Neighborhood: Koreatown, Los Angeles
We actually weren't heading to Beer Belly. But with both Guisado's and Mexicali's closed on a Sunday evening for dinner, Official Friends of DCWD Mark and Ang decided to take me and Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas to one of their go-to spots: Beer Belly.
Set as it is in Koreatown, Beer Belly is a little bit of a strange egg. The shop was recently featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, which should give you an idea of the space: a converted warehouse set in the middle of a busy block. But every other detail about Beer Belly's decor is incredibly fun. The exterior paint job is a vibrant, colorful mural reminiscent of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine. A small patio comfortably seats some 15-20 at bar height seating, while the inside is decked in similar honey brown wood as an accent to elephant gray walls. There's an incredible coolness to it, the sort of place where you just think to yourself: "if I opened a new hip restaurant where my friends and I could hang out, this is what it would look like and be like."
The belly part of Beer Belly is serious; I'll put it this way: there's a dish on this menu called The Defibrillator. Such is the soul and depth of the restaurant's menu: any meat or any cheese, so long as we can deep fry it somehow.
This made our selections feel like a murderer's row of so-bad-for-you-but-so-good-to-eat bites. Case in point: the Death by Duck, a basket of duck fat fries topped with duck skin cracklins and duck confit. There are times when duck fat fries just feel like an in-name-only endeavor (former DC residents Mark and Ang agreed with me that Bourbon Steak is the perfect example of this). These however oozed duck flavor, crisp but nicely oily. I would have preferred a little more cracklins and shredded confit so that each bite could have a little bit of both instead of the little bit that was drizzled on top. Still, a very solid bite.
On the other end, the pork belly chips were a little disappointing. Dusted with some sweet onion sugar and with a Tabasco aioli dipping sauce, there were things to like about the flavors. And yet, it seemed like a little bit of trying too hard. By crisping the pork belly into chip form, the dish obscured what makes pork belly so great, namely the combination of crunch and fat and oil that comes from just one bite. Instead, this turned out to be a little like a very large bacon bit.
Our last two dishes, however, were the kind that you couldn't forget, whether if it was for their portion size or for their decadence. The pizza mac and cheese, for instance, was about twice the size than what we were expecting. A mix of asiago and cheddar cheese dominated, but the eponymous flavor came from a generous helping of pizza sauce, pepperoni, and a little bit of beer. It was a dish that intoned a single question all the more with each consecutive bite, the kind that says, "why can't I stop eating this?" If anything, it hearkened back to all the foods you loved when you were six and there were eighteen birthday parties a year.
The piece d'resistance however was the Beer Belly grilled cheese, a dish so impressive we ordered it twice. The quad deck sandwich was just that, a 4x4 of bread and cheese, with bits of cheddar, asiago, gruyere, and goat cheese melted together; in fact, the sandwich hosted so much cheese, some was layered on top of it all, necessitating a fork and knife. If that weren't enough, the kitchen saw fit to add in applewood bacon and then drizzle maple syrup all over it. If that sounds incredible, it's because it was. Salt, sweet, savory: this sandwich literally hit every flavor branch on its way down from heaven. If this portended to be the epitome of McGriddles' Theory, it ended up just straight rocking it. Unbelievable.
This is the sort of meal that you feel you need to repent for, that makes you think you should just tattoo glutton on your forehead. But it's also the sort of meal that is incredibly satisfying and perfect for riding out the California sun.
Food Rating: *** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Hipster Hangout to Party in the USA
Cost: $$ (out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)