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Taste

Everybody Woonam Jung tonight: Korean barbecue awaits you

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Be sure to order the dolsot bi bim bap in the stone pot at Woonam Jung.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

The Details

WOONAM JUNG
6850 W. Spring Mountain, 388-0488
Daily, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.

Korean barbecues are scattered throughout the Valley, but most are hidden away and fairly divey—not necessarily the most welcoming of environs for non-Koreans. Woonam Jung is a notable exception.

The restaurant’s backstory is fairly well known. The Lee family—yeah, from the liquor stores—renovated what’s now known as Korea Town Plaza on the outskirts of Chinatown at Spring Mountain and Rainbow. The tenant slated for the space bailed on the project, leaving the Lees with an empty Korean barbecue restaurant. So they opened their own, importing a chef from Korea and rewarding the Valley with one of its most approachable Korean restaurants.

Primary dining options include shabu shabu—think Asian fondue with thinly sliced meat swept through boiling broth—and Korean barbecue. Both are prepared in front of you on table grills and make for interactive dining experiences.

When choosing barbecue meats, I suggest sticking with the classics: kalbi (short ribs), bulgogi (marinated beef) and samgyeopsal (bacon). I also recommend steering clear of the shrimp, as the grilling didn’t lend itself to a favorable crustacean presentation.

Woonam’s banchan—the never-ending parade of side dishes served alongside the meal—vary but have included kimchi cabbage and cucumbers, dried anchovies and salads. Outside of the anchovies, none are truly memorable but they do serve to pass the time while your meat is cooking.

My favorite dish is actually neither shabu shabu nor barbecue but rather dolsot bi bim bap. The traditional Korean dish consists of a mixture of rice, vegetables, fried egg and meat served in a piping hot stone bowl with a healthy application of gochujan, a slightly sweet Korean chili pepper paste. While the bowl crisps the bottom rice layer for a textural contrast, the rice mixture results in an amalgam of savory, sweet and spicy. Just don’t get fooled by the cheaper bi bim bap; the stone pot is well worth the $2 upcharge.

To Woonam’s credit, the staff is equally friendly whether you’re Korean or not. Most importantly, no one should feel intimidated by the cuisine. You might be surprised at what you’ll end up enjoying.

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