It may not be Seoul, but between Flushing, Koreatown, and a few scattered hotspots, New York City has some pretty tasty options for scarfing down a Korean meal.
by Rachelle a.k.a. "Roach"
Here are our favorites:
New Wonjo (Koreatown) This restaurant is a little more cramped, faster-paced, and expensive than a lot of the neighborhood BBQ joints in Korea, but as far as taste goes, you’ll never know you’re not in Seoul. The banchan is on point, the meat is tender and well seasoned, and the soups and stews come bubbling, hearty, and super tasty. If you want to please a bunch of Korean eaters, both natives and those new to the cuisine, this is your spot. Image via New Wonjo
Sik Gaek Chun Ha (Queens/Flushing) This spot gained notoriety after visits from TV crews turned its still-flopping octopus meal into an adventure eater’s destination. But there’s more to this place than the freshest octopus you’ll ever eat, and most of it revolves around seafood. Korea is a peninsula, after all, and the country has come up with a lot of different ways to serve seafood. Many of the best are available at Sik Gaek. The fresh octopus hot pot is a crowd favorite, as it’s got a little (super fresh) something for everyone. It’s fun to watch shellfish, shrimp, live octopus tentacles battle in the spicy broth; it’s more fun to eat them. (Even if the wide array of seafood means you might get one overcooked bite of something and an under-cooked bite of something else.) A crispy fried rice, prepared with some of the extra seafood broth, tops off the meal with the perfect mix of comfort and spice.
Muk Eun Ji (Koreatown) Kimchi is king at Muk Eun Ji. The restaurant flies in kimchi that’s been aged for at least a year from Korea. The result of that extra fermentation is a kimchi that’s got more of a sour bite, making it the perfect grilling accompaniment to Muk Eun Ji’s thicker-than-average, nutty pork belly. Or, order the perfect marriage of pork spine and aged kimchi in Muk Eun Ji Deungppyeo Jjim, a stew that arrives perfectly bubbling and cooking both the kimchi and pork to a mouth-watering tenderness. This Koreatown joint is the place to go to set taste buds on just the right amount of fire without breaking the bank.
Best Korean Fried Chicken: Boka (East Village) Korean fried chicken doesn’t have as long as a history as most of the nation’s popular dishes, but they’ve done a lot with the bird in the short time that it’s been the country’s favorite partner to beer. The equation looks something like this: subtract the heavy breading of the friend chicken of the American South, create a thinner but super crispy skin, multiply the juiciness, lose the hot sauce, and gain a good mix of heat and Asian flavors. This isn’t a war, necessarily: you can still snack on your Popeye’s, but don’t be surprised if you keep coming back for more of the Korean version. If you want to give it a try in NYC, Boka is the place. Your teeth sear a super crispy, flavorful skin with that first bite of a chicken wing and then keep on going into almost impossibly juicy, tender chicken. Boka offers two flavors: soy garlic and spicy. Sample both on your first visit; that way you’ll know which one to order for your second, and third, and twentieth trip back. A final word of advice: there are other Korean dishes on the menu here, and they’re alright, but do yourself a favor and fill up on chicken. Image via Boka
Best Kimbap: Kimganae (Queens) For all the Korean restaurants in New York City, it’s harder than it should be to find delicious kimbap, the Korean version of a rice roll that’s sold on nearly every street in Seoul. You’ve gotta trek out to Flushing for the good stuff in NYC, and order from the tiny but delicious Kimganae. You can get other Korean snack foods in this barebones diner, but the kimbap is by far the best menu item. It’s made fresh in front of you, stuffed to the brim, and is really affordable. Can’t decide which one you want? The kimchi roll and the spicy beef rolls are great places to start. ~~ Rachelle, also known as “Roach” among her friends, is a freelance writer based in NYC. She loves trying to cook Korean food but then giving up and heading to Flushing for the good stuff. You can check out more of her work at stuffroachknows.com.