Slideshow: Los Angeles: 8 Free Banchan Spreads We Love

Best Variety: Genwa Korean BBQ
Best Variety: Genwa Korean BBQ
I get a bad case of the giddy giggles when the banchan spread arrives at the table at Genwa. As the waitress plunks down bowl after bowl of sweet, creamy acorn jelly; pungent daikon; and fish balls in spicy red chili sauce, I can't help but count the bounteous array. It often reaches upward of two dozen tiny dishes. The paechu or cabbage kimchi lacks punch, but others make up for it. The green onions have a sinus-clearing, horseradish kick. The lotus root is satisfyingly chewy and salty-sweet. The braised potato is earthy with a caramel finish. Is it the best, freshest banchan in town? No, probably not. But there's so darn much of it, you're bound to find something you like.

5115 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90036 (map); 323-549-0760; genwakoreanbbq.com

Best Spicy Raw Crab: Sokongdong
Best Spicy Raw Crab: Sokongdong
If you can get past (or even revel in) the crab's challenging almost jelly-like texture, you're in for a complex but seriously delicious treat. The cold from the raw crab pushes against the heat of the spicy chili sauce, both complementing the briny, salty fresh-from-the-sea flavor of the fleshy meat. It's not everyone's bag, but if it's yours, you'll want to suck each morsel of precious crab from the crackly, messy shell. And for everyone else, go for the crisp, spicy cucumber. It's pretty darn great too.

2716 W Olympic Blvd Ste 104, Los Angeles CA 90006 (map);213-380-3737

[Photograph: Rebecca Fishman]

Best Cabbage Kimchi: Myung Dong Kyoja
Best Cabbage Kimchi: Myung Dong Kyoja
As banchan spreads go, the offerings at Myung Dong Kyoja are austere. There are only two, but they complement each other brilliantly. The red one on the left is so redolent with metallic sting of garlicky intensity that it momentarily shocks the mouth into submission before releasing the taste buds to discover the stinky sublimity of the well-fermented kimchi. Too much too quick might fatigue the palate before the gorgeous plates of meaty mandu arrive, so it's best to alternates bites of the baek kimchi on the right, a gentler, refreshing embrace after the maelstrom of the former's crazy garlic goodness.

3630 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90010 (map); 213-385-7789

[Photograph: Rebecca Fishman]

Best Beef: Mountain Café
Best Beef: Mountain Café
As soon as this bowl of jangjorim, or beef banchan, arrives at the table, you know you're in for a meal of warming, soulful Korean comfort food at this tiny, unassuming storefront. Slow cooked beef, fall-apart-tender sweet morsels, are served in a ramekin-sized bowl of thickened, savory soy sauce and laced with slightly hot Korean peppers. Best when eaten with a big serving of abalone porridge.

3064 W 8th Street, Los Angeles CA 90005 (map); 213-487-7615

[Photograph: Rebecca Fishman]

Best Radish: Mountain Café
Best Radish: Mountain Café
It's easy to overlook thin strands of radish when there's salty-sweet (and free!) beef to be consumed, but Mountain Café's version of musaengchae namul banchan, there on the right, is worth a second glance. Tangy, a little sweet, and with an earthiness from a sprinkling of sesame seeds, they are the perfect accompaniment to their rich, meaty neighbor.

3064 W 8th Street, Los Angeles CA 90005 (map); 213-487-7615

[Photograph: Rebecca Fishman]

Best Variety on a Budget: Mapo
Best Variety on a Budget: Mapo
Though the offerings vary somewhat from visit to visit, the banchan basics are always well represented here, served in gleaming white bowls by the dozen. Fresh and generously refilled throughout the meal, standouts among the bunch are the firm, near-carbonated cubes of daikon kimchi; the stringy spinach namul, topped with sesame oil and a little bit of chili; and the sweet, slightly gelatinous blocks of acorn jelly. Perhaps best of all, at lunch this spread is served as part of the $5.99 lunch special.

3611 West 6th Street, Los Angeles CA 90005 (map); 213-385-7789

[Photograph: Midtown Lunch]