For years now, I've been asking my Korean American friends, "What's the best Korean restaurant in La Crescenta?" The answer is always "None. We go to Koreatown." I think CHAM Korean Bistro in Pasadena is very good and much closer, but they're right about La Crescenta. I've been to every Korean eatery in the area and for the most part, the food is bland, the service unfriendly and the prices high.
The other day, however, in the throes of cravings for bulgogi, we ventured into the Korean restaurant closest to our errand circuit. Maybe it was our hunger or maybe it was the bargain prices, but we left Ka-San Korean BBQ full and happy.
Ka-San is nothing special to look at but it's comfortable enough. Ten or so tables with sunken heat sources and overhead exhaust fans flank the perimeter of the casual restaurant overlooking Foothill Boulevard. A sign over the register explains the barbecue deals. At dinnertime, $13.99 per person will get you all-can-eat beef brisket, spicy chicken, pork belly and chicken bulgogi steeped in that delicious soy-sugar-onion marinade. For $3 more, they'll throw in beef bulgogi. At lunchtime, the same menu goes for $11.99 and $14.99.
As is the custom, a variety of side dishes (banchan) arrive first. These too are refillable upon request. You're sure to find something you like, or at least some new taste to experience, among the cabbage kimchi, white rice, noodle salad, bean sprout salad, egg pancake and Asian broccoli. There is also a satisfying soup with sliced radish and a refreshing green salad.
Then begins the parade of meats. A concave, slotted tray like a broiler pan has been heating up. Frozen curls of thinly sliced beef brisket sizzle upon contact. These curls of meat take maybe five minutes to become hot and juicy, seven to get crispy. Unless you take matters into your own hands, your server will do the job of turning the meat. There's no set protocol here, so you might find this fun or embarrassing.
As each plate arrives, just keep cooking, chatting and eating with chopsticks. We found the beef items to be better than the dark-meat chicken ones. The pork belly was no more exciting than bacon, but who doesn't like bacon? We wanted to test the allegation made by my daughter's high school friends that they scold you if you actually ask for more meat. We couldn't. We could barely finish the amount they provided.
Besides barbecue, they have other menu items such as soups, stews, hot pots and dumplings. We ordered the Hot Bibimbap ($10.95), a bowl of sizzling rice, vegetables and egg on a hot stone base. The smiling server mixes it all up with hot sauce for you.
Sitting back, full and happy, the final extra arrived: a cup of cold ginger-cinnamon tea, a refreshing brew that settles the stomach. We felt ready to continue our errands.
So other area restaurants like Moon Daepo may be fancier, and Cho Dang may be more authentic, but we like the laid-back casualness of Ka-San Korean BBQ.
Where: 3115 Foothill Boulevard, La Crescenta
When: Monday, Wednesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Tuesday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9:30 p.m.
Prices: $11.99 to $16.99 for all-you-can-eat barbecue.
More info: (818) 249-5500
LISA DUPUY has reviewed area restaurants since 2008. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.