Monday, October 03, 2005

Beverly Soon Tofu -- Where Tofu Meets Meat

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd # 108, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone: (213) 380-1113
Open 7 days 9:30 am - 10:30 pm.
MC Visa, no Amex.
Beer, sake, and soju.

Click here for Google Map.

Welcome to my first blog entry about killer eats in L.A.

The honor of first review goes to... Beverly Soon Tofu in Koreatown. Why? Because it's currently my favorite place to eat on the planet. Where else does your tofu come with several varieties of grilled flesh? Here's the dish...

It's a tiny place in a strip mall in heart of Koreatown. Maybe 10 tables, of the rustic wood variety. Cardboard boxes containing god knows what (T-shirts? Menus? Kimchee?) teeter in every corner, festooned with rumpled, half-read Korean newspapers. You sit down. The waitress almost immediately deals out a tableful of panchan. That's Korean for whatever goes with rice, but generally means the small plates of side dishes that accompany nearly every Korean meal.

The panchan is the usual stuff: spicy, slightly effervescent kim-chee, pickled turnips, bean sprouts, cool sliced marinated cucumber. But placed directly in front of you is a small oval of tofu that gives a hint of what's to come. It's like eating a cloud. As fluffy and insubstantial as a George Bush policy speech. Closer to mousse or a light custard than the chalky chunks of tofu you get from your local Chineseria. The delicacy all comes from the light ponzu-like sauce and narrow strips of seaweed on top. Hint: eat it with your spoon; going at it with chopsticks is like trying to stab a cloud.

The menu arrives on two tabletop placards, which can be confusing. One card lists the "Soon Tofu" Bowls. Soon Tofu means a bowl of boiling hot tofu stew, with any of a variety of other ingredients. Pick one of the ten combinations offered; a large bowl is $7.85. My fave is the #3 "Kim Chi" (confusing, as there isn't any kim chee in it... but what do you expect from a place called Beverly Tofu that's actually on Olympic?), a combo of beef, pork, oyster, baby clam, and of course, tofu. Choose your spicy level carefully, as the "Spicy" I like might be too intense for wimpy palates. The roiling bowl of tofu is unbelievably delicious. Loads of garlic, tender meat, jalapenos, and ambrosial tofu. Ladle some into your stainless steel bowl of rice, and enjoy. This is plenty of food for lunch.

The second card, labeled "Special Menu," lists combinations of one (slightly smaller) bowl of soon tofu PLUS one of a variety of grilled meats. Spicy chicken, tender beef galbi, bone-in rib-eye, and most notably a whole squid cut with a scissors at your table into tender, spicy ovals. All are grilled fajita-style, with juicy red onions slivers. At $13.90, this is enough food for a big dinner. The best way to go is to go in a group of four, and order four "special" combinations. Each diner picks their own soon tofu bowl, and everyone can share the four different grilled items.

Be sure to wash this all down with plenty of soju, the national drink of Korea. Served chilled in beer-sized bottles and drunk from shot glasses, (pictured above), soju tastes like vodka - good vodka - that's been watered down over ice.

Oh, and don't forget the egg. When your boiling bowl of tofu arrives, the waitress will ask if you'd like a raw egg cracked in the bowl. If you have any love whatsoever of egg, say yes. It cooks in the bowl. If you break it up immediately, it acquires the consistency the egg in Chinese hot and sour soup. But I like to leave it in the bowl and eat around it, basting it occasionally. By the time you're winding up your meal, the egg has been perfectly poached, to a consistency even dreamier than that of the tofu.

If you're like me, you'll be back at Beverly Soon Tofu the very next day -- and several times the first week -- revelling in the joys of tofu and soju.

I'll be covering many more Koreatown joints here. In the meantime, here are a couple of other resources to check out. Jonathan Gold (my favorite food writer)'s Top 40 Koreatown Restaurants and a broadcast of Good Food at KCRW with a discussion of Korean food.

Thanks for reading. Please give me feedback!


  1. Thank you for the great article. I would spell "pan chan" as "ban chan" though. Good day. =)