1001 S Vermont Ave (@Olympic Blvd.)
Los Angeles, CA 90006
** yes, i know. yet another overdue completion of a previously published half-ass post. sue me. **
There is but one, only one, reason you would ever eat at Hodori Restaurant – you are drunk in Koreatown after 2 am and can’t figure out where the other holes in the Great Wall of Koreatown are because you can’t call 411 because you don’t know the English name for “Sahn.”
If you’re drunk on the Westside late in the evening, you certainly wouldn’t drive all the way out to Koreatown eat a sobering meal, and if you’re in Koreatown at any other time of day, you should probably go to Sa Rit Gol. It has to be the complete combination of all factors – drunk, Koreatown, late – otherwise, really, you just have no excuse.
We were drunk. We were in Koreatown. It wasn’t quite 2 AM when we decided to sober up, but by the time we descended upon Hodori like the buzzards we were, the clock had just turned. Perfect drunken timing.
Hodori is in a strip mall on the southwest corner of Olympic Blvd and Vermont Avenue. Though you may not see the sign for the restaurant right away, there is no way you can miss the screaming neon of the entire plaza. Just make sure you can get into the plaza. At prime time, you may have to grease the parking patrol's hand to land a spot inside the plaza. Otherwise, you wait in your idling car until someone leaves. Once you're in the plaza, look for Hodori, the dorky tiger that was the symbol of the Seoul Olympics of which Koreans are unnecessarily proud. Seriously? The Olympics were over in
1984 1988 (thanks, anonymous). Move on.
With fluorescent lighting, tables smacked up against one another end to end, and a calming, chaotic din, Hodori has a bit of a cafeteria vibe. Enormous menus are posted high above on the walls behind the counter, written in Korean, translated into English, and I can’t be sure, but I think there are some with photographs, for those of us who are at a point in the evening when all we can do is recognize images.
Hodori serves café-style Korean food – soups, jjigaes, and rice dishes – all things suited to sober one’s senses and attempt to pre-empt the imminent hangover with food coma. My personal poison, when it’s not Citron/soda, is a bowl of yook-gae-jahng, a five-alarm beef and green onion soup that perhaps helps sober me up only because it makes me sweat so hard that any residual alcohol in my system will come flooding out of my pores. I won't even mention the fire-rrhea the next day. Oops. I just did.
We went all kinds of crazy and ordered, instead, something else. Bi-bim-bahp wasn't my choice. For one thing, paying money for what is essentially a bowl of white rice (free) with marinated vegetables (bahnchan is free) and hot sauce (condiments on table are free) seems a ridiculous waste. I suppose you're paying that $6.99 or whatever it is for the fried egg on top which, despite the fact that I have a long-time love affair with eggs, I always remove from bi-bim-bahp. Plus, mixing the ingredients together is just way too much work. However, I do appreciate a good, overwhelming dose of goh-choo-jahng, so I didn't argue. Many people go bonkers for dolsot bi-bim-bahp, which is the same content but in a different presentation. Instead of the usual oversized stainless steel bowl of regular bi-bim-bahp, the rice is served in a "dolsot," a heated stone pot that causes the rice to sizzle and create a disgusting crust on the bottom that is, for some weird reason, a highly prized ending to the meal. It's the crust. It's residue. Gross, but whatever. I drink the milk at the bottom of the bowl of cereal, so I shouldn't talk.
We placed our order of the bi-bim-bahp as well as soon doo-boo jjigae, a tiny little hotpot of soft tofu, vegetables, and sometimes seafood, beef, or pork, that comes to the table still boiling. We sat down at one of the tables and
began picking away at the array of bahn-chan: kimchee, ggak-doo-gi (spicy pickled radish), sook-ju namul (marinated sprouts), moo (acorn jelly with vinegared soy sauce), and that ever-so-Korean dish, potato salad! Hodori's bahn-chan selection is decent, but the taste left something to be desired. I shan't complain beyond that since it is "free."
Between rubber-necking the shiny, red-faced clientele around the dining room, "picnicking" on the potato salad, and chattering away about the unraveling of events of the evening, I was tempted to press the tiny little doorbell that is attached to the edge of every table in the restaurant. This is the waitress "call-button" and I have never seen it any other type of establishment other than Korean. It's a doorbell. Though empirically it makes perfect sense to have such an efficient, and "quiet" way of calling the waitress to the table (rather than shouting "yo-gi-yo!" or in a club, raising up candle), it just seems so...cheesy. I never pressed it, since I didn't really have any other reason than to ask where our order was.
The bi-bim-bahp came out looking exactly as it should - a collage of colorful vegetables with a fried egg on top. After everything was mixed all together, it tasted good enough, though I was slightly disappointed by the goh-chu-jahng sauce that we had to use. It was way too sweet, which has become a frequent complaint of mine of Korean food in restaurants. Either I am becoming increasingly sensitive to sweetness, or Korean restaurants are falling into the trap of making food sweeter to appeal to a wider audience.
We didn't crack a raw egg into the soon dooboo jjigae like people usually do when it arrived gurgling at the table. I have no idea why. I often wonder if serving a raw egg at the table like that is legal, but I suppose if Caesar salads are legal, it's okay. The jjigae was dragon fire red, but it didn't taste as spicy as it looked. It did have, however, the usual paradoxical refreshing sensation, "shyun-hae"-ness, from a steaming, boiling hot, spicy broth. I spent an inordinate amount of effort fishing with the long, thin-handled spoon for the slippery shards of tofu to suck down whole and of course, burnt my mouth on the temperature almost every time.
Hodori wasn't the best meal I've ever had, but when is Denny's, Dolores or Benito's ever the best meal you've ever had?
Scratch that. Benito's is the best meal I've ever had. Every time.
Others are saying:
~ J Gold at LA Weekly: "the Canter's of Koreatown" (Feb 2004)
~ Yelpers give it 3 stars out of 5
~ Citysearchers give it 3½ stars out of 5
~ Daily Gluttony: Beer Goggle Cuisine - Hodori, Koreatown (Dec 2006)