99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Beverly Soon Tofu

photo by Amy Scattergood

Monica Lee’s tofu shop, Beverly Soon Tofu, has been open for a long time — longer than Koreatown’s culinary renaissance, longer than K-pop, probably longer than you’ve been eating bibimbap or, depending on your age, solid food of any kind. In fact, Lee has been serving soon tofu since 1986, originally in her first shop on Beverly Boulevard (hence the name), and for the last 26 years on Olympic in Koreatown. Soon tofu is soft tofu, and Lee serves hers in many iterations, loaded into bubbling cauldrons, in dangerous-looking spicy broth, with clams and oysters, with kimchi or meats, or studded with vegetables and cod roe. The tofu soup comes to your table literally bubbling, in black metal pots that could have been lifted from the set of a Harry Potter film. In fact, the whole restaurant seems like a witch’s hut, with long, communal tables built from thick wooden planks and thatched eves supported by wooden poles on the walls — not to mention all those spitting cauldrons. Once you get past the awesome spectacle of the tofu, you should remember that the galbi is excellent, as is the stone-plate bibimbap, which happily sizzles in its medieval-looking receptacle. If you have set-designer friends, bring them with you — they’ll love the decor, and you’ll probably need help eating all that food.

-- Amy Scattergood