Dragon Restaurant’s Lunch Special is Amazing
And now a quick lesson in how math can be applied to everyday food decisions… for example, the transitive property. I loved the fried chicken sandwich made by Animal chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo on the Cart for a Cause. Jon & Vinny loved the chicken at Dino’s Burgers on Pico. Therefore it is safe to assume that I would also love the chicken at Dino’s Burger. And I did. So, when Kogi Chef Roy Choi told The Guru that he liked the chachiangmian from Dragon Restaurant in K-Town I knew I had to check it out. I’m an unrepentant fan of Kogi and Chego, and noodles with black bean sauce is one of my favorite Korean/Chinese dishes (so far here in L.A. I’ve only tried the great $5 version at Mandarin House, also courtesy of @thejgold). So when I read on Dragon’s website that they offer a $10 lunch special with that dish PLUS a standard Chinese food option, I couldn’t resist.
I was told by my go-to Korean food expert that Dragon is about as old school as it gets in K-Town, and a typical meal there would usually be served family style to a large group- often celebrating a 100 day ceremony or birthday. The regular menu is not cheap, but thankfully the lunch menu caters to the solo luncher- and at first glance looks just like most Chinese food lunch menus. They offer 20 typical lunch specials under $10 (most coming in around $6.95). Think beef and broccoli, orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, etc. In other words, no big surprises here. You can also order Roy Choi’s pick- the “chachiang mein” (noodles with black bean sauce) with meat- for just $6.75. But why do that when you can go for the combo lunch special! With that you get the chachiang mein *and* a meat option from the lunch specials list for $9.95 (shrimp option bumps it up to $11.95). I’m sold.
All the lunch specials come with a side salad, plus two kinds of kimchi. Their versions of the fermented cabbage and daikon were both predictably mellow, but a nice start to the meal.
Dragon’s jjajangmyeon (or chachiang mein) is good (as expected) and the amount they give you is kind of perfect. Larger than a wonton soup bowl, but smaller than the gigantor bowl you get at Mandarin House- which is sometimes tough to finish (if you like variety in your lunch). The noodles are not the greatest (sometimes they can be a bit mushy) but the sauce is savory and heavy, like it’s supposed to be, with a decent amount of meat bits mixed in with all the onions. Sometimes they’ll offer to snip your noodles with scissors. If they do, take the snip. It will reduce the chance that you end up with black bean sauce on your shirt from 100% to 50%. Admittedly it’s not the best version of jjajangmyeon I’ve ever had, but it’s good enough- and it’s tough to complain when you’re getting all this food for $10!
For the other half of the combo, I went with Kung Pao chicken. It was a very rustic version, with big unwieldy chunks of mushrooms, sauteed with chicken and assorted veggies (like bell pepper). The flavor was nice, and it was clearly fresh but it had no kick at all (which could be a plus for some). I tend to prefer my kung pao chopped into small pieces and served up plenty spicy, but that’s just personal perference.
The sweet and sour pork was a better choice- for me anyway… mostly because I like mypork battered and deep fried and covered in a gloopy sauce. Awwww yeah. Flavor-wise it was nothing spectacular, and there’s not a ton of discernible meat beneath the breading, but what was there was real good. And you still got the sense you were eating quality food (unlike most of the Chinese places I usually end up at for lunch.)
Based on those two dishes I’d be comfortable ordering any of the other dishes on the menu at Dragon (beef and broccoli, mongolian beef, etc), but I think my favorite of the options we tried was the “fried chicken with hot sauce”. Kind of like a honey chicken of sorts- the batter was crispy, the sauce was perfectly sticky and sweet and had a nice kick, and there wasn’t too much of it. And if you don’t like things too hot, you can just pick around the chilies. It’ll be hard not to order this one every single time.
If you want to try one of their seafood dishes in the combo, the price jumps to $11.95. Or, if you don’t care about the noodles and black bean sauce you could just order one of the under $10 shrimp dishes off the lunch specials menu. We tried the shrimp with hot garlic sauce (which came recommended via Four Square.) For $8.95 you got a good amount of surprisingly decent sized shrimp with fried rice, crispy won tons, and a fried spring roll. The sauce wasn’t really spicy at all (this seems to be a theme at dragon) but it was plenty garlicky and very tasty.
Not enough food for you? They give you fried sweet potato, covered in caramelized sugar. Sounds better than it tastes, but who am I to turn down potato candy!
So… I may not be Korean, and I didn’t grow up eating at Dragon, but the nostalgia factor isn’t lost on me. The restaurant is a total throwback to the old school Chinese restaurants of my childhood and the Korean element just gives it that edgy twist. If I’m in the mood for a big bowl of jjajangmyeon, I’d probably pick Mandarin House over Dragon. (Hell, it’s only $5!!!) But if I want my noodles and black been sauce with a side of old school American/Chinese food goodness, I won’t hesitate to go back to Dragon. I’m a big fan.
THE + (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Jjajangmyeon *and* a Chinese food dish for just $10? Where do I join fan club?!
- Plus salad, kimchi, rice, a single fried dumpling, and dessert. That’s craziness.
- This place reminds me of my childhood
- I love old school American Chinese food, and these guys do it real well
- Everything seems like it is made to order. Super fresh, quality stuff.
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- There’s better (and cheaper) places in K-Town for Jjajangmyeon.
- There’s better (and cheaper) Chinese food places in L.A.
- None of the spicy dishes were that spicy
- I don’t like Korean Chinese food. I like my Korean food, Korean and my Chinese food, Chinese
- Dragon is meant to be eaten in a large group! Not this individually portioned lunch special business.
- I’ve been going to this place since I was a kid, and it’s not as good as it used to be
Dragon Restaurant, 966 S. Vermont Ave., 213-387-8833