Mirak Sells Korean Goat Casserole
Although I go on and on about how I'm an Anaheimer through and through, it's a bit of a lie. I grew up in a section of the city next to the 91 freeway, just a home run from Fullerton, so I also spent a large portion of my teen years in that city: sneaking in and out of the AMC 10 (which eventually became the 20), waiting in line at the Fullerton DMV, making out in Hillcrest Park, getting after-work burritos at Taquería de Anda (back when it was great) and seeing far too many gridiron destructions of my beloved Anaheim Colonists by the Fullerton Indians (insert karma joke here). And I've also witnessed Koreans take over western Fullerton during the past decade and transform the neighborhood from sad collections of tract housing and depressed strip malls into OC's latest vibrant ethnic enclave.
Driving up Brookhurst and Euclid, through Orangethorpe and Commonwealth, you see Hangul script dominate marquees, advertising auto-body shops, churches, supermarkets and restaurants that match the riches of Little Seoul in Garden Grove. My latest obsession is Mirak, a gorgeous little spot in a long-abandoned shopping plaza that's finally getting converted into a Korean hub, the better to draw attention to the restaurant's cult of black goat.
Goat occupies a special place in Korean culture, a dish not as prevalent as beef or chicken, usually offered only at restaurants that specialize in the ungulate and consumed mostly for its health benefits. And it's always capra hircus coreanae, the country's sole indigenous goat breed, a tiny guy with gamy flavor that radiates from its soft, stringy flesh. Most of the eaters at Mirak get it one of two ways: as a stew, or in an angry casserole that crisps the meat the longer it stays. The stew is brought to your table, bubbling and fierce, covered with a jungle of sesame leaves. It's a funky, stinky, glorious mess, ideal for the winter—but that goat casserole is better, joined by sesame leaves, green and white onions, and jalapeños, all of which eventually caramelize into sweet, pungent perfection. The meat—chopped finely into tendrils, with pieces of chewy goat skin and fat left intact—is like a more powerful birria, something begging to get washed down with Hite beer. A galaxy of panchan circles both orders, alongside a condiment you dip your goat into that's part chili paste, part whole pepper, part mustard seeds and all crackling heat.
Other dishes? Sure: barbecue, bibimbap, soondae and other Korean faves—all of them great. But it's about the goat at this Fullerton treasure, a harbinger of better things to come.
This column appeared in print as "Korean Goat Casserole!"
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