Seeing as how it's the time of the year when I'm perpetually craving cold food, I thought I'd kick off the very first Starchy Survey with bibim naengmyun. I love these Korean spicy cold noodles something fierce and I know I'm not the only one, so I hope my findings will help others and you know, heal the world!
First up: California Market. Can one enjoy a delicious meal inside a supermarket? Why yes, one can!
Being within arm's reach of canned goods and packaged rice cake sweets doesn't bother me one bit (okay, maybe not for a first date if we're going to be real). The sauce was a bit soupy, but I loved the balance of flavors: spicy, sweet and tangy. The trio of perfection makes this version sing.
The mild, pickled radish isn't worth tweeting home about, but I still ate all of it.
Some hot beef broth. That description may not dazzle you, but I think it's the same goodness that is served cold in regular naengmyun. I find the stuff irresistible and very comforting.
Up next: Ham Hung. I had high hopes for this joint that has a loyal following and a disconcerting interior; the slightly claustrophobic dining area is located behind swinging doors, which made me feel like I was visiting a front operation to play hwa-tu (a Korean card game).
You'll notice there is a lot more protein (pork and beef)! But, it didn't taste like the kind of noodles that draw praise from the Koreatown crowd (they're tough cookies, folks). The sauce didn't have the depth of flavor I was expecting. Normally, I am easily appeased by a bowl of noodles (even if mediocre), but this batch was quite uninspired. I did enjoy the surprisingly pickled cucumbers in Ham Hung's take as bibim naengmyun is usually served with fresh unseasoned cukes.
Their spicy pickled radish passed the mark. Their beef broth didn't get much love from me, so I guess I didn't care that much when the server took my personal kettle o' broth while I was still eating. What, I don't get my kettle for the whole duration of my meal? Pfft.
Final spot: Yu Chun. I've had their regular naengmyun and rather adored it, so wanted to see if their bibim style was on par.
Visually very appealing! I really like the hefty dose of sesame thrown in and julienned cucumber just makes me happy. The flavor was solid, but there was something overwhelming about this bowl of boldness. Maybe I'm a purist and prefer less adorned, straightforward noodles; there were a lot of toppings in this mix.
I did not care for their beef broth because it was cold with ice chunks! Yes, it works in naengmyun, but it is so bizarre sipping on cold icy beef broth when it is not part of your noodle entree. If that doesn't make sense to you, go try this situation and report back to me, please. Their pickled radish is fine; although when you've already got a whole mess of them already mingling with your noodles, an additional helping is not that enticing.
And the moment you've been waiting impatiently for! I have ranked them as follows:
1. California Market is the winner! After all my research, it figures I am back to my old stand-by. The beef slices aren't plentiful, but taste trumps quantity here.
2. Yu Chun. Flavor wise, it's a teensy step down, but it is an actual restaurant with windows! And the portions are bigger.
3. Ham Hung. Maybe there is a magnetic force that gets people to come back again and again, but it just wasn't for me. I don't get the appeal; maybe the classic naengmyun is a better choice (they had a 2 for 1 special when I visited).
By no means am I saying that I have done a comprehensive overview of all LA establishments offering up bibim naengmyun. But, I like the rule of threes and feel like I satisfied my curiosity about a couple places with a reputation for the dish. I've had my fill for now, but speak up if you'd like to endorse your go-to spot!
450 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90020
*The last food stall next to the Chinese place
Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myung
3185 W. Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
809 S. Ardmore Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90005