We have 24-hour taquerías and diners that don't close until last call. There's the always-open Lee's Sandwiches in Garden Grove, as well as Honda-Ya. But for late-night food, few match the Koreans, who'll ply you with soju and kalbi, soontofu and bibimbap long after Carson Daly signs off—the Kogi truck only hints at its mother culture's den of dinner delights. Garden Grove and Buena Park already teem with eateries that laugh at traditional OC aversion to any business open later than 10 p.m., and we can expect even more as those cities see their enclaves grow into Koreatowns instead of mere Little Seouls.
Mandoorang Dumpling House, located at the upper reaches of Beach Boulevard, just before it swings into La Mirada, is a cozy Korean diner that attracts everyone from proper grandmothers to bilingual college students, rambunctious businessmen and toddlers. The shiny metal walls seem pulled from Johnny Rockets, and a soda fountain offers free drinks for everyone. All eaters in its snug booths order some manifestation of mandoo, the legendary Korean dumpling that can come as small as an extended thumb or as large as a clenched fist. Fried mandoos feature a flaky crunch akin to the finest empanada, holding in beef laced with green onions. Steamed mandoo skin is as translucent as jellyfish and just as deliciously chewy. You can order the mandoo in a soup or adorning a bowl of chajang, the humble spider's nest of ropy wheat noodles and veggies drowned in a black-bean paste, a meal so potentially messy and filling it makes a bowl of spaghetti seem as neat as a tea sandwich.
An order of mandoos can fill a stomach, but they're listed at the beginning for a reason: Everyone considers them appetizers for Mandoorang's encyclopedic menu, which spans from soups to rice dishes, classics (soondae, Korean blood sausage, soft and downright sanguinary) to strange creations (order the cheese ramen, and out come standard noodles with slices of what taste like Kraft—chewy and gooey) and the latest trends in Korean American cookery (fried chicken, spicy and sticky). It's not the most sophisticated of kitchens, and waitresses only trot out three platters of panchan (surprisingly tame kimchi; refreshing cubed pickled daikon; and gorgeous slices of takuan, sweet radish so vibrantly yellow it looks like a pineapple) instead of the orchestra OC diners are now accustomed to when eating Korean, but that's fine. Mandoorang isn't the Norms of Korean OC so much as it's the In-N-Out: fast, cheap, wonderful, and with lines that grow at night, when their faithful get the munchies.
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This column appeared in print as "The In-N-Out of Korean OC."