Korean restaurants in Long Beach are so rare that the only full-service place to get gnarly on some bulgogi and bibimbap is hiding between a Mexican restaurant and a discoteria on a block of Atlantic Avenue you'll pass by if you're not looking for it.
But when you are looking for it, the lacy curtains of Sura–a Korean BBQ and tofu house run by what may be one of Long Beach's only Korean families–are the sign of an Asian food oasis, far from the Cambodian and Chinese restaurants that dot the rest of the city streets.
Inside, the twenty-something siblings that man the day-to-day are doing everything they can to introduce Long Beach to their parent's Korean food, with a menu of soups, meat plates and “Sura-ously legit” tacos that are about as Western-friendly as it gets.
For anyone that's been to any of the 24-hour BCD Tofu Houses around Southern California, Sura's traditional offerings are very similar–gurgling tofu stews in hot stone bowls, sizzling cast-iron plates of tasty beef short ribs. Noticeably absent, though, are the whole fried fish, crazy spicy chili pastes and giant shrimp with legs and eyes still intact, a sign that the Korean restaurant knows its newbie audience.
I was first lured into Sura by the tacos, which one of the daughters used to come and sell at local bars during trivia nights and other events. Each taco comes on a single corn tortilla round with cilantro, house mild sauce and a dollop of kimchi that skimps on the spice, but not the flavor.
Without much of a food truck scene in the LBC, Korean tacos are a complete novelty, one now worth the trip to a brick and mortar, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays when the fusion delights are only $1 each.
The tacos, however, aren't very filling and so when dining in, it's often necessary to venture out into the normal Sura menu where you can pick your meat (galbi, bulgogi, spicy pork and spicy or teriyaki chicken), pick your format (in a hot bowl with rice or on a hot plate) and get a full meal that comes with an assortment of banchan, or side dishes.
Every Korean place serves up its own variety of banchan, but Sura's five house sides edge towards the sweet, the pickled and the vegetarian. Most addictive is the seasoned burdock root, which is julienned and sautéed in a sweet brown sesame syrup.
For meat, I'm always a fan of bulgogi, those extensively marinated, tender beef cuts that are basically the Asian carne asada. At dinnertime, the plate is a little on the pricey side ($14), but get in for lunch before 3PM and the same hot plate of thinly sliced meat and carmelized onions is only $11. The chicken is an even cheaper lunch special at $9.
Sura might not be the bustling secret Koreatown hovel your friends in L.A. brag about discovering, but it is by far the only one of its kind in a city more accustomed to Southeast Asian palates and its mellow location along the main Atlantic drag only confirms its status as one of Long Beach's more under-appreciated restaurants.
Sura, 621 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, (562) 495-7872, surakbbq.com