Koreatown comes into its own after dark, but it doesn't really come alive until late night, when the streets fill with hungry and thirsty Koreans and food lovers.
Stop 1: Arang
Arang's a small restaurant up a slender staircase on 32nd Street. See that tiny entrance in front of the shiny awning? That's it. Blink and you'll miss it.
Arang is decorated like a woodland village of sorts, but with beer, soju, and grilled organ meat.
A lightly effervescent fermented rice and wheat drink, low in alcohol (6%) and, incidentally, calories. It's a mildly sweet and milky, a little funky from the fermented rice, and an easy way to start a long night of drinking. Arang sells it in a few variations.
Don't serve it from the bottle—Arang has battered teapots just for makgeolli.
Dak Ddong Jip ($15)
"The name of this dish translates literally to 'chicken shit house,' but it's better than it sounds," Matt tells us. The chicken gizzards are offal you eat like popcorn, with morphing textures of crisp, chewy, and tender.
Juipo Tiguim Ttankong ($19)
Arang buys dried "file" or "leather" fish and deep fries it for something that's a cross between fried fish skins and sweet jerky. It's served with strings of dried squid, lightly salty peanuts, and bowls of gochujang and mayo for dipping. "You could call them Korean bar snacks," Matt says, and we'll agree.
Stop 2: K Town Bar
Head down the stairs to the left inside this entrance to find...
K Town Bar
A disco-lit dining room where the waiters wear scrolling LED marquees and beer is served by the yard.
Like all the K-Town spots on our tour, the crowds really kick in late at night.
Toasting soju bombs, equal parts soju and light beer.
Soondae Bokkeum ($18)
A heaping platter of blood sausage, onions, cabbage, scallion, and more gochujang. It's creamier and milder blood sausage than most, run through with chewy vermicelli noodles that pick up the sauce from within.
Fried Chicken ($10 for a small)
K Town's spicy fried chicken is best when you're already a little wobbly. The tender, tender meat is mildly seasoned and encased in a thick batter drenched in sweet-and-spicy glaze, causing the crust to lose most of its crispness.
Black Light Interlude
When it's someone's birthday at K Town, green trails of light fill the room, the strobe comes on, and the yard-o-beer hits the table.
Stop 3: Pocha 32
Another upstairs restaurant, Pocha 32 commands long waits for its enormous share plates and exquisite nautical theme.
See what I mean? Fishing nets, tackle, and all.
Pocha's wall literature is very serious about carding—you'll see these signs plastered all over the restaurant.
Served in a hollowed-out watermelon and filled with soju, watermelon juice, and Sprite, it's the sorority party drink you always wanted—sweet and refreshing, not cloying or overly boozy. One order serves four to six.
Buddae Jiggae ($27)
A spicy stew that traces its history to the American military presence in Korea following the Korean war. Korean cooks made a base broth of anchovies and gochujang, then added whatever they could find, including American imports hot dogs and Spam. Pocha's version boasts both meats along with a tangle of noodles, some incidental greens, and, oh yeah, lots of melted cheese.
Obligatory Cheese Strings
Vegetable Pa Jun ($16)
A loose fried vegetable pancake that forgoes crispness for generous chunks of summer squash and onion. It's light, as drinking food in K-Town goes, and best with generous lashes of sesame-laced dipping sauce.
Last Stop: Gahm Mi Oak
"This place is best as a last stop," Matt tells us. It's a quieter restaurant that specializes in ox bone soup.
Gahm Mi Oak
Sleek wood walls, smooth jazz on the radio. Always smooth jazz.
Welcome to the Wonderful World of Korean Cuisine!
Those covered pots are full of bones left to simmer all day until the resulting broth is creamy, milky, and tinged with marrow.
Radish and cabbage kimchi comes on the house. Dig into it—it's excellent.
Gahm Mi Oak's seolleongtang is as milky as ramen broth, a delicate creamy soup to sooth stomachs and ease you out of a long night.
Salt to Taste
It arrives at the table purposefully unsalted; you add scallions and salt (laced with MSG) to taste to make the soup come alive.