Jonathan Gold eats bulgogi, Gangnam-style, at Gwang Yang

Ask Koreans and Korean-Americans where to find the best bulgogi in town and they’ll probably tell you: “My mom’s version is the best.” At Gwang Yang, the recipe for preparing the marinade and the meat has been carefully guarded for three generations.

Bulgogi has long been a staple at Korean restaurants. The paper-thin slices of beef are marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil before they are grilled and served with a sweet, tangy sauce. Bulgogi is often cheap and quick to prepare, making it a frequent add-on to combo meals at hole-in-the-wall Korean spots or a last minute purchase at the market. The plastic containers of pre-marinated bulgogi line the shelves of the cold section, the beef having soaked for so long it is barely discernible as meat. On some restaurant menus in LA, bulgogi has moved into the shadow of sexier cuts of beef like galbi and the trendy tomahawk steak. Not at Gwang Yang, an upscale chain based in Seoul that specializes in — you guessed it — bulgogi. Gwang Yang is beginning its US expansion and at its new Koreatown location, there are two kinds on the menu: Gangnam- and LA-style bulgogi.

The LA-style is marinated in the usual sauce and is a step above the rest, but trust your servers when they point you to the Gangnam-style. The K-pop reference has nothing to do with Psy’s hit song or the district in Seoul and everything to do with Gwang Yang’s subtly-flavored marinade. For three generations, Chol Hong An’s family has kept this recipe top-secret so it’s hard to say what makes it so “supernal,” to use Jonathan Gold’s elegant descriptor. Perhaps it’s An’s decision to use USDA Prime cuts or to import special black oak charcoal from Korea to grill the meat. But Gwang Yang’s bulgogi is glorious, crisp, meltingly tender and smoke-kissed. You can dip the slices into a sauce of Korean pear juice, cinnamon, ginger and other spices, or wrap your bulgogi in leaves of romaine lettuce and eat it with gochujang-seasoned bean sprouts, scallions and a smear of spicy-sweet ssamjang (bean paste).

Gwang Yang - Yukhoe
Gwang Yang’s Kobe-style Wagyu yukhoe (steak tartare) is luxuriously soft with just a touch of heat.

Other tasty items on the menu at Gwang Yang include the Wagyu-style kkotsal, “flower meat” named for the lacy marbled pattern on the chuck flap; the anchangsol (outside skirt steak) and the galbi, which comes as marinated strips of Prime rib meat wrapped around the bone. For steak tartare lovers, there is the exquisitely plated yukhoe that is served on a lotus blossom of Korean pear slices and an arrangement of cucumber and shiitake slices that are shaped into a stalk of bamboo. The kimchi jeon and the haemul pajeon (seafood-scallion pancake) are probably different from other pancakes you’ve eaten in LA — delicate and crepe-like and not heavy on the batter. Cleanse your palate as the Koreans do with a refreshing bowl of mul nangmyeon, cold arrowroot noodles in chilled beef broth. This is upscale Korean barbecue at its finest.

Read Jonathan’s LA Times review of Gwang Yang and find more of his restaurant recommendations here.

Gwang Yang - Chol Hong An & Isaac Kim
Chol Hong An, president of Gwang Yang BBQ and general manager Isaac Kim.

Recommendations: Try the Gangnam-style bulgogi, the anchangsal (outside skirt steak), the Wagyu-style kkotsal (chuck flap), the galbi (marinated Prime ribs), the yukhoe (steak tartare), the kimchi jeon (kimchi pancake) and the haemul pajeon (seafood-scallion pancake).

Location: 3435 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 123, Los Angeles, CA 90010 | (213) 385-5600