Banchan Makes Mapo Restaurant’s $6 Lunch Special One of the Best Deals in K-Town
Last month Josh Lurie, the blogger behind the website Food GPS, penned a tasty looking review of Mapo Restaurant (3611 West 6th Street) in Koreatown. The dishes he tried looked delicious enough, but what really popped out at me was the line at the very end of the review: “[During lunch] you can score bi bim bap, hand made knife-cut noodle soup or beef soup, plus an array of bottomless panchan, for only $5.99.” $6 for a quality K-Town lunch sounds like a must try… throw in a massive amount of banchan (the little dishes of stuff they bring you for free just before the meal) and it seems too good to be true!
As promised, the banchan came quick… and there was a ton of it. Much of it changes visit to visit, but the standards are all there… and most of them are better than average. Acorn jelly (those white cube looking things, topped with a sweet and spicy soy mixture), a few different kinds of kimchi, various greens, dried anchovies, and something with mayo (we got potato salad, Josh got macaroni.) But most importantly, all that banchan comes with the $6 lunch special, and it is indeed bottomless- provided you’re not ashamed to stuff your face, and then ask for more. (We felt no such shame.)
As for the lunch specials, there are three… bi bim bap, kal gook soo (knife cut noodle soup), and kalbi tang (a short rib stew with napa cabbage.)
Even though it’s not the stone pot version (where you get to scrape up all the crispy bits of rice at the end of the meal) the bi bim bap was very good- especially for $6. The egg was sunny side up, and perfectly cooked so we could smear it all around, and the bowl came with all the requisite toppings (shredded veggies, sprouts, etc.) It could have used a bit more meat, and less lettuce, but for $6 it was tough to complain.
The rice made up for all that though… instead of plain white rice, Mapo makes their rice with beans (?) that turn the whole mixture purple. Mix the whole thing together with the sweet and spicy gochujang (red paste that comes on the side) and you’re golden. Still can’t believe this is $6 and it might be worth nothing that bi bim bap is about as healthy a lunch as you’ll read about on this site…
Prefer noodles and soup over rice? The beef soup with scallions and cabbage was perfectly tasty, and well worth the $6… but it paled in comparison to the Yook heh jang, a spicy beef soup our Korean tour guide Matt (the blogger behind the site Mattatouille) ordered.
We happened to run into Matt just before lunch, and he graciously walked us through our meal at Mapo. He also ordered some of the best non-lunch special items on the menu- like the way out of the ML price range (but super delicious) “seasoned and broiled black cod” (for $21!) I was glad we tried it, but it’s not an every day lunch kind of dish… unless you tend to lunch with 6 people every day. Want to read about those dishes? Matt posted about them here.
I went back on my own to try the third lunch special- the kal gook so (knife cut noodles). Their version comes in a seafood broth and came with topped with a few little clams, and a couple of shrimp. The noodles were fine, but I definitely prefer the meat and dumpling filled version at Myung Dong Kyoja (even though it’s a couple of bucks extra, and you don’t get nearly as much banchan.) Instead, I’d probably get the soup with dough flakes in the hot stone pot that Josh recommended in his post. It’s only $1.75 more, and far more interesting (unless you love seafood broth.)
Speaking of banchan, if you are by yourself, and just order the lunch special (and you’re white?) you might not get all the banchan they have to offer. I only got 6 on my return visit- even though other tables had 8, 10 and 12, and we had gotten 13 (!?!) on my first visit. If this happens to you, don’t be shy. I was told by Matt that it is ok to demand (his word, not mine) the full slate of banchan. Is it embarrassing to pay $6 for a great lunch special and then “demand” extra free food? Maybe to some… but I’m a fat man. And I’m cheap. And I like to eat. And I got permission from a Korean guy to do it. What more does one need?
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Koreatown has a ton of super cheap lunch specials… but how many give you this much amazing banchan!?
- I love that Korean purple rice
- A solid bi bim bap for $6? How could I not?
- Some of their regular menu items are amazing. Get a big group together, and you might be able to get out of there for under $10/pp.
- I like hand cut noodles, but prefer a seafood broth to a meat broth
- Did I how great the banchan is?
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this would say)
- The soups on the regular menu are far better than the lunch special soups
- I’ll take meat soup over seafood soup any day- i.e. the kal gook soo at Myong Dong Kyoja is much better (it comes with dumplings too!)
- No point in eating bi bim bap, unless it comes in a hot stone pot
- There’s no excuse for banchan racism! I should get them all without have to ask… even if I only paid $6 for my lunch
- It’s a pretty small spot and can get super packed during peak lunch times
Mapo Restaurant, 3611 West 6th St., 213 736 6668