The 5 Best Korean Restaurants in California 2017

//The 5 Best Korean Restaurants in California 2017

Last updated: Jan 30, 2018 @ 9:54 pm

After scoring over 150 restaurants with our own metric, the Restaurant Delight Index (RDI), we’ve concluded that the five best Korean (non-kbbq) restaurants in California in ranking order are: Buil Samgye Tang, Bart Grocery & BBQ, Yup Dduk LA, Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo, and Soy Tofu.

The Best (Non-BBQ) Korean Restaurant in California:

buil samgye tang samgyetang ginseng korean chicken soup

#1 Buil Samgye Tang

4204 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90020

Restaurant Delight Index: 90/100

(4.6 / 5) 270 reviews

I love specialty restaurants that cut down on all the choices in lieu of providing a few amazing, unbeatable, dishes. Buil Samgye Tang literally only has five items on the menu, all variations of samgye-tang. Samgye-tang is a warm ginseng chicken soup said to improve your health (practically everything healthy in Korea has ginseng in it). Koreans love this soup so much that restaurants like Buil are commonplace in South Korea, whereas us Americans have to pretend we’re sick in order to get our moms to make it for us.

The paradox of choice is real, which could contribute to how highly they scored in our restaurant delight index. You’ll already know what you’re going to get as you walk in, and you know it’s going to be amazingly delicious. Not only is the food delightful, I have yet to see a review fail to comment on how Buil has the kindest and warmest owner in town. No wonder Buil scored so highly on our RDI. Major props for putting out the most delightful traditional Korean food experience in California. Plan on not finding a parking spot, thankfully it’s in a residential area so alternative options should be available.

What to order:  Anything on the menu, but add some abalone

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Runner ups:

bart grocery bbq kimchi fried rice

#2 Bart Grocery & BBQ

108 Los Olivos Ave
Daly City, CA 94014

Restaurant Delight Index: 86/100

(4.4 / 5) 571 reviews

You know how some moms (the best moms) when they pack a lunch it feels like they’re trying to feed you for a lifetime? Well, Bart Grocery & BBQ does just that on the cheap. You can feed a family of four off their generous portions for just $8 (don’t quote us on that with Bart). Combing their super affordable prices, generous portions, and delicious food they pulled out the second highest delightful experience. Bart is more a deli than a restaurant so expect to take it to go. Parking is also terribly limited.

What to order:  Kimchi Fried Rice, Japchae, Bulgogi

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yup dduk la tteok bokki

#3 Yup Dduk LA

3603 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
Koreatown, Wilshire Center

Restaurant Delight Index: 84/100

(4.5 / 5) 732 reviews

If you love spicy Yup DDuk LA is right up your alley; if not, you should probably find another street. Self proclaimed “spiciest Korean restaurant”, they focus your entire experience around surviving the heat, if you so dare. Former victims have cautioned against not getting duped by the so called ‘mild’ as it will make your eyes water and nose run. Like toothpaste, you can’t remove heat after the fact, so I suggest ordering the extra mild and adding your heat gradually until it’s just right. They have a fresh and modern approach to Korean cuisine. You start off by ordering their take on tteokbokki, then add sides and toppings such as ramen, cheese, eggs, sausages, etc. Parking here like the others is limited and the space is small. If you’re heading there on a weekend get ready for a wait.

What to order:  Yup DDuk with Ramen and Sausage, Rice Balls,

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spicy seafood noodles kal guk su hangari bajirak kalgooksoo

#4 Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo

3470 W 6th St
Ste 9 & 10
Los Angeles, CA 90020
Koreatown, Wilshire Center

Restaurant Delight Index: 83/100

(4.4 / 5) 723 reviews

Coming in at #4, Hangari has made a name for itself with the best kalgooksoo (aka kal guksu) in California. Kalgooksoo, AKA “Knife Noodles”, are handcut noodles served in a large bowl with steaming seafood or chicken broth (there are tons of variations now but those two have been most prevalent). Hangari serves them piping hot enveloping you in a cloud of steam and smells you can taste before even picking up a spoon.

They don’t skimp on the add ons either, a contributing factor to their high RDI. If you visit their Yelp page you’d probably think the pictures were manufactured or staged, but according to the reviewers they look just as good or even better in person. Their handmade noodles are commonly described as perfectly chewy and homemade, which is everything I’m looking for in a kalgooksoo. Like the other restaurants on this list parking is almost impossible unless you valet (wonder if it’s a coincidence). It looks as though Hangari has perfected the art of the kalgooksoo earning them #4 on the list of California’s best Korean food.

What to order:  #4 Seafood Kalgooksoo, #5 Chicken Kalgooksoo

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mushroom tofu soup sundubu soy tofu

#5 Soy Tofu

4961 La Palma Ave
La Palma, CA 90623

Restaurant Delight Index: 83/100

(4.4 / 5) 315 reviews

Soy Tofu earned the last remaining spot on the best Korean restaurants in California! If you haven’t guessed by now, they specialize in sundubu jjigae, which is a soft tofu stew and a traditional mainstay in Korean cuisine. Soy Tofu is powered by a husband-wife duo; she serves the entire restaurant up front while he does all the cooking in the back. It’s impressive that they are still able to delight their customers with such a small team. Major props to them! Despite running around, serving bubbling soup in cast iron pots and banchan, she’s more than happy to stop and explain what everything is if you need help. People characterized her as very sweet and funny with a great vibe. One reviewer said they’d come back just for her. Another reviewed, “I’ve now been to a handful of tofu houses after my mom took me here once, and this place slays all the others.” Their soups are full of flavor, regardless of the type of sundubu you order. A common mistake in cooking sundubu is making it too salty, but here the salt ratio is on point. Great food, great service, great vibe, all of that notwithstanding they have complimentary ice cream, so they’re the best in my book.

What to order:  Mushroom Tofu Soup, Seafood Tofu Soup

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How We Ranked Korean Restaurants

The main goal of this post is to best answer, “where can I get the best Korean food in California?”. This was inspired by my first post where I attempted the same, but for each state across the US.

We all know “best” is highly subjective, especially when it comes to restaurants. Tastes vary, what people look for in a dining experience differ, rating scales are all over the place. You would be hard pressed to find someone that’s actually been to every Korean restaurant in California, let alone be able to compare and contrast them all objectively.

So — I have spent hours in my underground lab, playing with algorithms and Tony Stark tech and created the following methodology to arrive at a more confident answer for us all.

Two principles: the Law of Large Numbers and Delight.

The Law of Large Numbers

You can read more about the Law of Large Numbers here, but the tl;dr as it relates to restaurants is that the more opinions there are, the more likely the average of those opinions is true. So now, “what’s the minimum number of opinions needed?” Thanks to Survey Monkey’s sample size calculator, I was able to calculate that: 264 reviews with 90% confidence and a 5% margin of error.

I am aware Yelp, to some degree, has a bad rep for the integrity of their reviews. There are ways to purchase reviews and manipulate your overall evaluation (Yelp is not the only site susceptible to this). Yelpers can be schmoozed, friends and family can be enlisted, there can be special offers in exchange for reviews, all dig away at the integrity of the data.

Despite all of the discrepancies Yelp undeniably has the largest activity and available data set of crowd-sourced reviews. It’s also the ubiquitous resource for researching a restaurant. Google and Tripadvisor simply don’t have enough reviews; in this case, bigger is better.

Delight

Nobody wants to walk out of a restaurant and think “meh”. Who wants a mediocre experience? You want to feel as though you’ve made the right, no, the best choice available to you. That’s the feeling we, at Goghism, are striving to help provide through our research.

Let me introduce you to our metric: The Restaurant Delight Index (RDI). The formula is:

(((Very Satisfied + Extremely Satisfied) – (Not Satisfied + Extremely Not Satisfied))/ # of Responses) * 100.

Applying it to Yelp, it looks like this:

(((# of 4 ratings + # of 5 ratings) – (# of 2 ratings + # of 1 ratings)) / # of reviews) * 100.

You probably noticed there are no 3 ratings. A restaurant should not be rewarded for “meh” experiences. Come on! I’m not wasting my time there and I don’t want you to either.

To summarize, here’s our ranking methodology:

  • Must have a minimum of 264 reviews.
  • Ranked by Restaurant Delight Index.
  • Fakespot applied to verify the quality of reviews.
  • Must be tagged as serving Korean food.
  • Does not have a grill your own component.

Results may have changed slightly by the time you read this (research takes time, we don’t have a team of monkeys churning all this out).

That’s it! Now, let’s get started!

What’s Next?

This is only the beginning. We truly believe this is the most objective review out there for answering the simple question, “Where can I get the best Korean food?” The next post you’ll see from me is the Best Korean BBQ in California using the same process. With so many of them out there, I’m anxious to see who rises to the top.

By |2018-01-30T21:54:22+00:00May 19th, 2017|Restaurants|4 Comments

About the Author:

Biased towards seeking truth, I often find myself wrangling data to uncover reality good or bad. Sometimes my cat, Bobbi, gets in the way but that's life. You won't find me cooking up fresh recipes and that's my gift to you guys. But better believe I'll be there when data is needed.

4 Comments

  1. Berneice Helf September 10, 2018 at 11:36 pm - Reply

    With thanks! Valuable information!

  2. Leanne Trammell September 12, 2018 at 10:21 pm - Reply

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  3. Burma Rowand September 13, 2018 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    Don’t wear seat belts lest you drown in your own urine?

  4. Ralph Frenkel October 4, 2018 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    With thanks! Valuable information!

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