If you’re a Korea Boo living in SoCal OC and you want a taste of Koreatown but would rather not drive all the way out to Downtown Los Angeles, then you’re in luck if you live near the greater Buena Park area. The Korean-American community have been rooted in OC since the 1980s but a growing number of Korean Businesses started to take root in the early twenty tens. Beach and Malvern, more specifically, is the center to two Korean Grocery stores (Hannam & H Mart), bakeries, restaurants, Karaoke spots, boba shops, etc. The Source, located slightly northeast (you can’t miss it) of Beach and Orangethorpe, is a shopping and entertainment center – a sort of hub for all things Korean-related. It faced lots of economic challenges during it’s inception. But things are looking up now. So let’s take a look at what it has to offer:
Food Court: Located on the 3rd Floor, The Source Food Court boasts everything from a Bakery (The Bakery) to a juice bar (TBAAR) to a Boba shop (Gong Cha) to Mongolian Noodle grill (Great Khan’s) to Southern Fried Chicken (Popeye’s) to Poke Bowls & Sushi (Ocean Snack) to Sandwiches (Qrious Palate) and Korean style sushi & rice cakes (TNN Tang and Noodle House). Am I making you hungry yet?
Yoshiharu Ramen is a great place for authentic Japanese ramen. It’s delicious and affordable and they even serve beer. Just be aware they close a bit early on weekdays.
Magal Korean BBQ prides itself as “the best or nothing, real Korean BBQ”. They are, in fact, a very popular restaurant especially for young people. So much so that on weekends they extend their dining area to the patio section with an outdoor music playlist. It’s a very hip setting, for sure.
Main Street Pho & Grill is the closest Vietnamese restaurant in my general vicinity so I practically lived off of their to-go orders during quarantine. So I may be a bit biased. Their mini-pho bowls are tasty and affordable but I highly recommend their grilled pork vermicelli, broken rice short ribs, spring rolls, and egg rolls. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Mmmmm.
Pelicana Chicken: Basically Korean style wings. Incredibly tasty. I live off the Soy Garlic wings. Can’t get enough of them, basically. Nom nom.
Other places I haven’t tried but I hear good things about are La Huasteca (Mexican restaurant), Il Palco (Italian restaurant), and KSoul Food (kind of Asian fusion – a modern take on Korean style sushi, rice cakes, and rice/noodle dishes).
Shopping & Entertainment
K-Pop Music Town: K-Pop merch in OC was pretty rare long ago. You had to go all the way to K-Town in LA (K-Pop Music Town has a store there too) for K-Pop related merch. But now The Source is a central hub for K-Pop netizens. K-Pop Music Town has it all. BTS, Blackpink, TWICE, EXO, etc. I know the owner and he’s a sweet guy. Always giving me freebies with items I purchase. They have a points/rewards system, as well, so it definitely rewards repeat visits and multiple purchases.
KPlace is the competition. They have better prices on albums and offer non K-Pop related Korea Boo items as well. However, they don’t offer a website to buy online. Both shops have a great vibe with MVs playing in the background to entice buys of your favorite Boy group or Girl group.
The Source’s Clothing stores are a bit lacking with not much in terms of variety or option. The notable stores include Imvely, The Mirror, Le Born, and Princeton.
CGV Cinemas: The first 4D theater in OC. This cinema chain offers a blend of foreign and domestic blockbusters alike (only drawback to the American films is Korean subtitles). It’s a great place to see what the 4D hype is all about. But the best thing it has to offer is critically acclaimed Korean films. Also limited engagement music event films like BTS: Burn the Stage or the upcoming BLACKPINK The Movie will be hot ticket movies with fantastic fan engagement.
Olympic Golf Zone: Currently the only bar in the center that serves hard alcohol that’s open past 11 pm. Virtual batting cages and screen golf are the featured highlights. But the giant TV Screens surrounding the entire venue also make for good community sporting event viewings.
EKO Karaoke Lounge: Another hot spot for the youth of OC. This place is very trendy for groups of friends who want to gather in a club like atmosphere and sing their lungs out to their heart’s content.
Overall, it’s a bit of mixed bag. Certain elements of the center overshadow the others. It’s a great place to get food and hang and chat over boba, for instance. But I find the center to be severely lacking in shopping and a nightlife. No club. No trendy bar with live music or DJs. I’m not sure what the area’s permit situation is as it’s surrounded by residential areas. It is, however, just opening up post pandemic so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they will become more well rounded. Just about 5 years ago, the center hosted The 33rd Arirang Festival, a veritable smorgasbord of Korean activities including K-Pop dance competitions and acts and wonderful Korean food. Just in 2019, I attended my first K-Pop concert on the roof level parking lot and caught Lovelys and Heize performing in my home town. I didn’t even have to find parking, as the center is walking distance for me. I hope the center recaptures this spirit with those kinds of events soon. If they do, then the future is bright for The Source.