Short Rib Stew and Beef Head Make Sun Nong Dan one of K-Town’s Best Newcomers
It know it’s hard to believe, but a lot of people are starting to come around to the idea that Los Angeles’ Koreatown might have better food than Korea itself. All you can eat barbecue places, which Koreans will tell you are as Korean as sushi is Japanese, act as a magnet for meat lovers all over the city, but it’s the spaces in between that make K-Town truly special. Combine the highest population density in the city with a culture that likes going out to eat its own food, and the result is a seemingly endless wishlist of quality lunches waiting to be explored.
The most recent development in K-Town’s ongoing evolution is that it’s not even enough to just have a speciality anymore. You’ve got to do your specialty well enough (or some sort of gimmick) to attract people away from the other 5 places that specialize in the same thing. Take seolleongtang, the cloudy ox bone noodle soup that comes to the table bland, and requires the diner to add salt and scallions to taste. Hat Bat has long been considered the go to place of choice, but Young Dong has carved out their own fan base from those looking for a cleaner, less murky broth. Technically they serve the same dish, but it be impossible to say which is better. Both are great in their own way, both are extremely popular.
So how does a new place like Sun Nong Dan make headway against these two established soup specialists? Funny enough, with head, actually. And feet. And a surprisingly spectacular version of braised Korean short ribs.
Located in the strip mall on Alexandria alongside 7-11, Al Ba Nae and Paris Baguette, Sun Nong Dan opened a few months ago in the space that I think used to be a blood sausage specialist. Out with the soondae, in with the seolleongtang- just another day in K-Town.
Their soup menu is larger than the average seollangtang specialist. There’s a standard version with or without fat (if you like your soup lighter) and brisket. Or you can get the mixed bowl which has brisket, beef head, and ox knee. If you’re into intestines or tripe, you’ll probably want to stick with Han Bat since you’ll get none of that
awful offal stuff here. What you can get is an ox tail stew, beef rib soup (kalbitang), a rice cake soup and a spicy beef and leek soup.
The broth of the mixed seollangtang lives in the semi-murky place between Young Dong and Han Bat, but where they really excel is the meat. The slices of cheek and tongue (which I believe is what they mean by “beef head”) are awesome and the collagen packed ox knee is fun to knaw on if you’re into that sort of thing (I am.) The meat is so great, if you’re there with a friend or two you’ll want to consider just getting one of their large beef platters instead of the soup.
Less broth, more meat is the theme of these shallow boiled meat hot pots that bubble away on a table top burner. For $22 you can get just brisket, ox knee or beef head. But it’s worth splurging for the $28 platter that gives you all three, plus ox tail.
Once you add the rice and kimchi, it’s a meal that could easily be shared by two, maybe even three depending on how fat you and your friends are. And while Young Dong has a $20 mixed meat platter of their own, I’m still thinking about Sun Nong Dan’s mustard, soy, and jalapeno dipping sauce weeks later.
Amazingly enough Sun Nong Dan doesn’t stop there- even though they clearly could have. To make sure they’re recognized as one of the best new places in K-Town, they’ve thrown their hat into the kalbijjim ring as well- a braised Korean short ribs dish that often makes we wonder why anybody would bother eating grilled kalbi. The consensus best version of this dish can be found at Seongbukdong, although raw crab specialist Soban does a spicy version that is pretty excellent as well. So what does Sun Nong Dan to differentiate themselves?
I’ve got two words for you: rice cakes. And two more words for you: ox tails. Their kalbijjim comes with rice cakes and they do a version with short rib *and* ox tails. Oh, and did I mention that they’ll do the regular sweet version of the stew or the spicy version? Game. Over.
Kalbijjim is never cheap, and Sun Nong Dan is no exception. Their “small” is $30 (large is $40) but the small is easily shared by two people. And they offer combos that get you galbijjim, your choice of soup plus soju for as little as $35. Or, as I like to call it, the reason I’ll be going to Young Dong and Han Bat far less in 2014. That trip to Korea I’ve always to take seems less pressing too.
Sun Nong Dan, 3470 W. 6th St. 213-365-0303