban Society

Guests can also peruse a mouthwatering menu of comfort-food dishes from the kitchen, like galbi-style ribs and a gochujang rice bowl. “We’re really excited about our kitchen specials right now, like the baked sea bream that we coat in chili daikon paste and toasted breadcrumbs,” says Katianna. “The chili paste was inspired by the Korean dish, daegu jorim (braised black cod), but we also referenced East Coast seafood restaurants that always serve some sort of broiled fish. We recommend ordering the sea bream with our ssam box, a collaboration with Girl & Dug Farm, so you can create your own experience with that dish, adding on sauces from the deli counter as suits.”

If you’ve ever belted out ballads at a noraebang (a private room at a Korean karaoke joint)-where ice-cold Hite flows freely and the snacks are killer-or enjoyed a late night at any of K-Town’s beloved bars, some of Yangban’s menu items will really hit home. “With the deli, we’re weaving in aspects of nightlife culture in a way that we hope is familiar to Angelenos from nights out in Koreatown,” Katianna says. “We’ve recently introduced chicken wings, biscuits, and curry gravy; jajang black bean bolo fries; and other snacks that you crave when you’re out drinking. We turn the music up at night and guests can come hang out, grabbing drinks from the super, adding on another order of wings when the mood strikes.”

Then there’s the standalone minimart on the second floor, where Katianna and John peddle a well-edited collection of pantry staples, snacks, drinks, and merchandise-with a nod to local LA makers and Asian-American-owned brands. “We find inspiration from Korean culture-like the super-and reinterpret it through the lens of our experiences,” says Katianna, referring to the ubiquitous convenience stores found in South Korea. “With the super, we nod to the traditional form, but curate the items in a way that is deeply personal to us while also supporting other makers in the Asian-American community.” The shelves are stocked with various sundries: Korean face masks and incense, Baisun Candle Company‘s votives, Steep LA‘s tea, Vervet‘s canned craft cocktails, Sawtelle Sake‘s exclusive-to-Yangban makgeolli rice wine, and more.

Photo by Frank Wonho Lee, courtesy of Yangban Society
Photo by Frank Wonho Lee, courtesy of Yangban Society
Photo by Frank Wonho Lee, courtesy of Yangban Society

While Yangban Society opened when the world was still in the midst of a pandemic, its dynamic space is designed to cater to varying comfort levels as COVID-19 persists-including an outdoor seating area filled with low tables that mimics the feel of spreading out for a picnic. “Our concept is conducive to different experiences that allow it to be used in different ways regardless of the climate,” says Katianna. “Guests can come in for dinner and have that late-night experience with friends, or they can grab things to go from both the deli case and super.”

Now the deli’s gearing up to pay homage to the upcoming Lunar New Year. “The Korean Lunar New Year is called Seollal,” explains John. “It’s one of the most important traditional holidays of South Korea and a very family-based celebration.” While Yangban is closed on the holiday itself, a limited-edition Korean rice cake soup is available on Thursday, February 3. Of course, the Hongs have put their own stamp on this staple dish called tteokguk; for Koreans, it’s a must-eat on New Year’s Day thanks to the chewy-soft rice cakes’ oval shape, which resemble coins and symbolize prosperity and wealth. “We’re preparing the soup a little differently by making a very rich, dry-aged beef broth using our dry-aged ribeye trim, while also steeping the broth with dried matsutakes,” says Katianna. “Traditionally, it’s made with anchovy broth-at least that’s the way my mother-in-law makes it! We’re also using braised oxtails, rice cakes, roasted seaweed, and egg, which are all considered pretty traditional garnishes.”

Photo by Frank Wonho Lee, courtesy of Yangban Society
Photo by Frank Wonho Lee, courtesy of Yangban Society
Photo by Frank Wonho Lee, courtesy of Yangban Society

As Katianna and John observe age-old Lunar New Year traditions and establish new ones with their family, they hope to do the same at Yangban Society. Even its name-derived from a term for Korea’s aristocratic ruling class during the Joseon Dynasty-is a playful reinterpretation, turning the original meaning on its head to express something far more approachable and accessible. “In some ways, it’s an invitation to our guests to come together and be part of the inclusive experience we are hoping to create,” says Katianna.

In the process of creating a concept that’s inclusive to all, the Hongs have also carved out space for their own unique interpretation of what it means to be Korean-American. “There have been so many conversations about authenticity and cultural identity surrounding food, and we hope what we are doing at Yangban helps to shift that narrative,” Katianna explains. “We cook food that is authentic to us and our two very different experiences being Asian-Americans. We believe that there is a newer generation of Asians with the luxury of exploring more of their passions and creativity, and as a result, we are witnessing the development of a new Korean-American cuisine. One that is authentic to us yet differently inspired, motivated, and executed.”Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Tiffany Tse contributes to Thrillist. See what she’s eating today at @twinksy.

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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