Let me put it this way: If . . . if . . . if . . . you are in the neighborhood of Vermont and Olympic for lunch on a rainy day when the moon is blue, the $3.50 lunch special at Dae Won Gak would not displease you. And at that price, it may even delight you.
I can see groups from the office, club people and what not, giving it a try for lunch.
What you get for lunch at this Korean neighborhood mall restaurant serving Chinese food is a very good Mongolian-style beef, which I found to be the best thing on the menu, or a choice of almond chicken, sweet and sour pork, or Dae Won chow mein. Shrimp with lobster sauce, vegetables or the Dae Won special chicken with vegetables is slightly more--$3.95. All entrees are served with fried won tons, egg roll, soup, rice, fruit and tea. Unless you are very hungry, you can skip the won tons and egg roll. The soup is OK.
Regional Chinese Food
What I like about Dae Won Gak, besides its lunch, dramatic entry, Korean reds and blacks and very laid-back owner/maitre d', is that you are getting a look at the way regional Chinese food is interpreted, just as you would should you visit a Japanese, British, American, Italian or Dutch restaurant serving Chinese food. Dae Won Gak's owner is from Manchuria, where 1 million Koreans live, and, like the others, has a slightly different approach to the common theme with results that are both surprising and entertaining--to me, anyway.
As far as Dae Won Gak goes, you will not find the refinement of the Chinese hand. The cooking at Dae Won Gak is rough and gruff, strong and powerful.
A Mongolian-style noodle dish with black bean sauce was very good (it's called cha chiang mein on the menu), if you like black bean sauce. I also tried the house chicken, which is bits of chicken and a few vegetables in a cornstach-based sauce. Nothing special. Certainly not as good as spicy chicken, which was hotter and more dramatic than any other I've had. In fact, should I find myself on Vermont and Olympic on a rainy day again I probably would try more of the hot and spicy offerings--the kung pao shrimp or chicken, spicy beef, scallops or fish.
Hot and Spicy Offerings
The menu has a smattering of different regional dishes, including Southern egg foo yung, sweet and sour things, black mushrooms with oyster sauce, as well as the Sichuan hot and spicy offerings mentioned, plus many others.
Among the appetizers, the pan-fried meat dumplings, which should be translated to fried meat dumplings were, of course, not as delicate as the true Chinese or even Japanese rendition called gjoza, but not bad either. I found the batters of the fried dishes in general a bit on the greasy side for lack of a better report.
Now what about dinner? Well, the prices change. Entrees range from $5.25 for vegetables to $18 for Peking duck, which you should probably order a day ahead. The median range per entree is about $6.50, but you can keep meals at or under $10 for dinner.
Dae Won Gak, 955 S. Vermont Ave. , Los Angeles, (213) 388-0439, (213) 480-8790. Open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Reservations accepted but not necessary. Mall parking. Major credit cards accepted. Beer and wine. Average lunch $4. Average dinner $10.