All photos courtesy of Jilli

The RundownLos Angeles

Buzzy Korean Drinking Spot Jilli Is Changing the Game in K-Town


We’re willing to bet that you listen to (or at the very least, know of) BTS or Jay Park, and that your Netflix queue has more than one K-drama lined up. The exploding interest in Korean pop culture in the U.S. is palpable, and L.A. restaurateur Dong Hyuk “Dustin” Lee has a deep understanding of the cultural shifts that are shaping our dining habits.

Lee and his partners, Kevin Son and Jeff Jun, are at the forefront of transforming K-Town’s dining scene. They’re the team behind Jilli, an effortlessly cool new spot for modern Korean drinking food, taking over the space that once housed their acclaimed tasting menu restaurant, Kinn. Their ventures — which also include the wildly popular Korean fried chicken spot Chimmelier, as well as the recently shuttered Hanchic — demonstrate that the trio knows exactly how to appeal to the evolving tastes of Koreans and non-Koreans alike.

Angelenos have long had a bevy of spots to hit up for traditional Korean bar snacks and generic sojus. But Lee and crew believe that Koreatown deserves more fun and fresh offerings. And now that more diners than ever are comfortable with gochujang and kimchi stew, it’s the perfect time to expand their vision for what Korean food and culture can be. 

Jilli is a fun and lively spot to pregame before strolling over to nearby clubs like Mama Lion or Terracotta, though it’s equally appropriate for a casual date night or a catch-up with friends. The food — which includes inherently snackable bites like rigatoni alla kimchi vodka and mini shrimp toasts — is definitely worth a visit, but the most exciting part of Jilli may be the drink lineup, which includes custom beers and craft makgeolli, a Korean “farmer’s liquor” that’s been having a renaissance in South Korea over the last decade. Intrigued? Here’s everything you need to know before visiting: 

1. The bar snacks are next-level 

From honey butter potato chips to mini shrimp toasts, all of the dishes at Jilli are heightened by the flowing alcohol and rowdy vibes.

Expect to order a table full of snacky, sharable small plates with big flavors. The most popular dish at Jilli right now is the creamy, funky, and deeply satisfying rigatoni alla kimchi vodka. “Tons of Korean bars serve kimchi pasta made with spaghetti noodles, but I wanted to make it a little different,” says Lee. He took a page out of the spicy rigatoni playbook, and innovated with kimchi and vodka sauce. Meanwhile, the boneless Korean fried chicken served with gochujang-heavy yangnyeom sauce, a recipe popularized at Chimmelier, is a nod to Korea’s impressive chimaek (fried chicken and beer) culture. 

Jilli’s kimbap is more traditional, featuring plain seaweed-and-rice rolls served with a fermented mix of radish kimchi, squid, and fish cake. A dish that Lee is particularly proud of is the chicken nurungji, a burnt or toasted rice that he rehydrates with chicken stock and coaxes into something that toes the line between risotto and juk, garnished simply with roasted sesame oil, chives, egg yolk, and pickled mushrooms. 

2. This is not your grandma’s Korean restaurant 

This L.A. sool jib is intimate, minimal, moody, and a little rowdy — like the newer ones you’d find in Seoul or New York. Lee plays ‘90s hip hop bangers and projects Korean cartoons on the walls. The crowd is young, hip, and definitely snapping pics of their rigatoni while chilling at the bar. The space is tiny, with just 28 seats, all the better for date night or a cozy pre-karaoke bite. A sign hangs reminding you to “drink responsibly reckless” and a glorious photo of Dennis Rodman in the nude hangs in the bathroom.

3. Makgeolli is having a moment

Keep an eye out for a filtered, clear yakju-style makgeolli from Brooklyn-based Hana Makgeolli that’s dry with notes of barley and bright lactic acid. (If you did a blind tasting, you might think it was a funkier white wine.) They also carry a lighter, slightly sweeter, milky, and naturally carbonated makgeolli from Angma Distillery and Brewery in L.A. County.

On the non-makgeolli front, there’s a sour beer brewed with kimchi culture, ginger, and gochugaru (Korean dried chile powder) from Oakland brewery Dokkaebier; biodynamic and natural wines from Italy and beyond; and last but certainly not least, Won Soju from Korean hip hop sensation Jay Park.

4. Where do we go from here?

Lee moved from Korea to Los Angeles when he was 15 years old, a time when Trader Joe’s didn’t sell kimchi, japchae, and gochujang. “I used to hang out with my friends a lot in K-Town back then, but recently, there haven’t been too many new and interesting spots opening up [in the neighborhood]. When I want to go to a cool spot for natural wine and small plates, I’ll usually go to Silver Lake, Downtown, or the Westside instead,” he explains.

Lee knew he couldn’t be the only person in L.A. missing that vibe in K-Town. Jilli helps breathe new life into the scene, transforming the neighborhood into something more modern.

Lee knows the interest in Korean food and culture isn’t going away any time soon. “I hear very interesting stories where someone watches a Korean drama on Netflix and they see the characters eating street food, so they start Googling the dish. They find the name, and then they come to Koreatown and try it out.”

And that’s the beauty of living in a city like L.A., where you can have your K-pop and eat it, too.

Erin Mosbaugh is a food and travel writer from West L.A. who has worked in kitchens in New York and L.A. and co-created the James Beard Award-winning food site First We Feast. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok; follow Resy, too.