“Call your grandparents.”
It’s the urgent rallying cry of teachers, parents, and the night trolls that lived under your bed when you were a kid. They have a point though - grandparents are full of essential life lessons and long-winded stories that ultimately give us a better perspective on things. Also, no one really knows how much longer they’ll be around.
Here’s our urgent rallying cry: Go to Baroo Canteen, the tiny Korean-ish food stall inside an East Hollywood swapmeet that’s serving the most exciting new food we’ve eaten all year. It’s also going to be gone before you know it.
Baroo Canteen is the second iteration of Baroo, the experimental Korean restaurant that suddenly closed in late 2018 after three years of lines out the door. If you were familiar with that spot, know this - Baroo Canteen is not only an entirely different experience, it’s an even better one. Where the original concentrated on nuanced dishes that relied heavily on fermented vegetables, Canteen serves the kind of hearty, flavorful comfort food that makes everything else in the world disappear while you eat it.
Like the kimchi shrimp toast, a perfect balance of sweet and savory and one of the single best bites of food we’ve had this year, or the pastrami fried rice, an objectively soul-saving dish that’s so packed with flavor you’ll be texting a friend or therapist after the first bite. If you’re wondering if they still do fermented vegetables, the answer is yes, and eating red onion and rose out of a Mason jar while the rest of your food is prepared is the only way to begin a meal here. By the time the perfectly-cooked barley with spicy red goddess dressing hits the table - and after you realize you just ate the best Korean fried chicken in existence - it hits you: Baroo Canteen’s menu is far more than just comfort food, it’s a collection of the most unique, complex, and intensely-flavored dishes being served in LA right now.
The most expensive thing at Baroo Canteen is $15, meaning you can easily order the entire menu for under $100. If you’re with a few friends, or just got an unexpected class-action lawsuit check in the mail, plan to do that. Because when the food is this across-the-board incredible, you need to be eating all of it.
If this all seems too good to be true, it is. The building Baroo Canteen resides in, Union Swapmeet, is reportedly set to be demolished in early 2020. And as you weave your way to Baroo’s back counter (head to the left when you enter the building), that’s already apparent. You’ll pass by shuttered booths and long-standing businesses entering their final days of operation, which adds a certain melancholy to the air. For a brief moment, you’ll probably wonder if you should even be here, but the importance of witnessing the end of an East Hollywood institution speaks for itself. The fact you’ll eat incredible Korean comfort food while you’re there is a fantastic bonus.
We’ve already said this, but it bears repeating - this is one of the best bites of food we’ve had all year. Or maybe any year. This prawn toast is perfectly-deep fried, savory to the point it hurts, and ideally balanced with an avocado and yuzu dipping sauce that comes on the side.
Baroo Canteen’s menu is full of fascinating dishes, but this is easily the most unique. It’s a deep-fried shiitake mushroom stuffed with seafood and shrimp, sitting in a pool of squid ink creme fraiche. There’s a lot going on here, but the umami from the mushroom and sweetness of the shrimp work perfectly together. If you’re with a group, order a few.
This reminds us of the kind of dish you’d find at the original Baroo. And by that, we mean it’s a fragrant, complex salad that will make you feel like you’re giving back to your body.
Compared to some of the other dishes on the menu here, this barley bowl is definitely on the simpler side, but it will also be one of your favorites when it’s all said and done. And it’s all because of the spicy red goddess dressing they put on top. If they sold it by the gallon, we would buy it.
There is absolutely no reason any bowl of fried chicken should be this good. But we are better people for having eaten it and you will be, too.
Aside from sounding like the only government job we’d be interested in, this incredible pastrami fried rice is something you’ll be thinking - and talking - about for weeks afterwards.