Myung Ga Tofu House

Photo by Matt OttoThere are two paths leading to Myung Ga Tofu House, and neither of them is pretty. Option one involves parking behind a shopping plaza and ascending up a staircase next to a garbage dumpster and a water-filled oil drum; make sure to shoo away the flies if you proceed through here. The other way in is to climb a separate set of stairs on the other side of the shopping plaza and walk around the second story of an abandoned supermarket—make sure to follow the 60 consecutive arrows toward the food court where Myung Ga is the sole tenant or you'll end up in an auto-insurance office.

The confusion ends once you actually reach the Garden Grove fast-food eatery. Myung Ga is a straightforward Korean tofu house, down to the spartan presentation and Korean karaoke shows that blare from a television near the cash register. The only drinks on tap are complimentary jugs of hot or cold water. Dining choices are three— barbecue, soup or soft tofu, each with numerous variants. Barbecue pork or chicken (bulgogi) comes served on a large skillet; a bed of onions separating metal from flesh soon caramelizes due to the soy-drenched meat on top. Soups such as the brick-red yook gae jang are similarly epic, hangover-curing seas served in tureens and spicy enough to scald even when fresh out of the freezer.

It's with the soft tofu, however, that Myung Ga best fills guts. It prepares the Korean staple the way George Washington Carver once tinkered with the peanut. Each tofu pot arrives in a clay vessel bubbling like a mini-volcano; only the cracking of a raw egg into the cauldron calms it to a sputtering mess. You choose what accompanies the quickly curdling tofu—smoky beef shreds, shell-wearing shrimp, even fleshy mushrooms—and the spice level, from one (vanilla) to five (hydrochloric acid). All entres also include the customary little side dishes known as panchan—three of the seven are mini-cucumbers sluiced in fiery chile paste, gooey pickled seaweed and an entire flaky fish.

There's also a Japanese menu at Myung Ga—strange, considering Japan's messy colonization of the Korean peninsula for a good half-century. Rather than employ a measure of revenge by sabotaging their former oppressor's cuisine, the two ladies running Myung Ga pride themselves in preparing 12 delicious, if expected, kinds of sushi—California roll this, spicy tuna that and a couple of eel variants. Throw your geopolitical apprehension aside and dig in.

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—Gustavo Arellano Myung Ga Tofu House, 10131 Westminster Ave., Ste. 214, Garden Grove, (714) 590-0021.

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