Thursday, June 21, 2007

Koreatown Battle of the Tofu Houses: Beverly Soon Tofu VS. So Kong Dong Tofu

Korean Battle of the Tofu Houses

Tyson vs. Holyfield. Holyfield vs. Lewis. Great matches. But what about the real bouts - food fights!? For many in Los Angeles, it's Golden Deli vs. Pho 79, Sushi Zo vs. Sasabune, Phillipe's vs. Cole's french dip – the list goes on an on. But who reigns as champ in the soon tofu circuit? For those that have never eaten this delicious Korean dish, it consists of meat, seafood, tofu, broth and chili powder all served in a scalding hot stone pot. Before I frequented the two places above, I ate at BCD Tofu House a lot and Young Dong and Min Dong in the SGV area - they were average but I wanted the best of the best. All over Chowhound and Yelp, Beverly Soon Tofu and So Kong Dong were the two most mentioned places - both of which I had to sample. *Ding Ding Ding* Rumble time!

Live from the streets of Koreatown on Olympic Blvd., lie two contenders that have forever had conflict with each other. In fact, they are directly across the street from each other! On the North corner, weighing in at 2717 W Olympic Blvd Ste 108, about 900 square feet, in its 20+ years of serving food... Beverly Soon Tofu aka BST - The Beast! And on the South Corner, weighing in at 2717 W Olympic Blvd Ste 108, also about 900 square feet, also in its 20+ years of serving food.... So Kong Dong aka SKD - Super Killer Destroyer! (k that was stupid, but just play along). Let's take an insider look at those two opponents.

Beverly Soon Tofu, Koreatown

BST sits on the corner of a strip mall with very bad parking. All the buildings in Koreatown are 2-3 stories, and can only afford 10-12 parking spots because the area is so tight. The interior of BST takes on a rustic Korean atmosphere - I love the wooden benches they use. And can hold about 36 people. To add to the authenticity, you'll see a government-supplied metal bowl as part of your settings. No not for rice or soup - but for your ice tea! They give you your own ice tea dispenser which makes it easier for the servers to be more efficient in taking care of the food.

Beverly Soon Tofu Beef Tofu

Beef Soon Tofu
BST really packs a powerful punch with the soon tofu. The broth used is extremely full-bodied and you can tell it wasn't some kind of bouillon/powder used for flavoring water. For $8.27 per pot, BST doesn't dent your wallet. (That was bad!) The stock really has a strong beef taste and is thick, not watery like some other places. The tofu is soft and fluffy, the way I like it. Some places I've been to, the tofu is just too chunky/pasty and when mixed, turns the whole dish into swamp mush. You can easily lose your appetite if this occurs.

BST offers 10 kinds of soon tofu: the combination (meat/seafood), seafood, kimchi, mushroom, vegetable, fish egg, squid, shrimp vegetable, seaweed and soybean paste (dwen jang).

Beverly Soon Tofu Beef Tofu

Here's a slow mo replay of BST's beefy uppercut. Even when mixed up, tofu and broth stay separated.

Beverly Soon Tofu Kalbi

Like BCD Tofu House (Bok Chang Dong - the 24 hour soon tofu joint), they offer korean bbq platters with the soon tofu. For an additional $6, you can turn your soon tofu into a powerhouse combo! (sorry) Although the amount of kalbi given is sparse (6-7 pieces), you can't find a better pairing for your molten hot bowl of tofu. These are cooked inside the kitchen, so don't worry about getting the Soot Bull Jeep or Gui Rim experience.`

Beverly Soon Tofu Fresh Tofu

Not pictured are BST's side dishes (ban chan), which are another strong point - they are definitely high quality. Everything is good - the kimchi, the bean sprouts, radish, potatoes... and their secret weapon... silky round cuts of tofu in a light broth, sesame oil and seaweed strips. I gobbled this in 3 scoops. Loved it.

When the server brings you the rice that accompanies the soon tofu, it's also served in a stone pot. Once she scoops out the rice into the metal bowls, she'll add ice tea or water to the stone pot to loosen the rice that's burnt and stuck to the sides of the pot. With the help of some salt, this becomes an instant double dinner. Or if you choose not to add water, you can eat the burnt rice pieces on the inside of the pot, which Koreans refer to as 'noo roong ji'. Both are good sources of double dinner. In addition to the soon tofu, I hear that BST serves a good bibimbap, which is a stone pot filled with meat, eggs, veggies and rice - served with sesame oil and sweet red chili paste (gochujang).

Total bill comes out to about $34 with tax and tip for two people. Service is great here, parking isn't.

So Kong Dong Koreatown

Now a look at the Super Killer Destroyer, SKD, across in the South ring. SKD sits in the corner of a strip mall hidden behind the stairwell and also offers bad parking. BST has an advantage to SKD b/c it's on the north side of Olympic - much easier to turn into coming from either direction on Vermont. This area around 6 pm on a weekday is pure shit.

I came here on a weekend around 7 pm and it was quite slow. For a place to be this hidden and still hold a great reputation in the overwhelming Koreatown area really says a lot. I was greeted warmly and instantly smelled the goodness coming out of the kitchen.

So Kong Dong Tofu

For $8.50, you get a piping hot bowl of soon tofu. And it is super delicious. Thick, hot, bubbling - just like BST. But I'm going to have to say that SKD's soon tofu (beef, very spicy version pictured above) gives a nice hook to BST's noggin. Every single scoop made me want more and more - it was like chewing gum that never ran out of flavor. Tofu was very silky and fluffy like BST's, but I found that the soup evaporated faster than BST's, making everything really mushy and choppy. Still very good though! I'd take this over BCD anyday.

SKD also offers 10 kinds of soon tofu like BST: combination (meat/seafood), seafood, clam, oyster, beef, pork, kimchi, mushroom, beef intestines and dumplings.

So Kong Dong Dumpling Tofu

A good way to test the quality of the soup is to try the plain soup version. Just kidding, that's just my bullshit excuse for not being able to handle much spiciness (due to excessive drinking in the past). Great soup - I could definitely taste the essence of beef and seafood in the broth. I quickly stole some of J's spicy soup and dumped it in my bowl. Again, the broth evaporated quite quickly. But nonetheless, delicious.

Unfortunately, for those that are used to BST and BCD's kalbi/tofu combos, it doesn't happen here. This is where I think SKD may lack as a restaurant in whole. If you're in for the tofu, just come to either place and order the tofu. Some may argue that you don't go to a tofu house to order meat, which is true, as you don't order soup noodles in a chinese banquet restaurant. But if you must have a side of meat to go with your tofu, I suggest going to BST. SKD only offers beef and pork bul go gi (slices of meat served on a platter w/ onions) for $12.99 which is steep. If you add that to your $8.50 soon tofu, that's $22 we're talking there. But that's for sliced beef, not like kalbi ribs you can get at BST.

With a more expensive pot of soon tofu and no real meat combo, things aren't looking good for SKD. But the tables have turned and a possible comeback is in sight. This is SKD's secret weapon that may see to BST's strong set of side dishes... the spicy raw crab called 'gae jang'.

So Kong Dong Rawcrab

I've never had this but I can tell you that I have a favorite new side dish. Raw crabs are cracked and fermented with red bean paste along with green onions and garlic - awesome. There was so little meat on it though and I knew that it was more for sucking on. The paste used is really tasty. Crab does things to dishes – like how blue crab enhances the taste of Laotian/Thai papaya salad. You can order a whole plate of the raw crab for $10.99. Total bill for two orders of soon tofu with tax and tip comes out to like $18.

Judge's Scorecard after 20+ Years of Fighting

Best Overall Soon Tofu - I'd give it to SKD for it's strong broth. Both places have nice silky tofu, but it's the broth that's important.

Best Overall Side Dishes - This is a tie. BST has very good overall ban chan. But it's SKD's raw crab dish that wins a lot of people over. If you don't think you'll like raw crab, don't go to SKD. They also have fishcake but it's quite rubbery - not the best korean fishcake I've had.

Best Variety - This is a tie when it comes to soon tofu variations. I like the idea of BST's fish eggs, squid, soybean paste and seaweed in the tofu and I also like SKD's clam, oyster and beef intestine offerings - very unique! But I am a sucker for the dumpling tofu (mandoo), which is only offered by SKD.

Best Value - I'd give it to BST for their tofu/meat combos. BST offers both kalbi and bulgogi w/ combos, but SKD only offers non-combo bulgogi for $12.99. Quite expensive IMO for sliced beef. Even if I only want to eat soon tofu, I'd still come to Beverly because of the ban chan.

Best Miscellanous Benefits - Not that I really care about this but it depends on what you like. I like the old school benches at BST. SKD feels like any regular restaurant. Service is great at both places. Parking is shitty at both strip malls. I believe BST closes 30-60 mins earlier than SKD. And BCD Tofu House is open 24 hours.

Overall, I think both places are very solid. I'm glad there are other places to go to besides BCD Tofu House which for some reason just isn't on the same level as BST & SKD. I do like the fried yellow covina fish that's served as ban chan though - so tasty.

Are there better places than these two? Lemme know! I'd love to try it out and do another rematch posting. As always, thanks for reading.

Another compelling battle is also taking place in Koreatown... Pho 2000 vs. Pho 4000. Who is the real Pho restaurant from the future?!

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd #108
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1113

So Kong Dong
2716 W Olympic Blvd #104
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-3737


Oishii Eats said...

Please don't review Ktown's futurama pho's. Too bad What The Pho? closed down. Anyways, I agree, So Kong Dong had damn good soon tofu.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review. Been going to Beverly for a while. Nice to know there's another place to check out!

Anonymous said...

Since the food for me is a push (and I'm non-plussed by the crab at SKD), I'd give my edge to BST if only because it looks like a bad furniture store in Topanga. And I love that kind of kitsch.

Daily Gluttony said...

nice post, i love that BST="the Beast" and SKD="Super Killer Destroyer" cheesy it's brilliant!

see you guys sunday!

Anonymous said...

i love soon dubu! i don't think i've been to beverly one though. and gae jang is one of my favorite banchans. it's a bit fussy to eat bc of the shell and little meat but it's tasty just with a bowl of hot rice. if you get the body shell leftover you can mush up rice in there to observe all the flavor. :) yum!

e said...

this was an excellent review of both places. i've been going to both for years and i guess that's why they're both still in business...they both have a little something unique. Your description of SKD's broth was so right on!

BCD also has a killer spicy raw crab dish. They use to serve it as ban chan but now you have to order the dish. I also dip the spicy sauce in my rice and it's so delicious!

Bon Vivant said...

I like the fact that BST has combos but SKD actually had mushrooms in their mushroom soondubu (though it did need a ton of salt added to it last time that I went).

The tastiest soondubu that I've is at a mom and pop place in the same mini-mall as Mil Hama. Don't know the name of it and the menu is in Korean only.

Thanks so much for linking me.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I'm Susan's friend. Anyhow, I have been to all of the soon dobu places mentioned and I love how Beverly has more options. They even offer "medley rice plus beans" instead of plain rice. Yet, when it comes down to straight soon dobu I go to SKD.

FYI: BCD used to serve raw crab when it first opened but realized the popularity and canned it for strictly the pickled clams...

e d b m said...

J haha. Pho 9090 review coming up soon. We need to go back to SKD to make up for the bad soon tofu at the koreatown galleria.

Mark, thanks for stopping by. I enjoy both places - just depends on what you're looking for. Let me know what you think of SKD.

Taste-Buzz, kitschiness is definitely good. Have you seen Chinese furniture - the kind wrapped in plastic vinyl???

DG, sorry for the cheese - I know.

Yoony, i'd like to know what you think of both places. too bad you didn't like Soot Bull Jeep - you probably aren't going to rely on my reviews anymore haha.

J Sunu - yeah i heard that about BCD, how they use to provide you with gae jang. thanks for stopping by.

BV, you really know your food. love the openmindedness and will to find the best out in LA haha.

Hannah, hello. I want to try the rice medley next time - sounds really healthy with the large assortment of grains used. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

nice blow-by-blow analysis. big fan of so kong dong's soondae actually... i do think it's the best i've found so far. beverly is ok, but it has a kind of funkiness that i'm not quite that in tune with. if skd had kalbi combos that'd be perfect. but in a way, i'm kinda glad they don't. it's all about the soon tofu, take it or leave it! i can respect that.

Anonymous said...

I am half korean and i was soo happy to kae-jahng givin proper kudos cause as bad as it sounds when its decribed it is delicious.

Anonymous said...

I can get wakfu kamas cheaply,
Yesterday i bought wakfu goldfor my brother.
i hope him like it. i will give wakfu money to him as
birthday present. i like the wakfu kama very much.
I usually buy wakfu kamas and keep it in my store.

kojojojo said...

i want to try korean food
it looks so delicious

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