Roy Choi’s POT Is Essential to Understanding LA Right Now

Only Roy Choi could spin floral cotton bibs as OG status at his new K-Town place, POT. The restaurant is Choi’s unabashed take on Korean food, more straightforward than his previous fusion projects, Kogi and Chego. Tying on a bib is the least we can do for Choi, someone who's given so much to LA dining and culture. Besides, you'll need one, sitting down for a meal of bold, deep flavors from boiling cauldrons of Korean stews.

POT refers to the vessel holding jjigae, Korea’s homey soup-stew. A friend of mine says that while jjigae is traditionally a staple of Korean meals, it’s also come to represent a special type of comfort food for second-generation Korean-Americans. This is the generation hesitant to embrace, say, hongeo (“rotten” skate fish, favored by first-generation Koreans) as a symbol of their Korean-ness, or kinship with the family homeland. POT has only been open a week and a day, but something about it is already quintessential LA at its core. It feels distantly familiar and entirely new: the crux of Choi's cooking, and an unspoken vision of Los Angeles.

And you don't have to strain to get POT's secondary meaning. The cues are everywhere: a case full of lighters, chips, and stoner snacks hanging from racks, bodega-style, behind the bar. And, of course, an ode to cannabis dispensaries everywhere: the neon green POT sign that illuminates the dark corridor right outside the entryway. I wasn't high, but all signs told me I should have been, or at least considered it.

POT is situated inside the Line Hotel at Wilshire and Normandie. It’s the centerpiece of a trio of openings, including a café and bar located inside the lobby. Reservations aren't available, but we kept ourselves busy for an hour by admiring the sleek, geometric lobby and tasting the cocktail menu. The White Russian and Fuzzy Navel are worth ordering. So is a drink called Mushroom, which combined bourbon, Punt e Mes, and shiitake, and gradually developed an interesting dank, forest-floor flavor.

To maximize the experience, you'll want to come with a group, for several reasons. The bar, reserved for smaller parties, feels segmented from the action. But mainly so you can pick and choose from the extensive menu, which looks like a page out of a McSweeney's Panorama. Graphics, side notes, captions, arrows, innuendo, and sports references abound. It takes a second to digest, and the waitstaff does an excellent job of guiding you through and helping to determine appropriate portion size. They also dance, and diners sing along to R. Kelly or Danny Brown.

At the center of the tables are induction burners for keeping the stews warm, and just underneath, cubbylike storage spaces where you'll find your stash: tin cups (for complimentary barley tea), chopsticks, and spoons. We kicked things off with Kat Man Doo (pictured), steamed pork, beef, tofu, and chive dumplings, with a sweet, subtle hint of ginger. Next was Poke Me, cubes of yellowfin tuna bolstered by edamame, sea beans, Maui onions, and sesame, rounded out by shoyu vinaigrette. Sweet, salty, and slightly smoky, it was a refreshing prelude to a much heavier entrée set. (On Chowhound, wienermobile swore by the saltwater-brined mackerel.)

On to the hot pots, which come in four sizes: "single/with a friend/a few is more than two/group love.” For five sober people, three single portions were plenty. The Shorty came with tender braised galbi, deepened with dates, taro, and turnips. It reminded me of pot roast, rich and hearty.

The Boot Knocker (pictured), a.k.a. budae jjigae, was a classic home-style dish of tofu, instant ramen, the canned meat trinity (Spam, mini franks, and corned beef hash), rice and fish cakes, and chile paste in a fiercely red pork and seafood broth. (Budae jjigae is Korean for "army stew"; its wartime origins are similar to those of Japanese ramen.) And what's a Korean joint without a bulgogi pot, comprising noodles, kimchi, and scallions, here aptly named Old School.

POT’s menu is large so you’ll need to make a few trips to get a complete sense of things. Along with grilled meats, there are noodles, fried rice, and smaller pickled, fermented, and dried snacks to try. By the time we sat down the kitchen had already run out of the potato pancake and uni dynamite rice bowl (called Beep Beep). I can only imagine the pillaging that will happen in a few weeks, on April 20.

POT at the Line Hotel [Koreatown]
3515 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
213-368-3030

Photos by Justin Bolois