Hwal Uh Kwang Jang Serves Up a Scary Cheap Korean Sushi Lunch Special
Midtown Lunch has a long, storied history with ridiculously cheap sushi (sushi from a 99 cent store? It happened.) One could easily argue that cheap sushi is the scariest thing I’ll eat in the name of this site. After all, nowhere is the “you get what you pay for” adage more obviously on display than with raw, practically untouched, seafood. So with a $10 ceiling on lunches, good sushi is usually a complete oxymoron. But “good enough” sushi is something this cheap bastard is constantly on the hunt for.
In New York finding a Japanese restaurant that would give you three sushi rolls for $10 was the holy grail. But here in Los Angeles, cheap sushi devotees will find that hwe dup bap might be the way to go… essentially, a Korean salad topped with cubes of raw fish. There’s an ok $9 version at Ssing Ssing in Koreatown, and Wow Bento & Roll Downtown has an even better version for $8 (masquerading as a “sashimi salad”.) That’s gotta be as cheap as it gets right? Any cheaper than that, and we’re likely swimming in completely unchartered waters. And then last week, while driving up Western in Koreatown, I spotted a sign that would possibly change my life. A lunch special hwe dup bap for… wait for it… wait for it… $6.
How could I not?
I pride myself on being willing to eat absolutely anything, but even I’ll admit I was a bit terrified to eat at Hwal Uh Kwang Jang. After all, it wasn’t recommended to me. Nobody said, “this is delicious! You have to eat here.” It could easily be terrible. In fact, tasting terrible was kind of a best case scenario. Dying on the toilet (and not in the cool Elvis way) is what I was worried about.
Walking in, I was completely reassured by the sheer number of people inside. It’s not big, but there were plenty of people eating in the place when I walked in- and even more streamed in and out picking up food to go as I ate my lunch. I began to think that the $6 price tag must be the result of portion control. They probably just give you a small bowl of the hwe dup bap, and hope you supplement it with other dishes.
Before my lunch was served, they came out with a tray of banchan that made me both excited and even more scared. A whole fried fish!? Are you joking? They know I’m only paying $6 for this lunch, right. Unsurprisingly the fried fish wasn’t the best of all time. It was practically cold, and not crispy at all. It was also very bitter, and extremely fishy. Bad? Cheap? Old? All of the above? None of the above? No clue. But this fish is not recommended for beginners. (Or people who don’t like cheap fish.) The other 3 banchan were good though (I especially liked the green one in the upper right hand corner), and the miso soup was nice as well. But I was really starting to wonder, how small was this hwe dup bap going to be!?
Answer? Kind of gigantic. You can’t really tell from the photo, but this is not a small bowl. And you know what, it was actually decent- dare I say, good. It was way better than Ssing Ssing’s version (i.e. none of the fish was frozen or off tasting) and there was a huge scoop of fish eggs, which added a great sweetness to the whole thing. If you’ve never had hwe dup bap, you can either eat the rice on the side or mix it in with a bunch of big squirts from the red gochujang based sauce in the squeeze bottles on the table (just like bibimbap.)
I don’t know if it was my low expectations, or how baffled I was by how sushi that tasted so not-gross could only cost $6, but I was pretty excited about this lunch. At dinner time their prices are much higher- and it’s likely all the bits they put into the hwe dup bap during lunch are just the scraps from the sliced up sashimi… but it is still mind bogglingly cheap. Then again, in the case of sushi, it’s probably better not to think too much about it.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- What could be better than $6 hwe dup bap!? What a deal!
- The fish didn’t come out frozen (like a lot of cheap versions of this dish.)
- Love the big scoop of fish eggs on top. Nice bonus!
- You get a fried fish banchan included with your $6 lunch special. Now this is just crazy pants.
- I ain’t scared of super cheap raw fish!
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Sorry, but sushi shouldn’t be that cheap. I’d rather spend more money and get something good.
- Who cares about getting a free fried fish when it comes out cold and soggy, and doesn’t taste good.
- They speak absolutely ZERO english in this place. So if you don’t want exactly what’s listed on the menu, you’re kind of screwed.
- No al-bap? That’s what I like to order at places like this.
- No, but seriously. How do they charge so little?
Hawl Uh Kwang Jang, 730 S Western Ave, 213-386-6688