Many Southern Californians experience Korean food in multiple hours spent inside a large restaurant around a tabletop grill, engulfed in barbecue aroma. Sometimes it’s all you can eat, and often it’s accompanied by beer.
The Cup, which recently opened in the Village (at 4501 E. Carson St.), is not that experience, though you can still get beef or spicy pork bulgogi as part of a meal. It’s actually quick-service Korean food, more casual than the East Village’s Sura Korean BBQ & Tofu House, and even a bit more laid-back than Seoulmate near Recreation Park.
There used to be one other quick-service Korean restaurant in Long Beach, called KBQ, which, sadly, shuttered recently. With that in mind, I continue to demand more Korean food in our city.
The Cup’s menu is simple—for now, according to owner Kwija Park. She looks forward to introducing more dishes like kimchi fried rice, kimchi jjigae, and pretty much all the kimchi things (I hope). She and the staff (mostly made up of family) have been serving up “cups” or plated combos of protein (beef, spicy pork, salmon or chicken) over rice, salad and japchae (stir fried glass noodles with vegetables).
These meals are quickly prepared—perfect for lunch—and delicious. Opt for salmon if you’re looking for a lighter bite, but order beef if you’re seeking out that familiar Korean barbecue flavor. The japchae is slippery and sticky all at once, evoking the banchan (appetizers) that comes with a larger meal at a traditional Korean restaurant.
Also on the menu is Korean ramen, or ramyun, which differs from Japanese ramen in preparation and flavor. Typically made with instant noodles, Korean ramen is normally served spicy—although you can order it with as little or as much spice as you like at The Cup—and saltier than its Japanese counterpart. While some may think of it as a lesser version of the dish, to me, it is a staple of Korean comfort food.
Park hopes that her restaurant serves as a primer on Korean flavors for those who may not be familiar. On one of my visits to The Cup, I overheard a woman tell the employee at the counter, “I don’t know what to order, but I want noodles.” I’m taking it as a good sign.
Oh, and there is a dancing pig robot that lives right outside The Cup’s door. It wears overalls and greets passersby, inviting them inside. You should listen to it.