>> LA Tofu House | Eat the World Los Angeles

Wednesday 12 January 2022

LA Tofu House

Vermont Avenue facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The dining room is open.

Since the later days of summer 2020, Koreatown and Los Angeles as a whole has had a dolsot-sized hole in its heart, when long-lived and perennial favorite Beverly Soon Tofu had to close its doors for good. Many attributed BCD Tofu House to be the first in Los Angeles of its kind (even the wikipedia page gets it wrong!), and Korean tourists love to show up there for selfies, but Beverly was always the preferred place for those that wanted to focus purely on bubbling dolsot bowls of sundubu-jjigae.

A new place on Vermont Avenue, down the street from the now-closed first location of BCD, might not look like much on first glance but is trying to create an experience like no other from start to finish. Despite putting the focus in their name, the menu at LA Tofu House is packed with favorites from many sectors of Korean cuisine, but for now it was only the sundubu that was desired.

Fried fish served pre-meal

The similarities between this new restaurant and BCD are so strong that it is impossible not to talk about them, starting with the color and design of the menu. The numbering system is changed a bit, but the offerings are almost an exact replica. There is a well-used statement about imitation and flattery, but neither will be speculated upon here.

After a beautifully fried fish comes out to start the meal (above), and a good range of fresh banchan, it shows that LA Tofu House does actually care enough to succeed. One dish of spicy kimchi and another of non-spicy white kimchi are fresh and crisp, there was marinated spicy squid, bean sprouts, and fish cakes as well on this visit.

Kimchi soondobu

An equal amount of eggs also arrive matching the amount of bowl of sundubu-jjigae that will find their way to the table. These are of course to be cooked in the bubbling cauldron once it is placed in front of you, and if this is obviously your first time with the dish, someone will gently nudge you to do it immediately. Let it cook whole or mix it in depending on your preference, and be prepared to let everything cool down for quite a long time.

The kimchi soon tofu ($14.45, above) is always a solid option and is available with either pork or beef. Kimchi provides a bit of contrast to the smooth, silky tofu but does not outshine it like some other ingredients. The gochujang punch at the beginning is a soft blow, almost making the stew seem bland, but then builds on itself along with earthy peppers in each bite.

Dumpling pulled out of soondobu

Probably not freshly made in-house since their existence goes no further than one sundubu-jjigae option, the dumplings inside a bowl of dumpling soon tofu ($14.45, above) are quite tasty. They create a little bit more umami punch to go along with your selection of beef or pork.

Right about the time bowls of the main event show up, an equal amount of heavy stone dolsots will arrive with rice that has been cooked in them. The staff here will scoop out a portion for each customer from these for use while enjoying the sundubu-jjigae, and then pour tea into the bowls to let it soak in with the crisp rice grains that were stuck to the edges (see below).

Rice cooking with tea in stone pot (dolsot)

This creates the drink called sungnyung (below), which is eventually scooped out and presented to each diner. The rice is roasted and very slightly charred, the tastes of which make their way into the tea for the unique drink. It is meant to be sipped, but the rice itself is also such a pleasure to be eaten so you will probably find yourself scooping some out when no one is looking.

All in all it is a very pleasant meal from start to finish, with ingredients and ceremonies that are all taken care of with the highest regard. Future meals will come with more than two people so that side orders of galbi-jjim or seafood pancakes can be ordered and shared by the table.

Finished stone pot cooked rice with tea


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