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Review: Dongbu Live Fish - Hwal Uh Sashimi - A Hidden Gem in Rowland Heights

Dongbu Live Fish is a small, family-run hwal uh restaurant tucked away in the back corner of a Rowland Heights strip mall. In Korean culture, hwal uh refers to the centuries old practice of serving thinly sliced portions of fresh raw meats or fish. Upon walking into Dongbu Live Fish and seeing the large irrigated saltwater tanks stocked with live fish, mollusks and crustaceans, I knew that I was in good hands.

Although the menu offers other options, I remained fixated on their signature hwal uh sashimi – live halibut prepared and served with all the trimmings and offered in four sizes from x-small ($35) to large ($110). My dining companion and I settled on the small ($65), more than enough to feed two hungry people.

Within minutes of ordering, our table was laid out with an attractive array of edamame. quail eggs, sea squirt and sea snail. Soy sauce, chogochujang, ssamjang, garlic, gochu, wasabi, ginger and lettuce were provided as condiments. The sea squirt and sea snail were sublime, ocean fresh, right from the tank. The chogochujang and ssamjang were both excellent preparations, each with just the right amount of punch to compliment the mollusks.

Next, a delightful sashimi salad was presented – essentially a multi greens slaw with tasty bits of our upcoming halibut tossed in a slightly sweet soy vinaigrette. An excellent precursor dish to what was forthcoming.

Two companion appetizers soon followed – a hot krab with mussel and a hot salmon with mussel, both diced, sauced and served atop the mussel in shell. Yum!

Several dishes subsequently arrived in quick succession. First, a mixed naengmyeon platter that our server initially brought out to display unassembled and then returned to the kitchen to combine for us. As is traditional, the long, cold noodles were left uncut. A great, tangy, almost effervescent-tasting baechu kimchee accompanied this dish.

I had been longing for kongchi gui (broiled mackerel pike or saury) for the past week or two. Much to my surprise, my wishes were granted when a prime specimen was delivered to our table. My dining companion does not care for the strong taste of kongchi, so the entire dish was mine to devour from head to tail. And devour I did, including the entrails and eyeballs. (*_*)

The piece de resistance, the hwal uh sashimi platter, was next to arrive along with bowls of steamed rice. The sashimi was very thinly sliced and elegantly presented atop a saran-covered bowl of ice. The delicious tender filets appealed in every sense of the word and continued to cool as we ate. Rarely have I enjoyed sashimi so fresh. I was utterly content and decidedly full … and then …

Next to arrive, almost to my protestations was a hot, spicy pot of maeuntang made with the final bones and morsels of our halibut, its eggs, some tofu, daikon and a bit of onions and kelp. A taste sufficed for me but, thankfully, my dining companion was able to polish off the entirety in true culinary reckless abandon. It was that good.

The service was friendly, courteous and attentive. Throughout the meal, we chatted with the owner/chef, his wife and family. We were made to feel most welcome and appreciated.

Thank you Dongbu Live Fish for such a wonderful dining experience, undoubtedly one soon to be repeated. And thank you too, Ms. Halibut. You most certainly gave your all to our fill and enjoyment. Enjoy we did and full we were! (^_^)

Dongbu Live Fish - Hwal Uh Sashimi
18785 Colima Rd
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 810-8582

Dongbu Live Fish
18785 Colima Rd, Rowland Heights, CA 91748

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  1. wow, i'll have to check this place out.

    1. Thank you for the review! This is so interesting, I've always wanted to try something like this after seeing Bizarre Foods.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Johnny L

        Hey, Johnny L.

        I saw the same episode of Bizarre Foods. I did not mean to imply that the seafood was still alive when it arrived at the table. It was alive when we walked in the door. They removed it from the live tank then dispatched and prepared it in the kitchen.

        If you want to be adventurous, I’m sure they will deliver your sea squirt and sea snail alive and well upon request. In fact, I plan on doing so on my next visit.

        1. re: degustateur

          Oh I know, but its the closest I can get to without be strangely cruel to the fish.

      2. do u think one person can go here, solo?

        1 Reply
        1. re: kevin

          Hi Kevin,

          Absolutely. One person should do just fine with the x-small order for $35. Please give them a try.

        2. you say "rarely have I had fresher seafood". So where have you had fresher, since this came out of the tank alive moments before it was eaten?

          2 Replies
          1. re: dharmathug

            Well, dharmathug, it all began with my eating a live goldfish during a childhood right of passage … then, later in my youth, I ate slices of a just caught yellowtail prepared by a sushi itamae while sport fishing. And, no, I did not eat the still-beating heart – that was the “other” guy (^_~). Thereafter, I began enjoying ikizukuri and hwal uh sashimi in restaurants and sushi bars.

            Actually, dharmathug, the practice of eating still living seafood is not uncommon among Koreans and Japanese. In Japan, the practice is known as ikizukuri, whereby sashimi slices are removed from one side of a live fish and served to patrons atop or alongside the still living (quivering) fish. The slices are eaten in the order they were removed from the fish. Often, the entire ritual is performed tableside and with a true sense of decorum and respect for the fish.

            Mi Song, also in Rowland Heights, served sashimi from live fish (off-menu) some years back. Masan in LA still serves it (again, off-menu), I believe. Before its demise, The Hump offered it. I recall a particularly feisty sculpin. Likewise, I have consumed live crustaceans and mollusks countless times at numerous venues and continue to do so. A delectable live lobster presentation can be requested at Seafood Village (again, Rowland Heights and, once again, off-menu). One of the largest and freshest local selections can be found at Quality Seafood on the Redondo Beach Pier. Be sure to try the live uni – from the tank to your mouth in 2 minutes or less.

            At Dongbu, perhaps 30 minutes had elapsed between the time the live fish was removed from the tank until it was delivered to our table. Its “freshness”, nonetheless, remains somewhat of a moot point.

            I did not misstate and you read me correctly, dharmathug.

            1. re: degustateur

              The funny thing is a lot of sushi is actually aged to accentuate or improve its flavor (and this art is a large part of what sets top flight sushi masters apart from those who aren't as skillful or learned). So right off the boat or out of the tank is not preferable when it comes to seasonal high end sushi.

          2. been wanting to try this place for a long time, thanks for the review =) Sounds like a lot of food for a very reasonable price!

            1. What other main course sashimi is there beside the halibut?

              1 Reply
              1. re: toitoi

                Hi toitoi,

                IIRC, they also had sheephead.

              2. @ degustateur - Great review. We went there last weekend, and our meal was almost exactly as described. The order of service was a little different, but the dishes were the same. We also picked the small halibut.

                The whole thing was delicious, but the appetizers stand out in my mind as worth the trip alone. And as you described, the family that runs this place is extremely accomodating and very friendly.

                Thanks for the tip, degustateur

                @ toitoi - When we were there, they had (all live) halibut, sole, crab, abalone, octopus and mussel. They may have had other things, but that's all I remember.

                2 Replies
                1. re: lil mikey

                  Thank,s lil mikey - haven't gotten there yet, gotta drive from LA.

                  1. re: lil mikey

                    Hey lil mikey!

                    Glad that Dongbu and my review were to your liking. Thanks for letting me know. I’m surprised that I haven’t made it back yet. My purely enjoyable 1st-time experience warrants a return visit within the next week or so to be followed by an update.

                    Best Regards. (^_^)

                  2. Also visited last week when we made a trip to West Covina...close enough, we thought. Very good. The folks were very nice and didn't exactly know how we'd gotten there and were leary of serving us anything live. Unlike mikey, I think they thought live octopi was too advanced for us. Still we enjoyed the whole meal, sea squirt and all!

                    1. Took me nearly a year to try this place, but it's fantastic.

                      Mackerel, sea squirts, albacore tuna and halibut. All fresh, all well-prepared.

                      Only downside? Place felt like eating in a sardine can ... with the sardines still in it.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        what was the address again?

                        How much is it per person?

                        And can I go on my own, or since it's live Korean style sashimi it's gotta be at least a few people there?

                        1. re: kevin

                          Pay attention.

                          Address is linked and listed in the OP.

                          Average per person would probably be about $30, depending on what you order.

                          It's combo plates, so going solo is probably not the best way to enjoy Dongbu Live Fish.

                          Dongbu Live Fish
                          18785 Colima Rd, Rowland Heights, CA 91748

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            my bad, i was in a rush, and didn't read the full text above.


                      2. Love that place. First time I went we went with a big group and we not only got the halibut (beautiful) and abalone, but the lobster which was really impressive. I had never done sashimi from live lobster, but it was very good, then they steamed the claws and legs so we could pick the meat from them as well. Fun how it's a bit of a hole in the wall, and they're climbing over you to pull stuff from the tanks. The halibut literally goes from swimming in the tank to being beautifully cut and laid out on a large, iced sashimi platter in under 10 minutes.