In honor of our new VICE Guide to Los Angeles, we asked some LA-based musicians and artists to act as our virtual tour guides and fill us in on their favorite spots in the city. This time, we hit up singer-songwriter Hanni El Khatib to talk about why he likes Koreatown so much he's lived within the same five blocks since he moved to LA five years ago.
VICE: What do you think is the most distinctive characteristic of Koreatown?Hanni El Khatib: I like that it is kind of hard to place. It half looks like a lot of LA, but also doesn't because all the signage is in Korean and there are all these strange lights. If you just took a cross section of 6th Street, it wouldn't necessarily scream Los Angeles if I didn't know. It wasn't until I moved to LA that I even knew this whole area existed.
Everything seems compacted and stacked on top of each other. It's strange and kind of 80s modern. It's doesn't have much character to it, but that in and of itself has a lot of character. I just imagine that the lobbies of some of these apartment buildings have LED lighting that changes per mood. You walk in to collect your mail, and the lighting is shifting from pink to green, and you're like, What the fuck?
What neighborhood spots do you recommend to first time visitors?
Food-wise, I always go to Ham Ji Park, which is totally known for pork ribs and their neck bone stew. It's on 6th Street. There's a lot of cool stuff on 6th.
If it's going out for drinks, I like hanging out at HMS bounty. I know they have a good jukebox. And I love going to Frank N Hanks. If you really want a dive bar, that's a proper dive bar. There's one pool table and like dusty bottles of Disaronno.
And then, Koreatown has tons of karaoke. There's one spot called Palm Tree LA. It's super f-ing weird. It's upstairs inside the Wilshire center, which is a combination of stores and offices. When you go inside, on one side is a crazy club. When I went, they were projecting video of crowds in other clubs around the world and there were bottles of Black Label as decoration and lasers were going everywhere. It was psycho. Then on the other side are all these private booth karaoke rooms. It looks like an 80s cocaine palace, or like it could be a location in Grand Theft Auto.
There's also this place called the Prince. That one's really crazy. It's a time capsule kind of a bar. I guess it's kind of modeled after not exactly an english pub, but a place where you would go have drinks after a fox hunt. I don't understand how it functions as a bar. I still go there all the time, but the bartenders most of the time can't make you anything other than whiskey on the rocks. Like, a martini's a stretch.
What are your favorite places to eat?
I like going to the Koreatown Galleria for lunch. It's this weird indoor mall. I've been to Korea a couple times, and it kind of feels like a mall in Korea. Straight up. I usually go there alone. They have a food court with all these different things, the noodle place or the fried chicken place. It's like going to the food court in any mall in middle America, but instead of eating hot dog on a stick, you're eating a weird grilled whole mackerel. Where do you go when you want to clear your head?
I usually walk around Hancock Park. I have a dog, so I totally wander the neighborhood. There are these old, old mansions. This is a zone in LA where the properties are so spread out. It almost seems like property lines on the east coast or something. I tend to really just cruise around with my dog and walk around all the little streets off of 3rd and 6th. All the streets in between, like Plymouth or Lucerne or Rossmore. I like this whole area.
Do you have a go-to coffee or breakfast spot?
I started switching my breakfast spot to Cassell's in the Normandie Hotel. Cassell's has super good burgers and stuff, but I started going there for breakfast because it's on the way to my office—and they have really f-ing good coffee. Normally at a diner-type place, I'll just get a mug of coffee. And then this one time I ordered a cappuccino, and I didn't realize that there's like a full-service coffee zone inside Cassell's. It's really, really good. I weirdly prefer just having breakfast and coffee there. I have something about sitting down at the counter for breakfast. I've always loved that, and that place feels old school.
Tell us the one thing you can't miss when you're in Koreatown.
You have to go get Korean BBQ. It's pretty much a must. Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong is my first recommendation for someone, or Ham Ji Park. But Ham Ji Park is so specific. Telling somebody "Let's go have dinner. We're gonna have pork neck stew…" It's not really for the faint of heart when you say it out loud.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Check out more from the VICE Guide to Los Angeles.