Sura Korean BBQ & Tofu is Korean food simplified, and that's fine with me. The barbecue houses of Los Angeles' Koreatown offer as many as two dozen cuts of meat for you to cook at your table, the subtle differences of which leave most of us fairly befuddled. (How do you choose among marinated short ribs, marinated thinly sliced short ribs, unseasoned short ribs, unseasoned boneless short ribs, premium-cut beef and so forth?) Sometimes all you want is a nice meal, well flavored, well seasoned. And that's exactly what is served at Sura.
Sura is one of the few Korean restaurants found outside of Koreatown. Though we are blessed with several Chinatowns and Little Tokyos, even Little Tehran, Thai Town, Little India and Little Saigon, the cuisines found in those ethnic enclaves also can be found throughout Southern California. Still, Korean food doesn't travel far from its Mid-City nexus. But Sura is one of the few Korean restaurants to be found in the Long Beach area.
And anyway, I've long argued that cooking on a hwaro (the grill) is more a function of the beer you've consumed than your cooking skills. Drink enough and you'll start thinking of yourself as a samurai chef.
Indeed, the appetizers can take up enough of the table to obviate the need for anything more. The steamed dumplings (mandu) are nicely done and unexpectedly vegetarian. (Korean barbecue eateries are not generally a veggie outing, though at Sura there are lots of meatless options.) There are the tasty Korean sushi rolls called kimbab packed with vegetables, flavored rice, kimchee, bulgogi and all sorts of things.
There are glass noodles, served less spicy or more spicy. There's a terrific creation of bulgogi beef and peanut sauce wrapped in rice paper. Plus, in a sort of homage to the Kogi taco truck, there are Korean barbecue tacos and burritos.
But there's more. Koreatown is filled with soon tofu houses — restaurants that specialize in bubbling stone pots of tofu soup, made with any number of ingredients — and at Sura there are nine variations, including one that's a beef and seafood combo and another that's all mushrooms.
The menu notes the spice level goes from one to 10, and asks, “Who's afraid of #10 spicy?” A fair warning, says I.
There's also bibimbap, the much loved rice casserole cooked in a stone pot in which the rice crisps on the bottom. There's a choice of meats and a vegan option made without an egg. I'd miss the egg, which cooks in the heat of the stone pot.
Then wash it all down with a fruit smoothie. As the menu warns: “Mix any two flavors at your risk!”
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at email@example.com.