New York’s Koreatown might be pint-size—but it packs plenty of flavor. The colorful enclave, whose primary stretch lies between Fifth Avenue and Broadway on West 32nd Street, is home to countless Korean restaurants, shops, and bars all stacked atop one another, much like the businesses in Seoul. Needless to say, navigating the perpetually crowded, neon-lit zone can be pretty overwhelming—especially on an empty stomach.
So here’s a guide to the top Korean eateries along the bustling span—from a modest old faithful that never closes to a chic hidden spot that’s popular among millennials.
Jam-packed more often than not, this 24-hour restaurant—of Bizarre Foods fame—consistently doles out fine Korean fare in an unassuming setting. Highlights of the mammoth menu—which offers more than 100 dishes—include the galbi jjim (marinated prime short rib stew with vegetables and rice cake) and jap chae (stir-fried sweet potato noodles with vegetables). Some top-notch comfort dishes are the sam gye tang (whole young chicken with ginseng stew) and galbi tang (ox bone soup with short rib). As for barbecue, get the sam gyup sal (sliced pork belly) or chadol baeki (beef brisket). Prepare to wait a while for a table during prime dining hours (even longer if you’re planning on grilling, which is done exclusively on the second level). But let a waiter take your order while you’re still in line, and your food will be all but ready by the time you sit down.
BCD Tofu House
Tofu lovers, rejoice: This health-centric eatery showcases soft bean curd 11 ways. Each soon tofu comes bubbling in a hot stone pot and features a different combination of meats, seafood, and vegetables to complement the silky custard, all immersed in a flavorful broth. Choose from one of the traditional takes (kimchi, dumpling, or soybean paste). Or get one of the combos (bulgogi, sliced rib eye, or spicy raw crab), each of which comes with the assorted tofu soup (with beef, shrimp, and clam).
There’s rarely a wait at this casual eatery, located three blocks off K-town’s main thoroughfare. Kick off your meal with yuk hwe (shredded raw beef coated in seasoned sesame oil and garnished with an egg yolk) and any of the pajeon (pan-fried pancakes with seafood, kimchi, peppers, or mushrooms). For your main, opt for the bulgogi dolsot bibimbap—assorted vegetables and thin slices of beef piled over a mountain of white rice, topped with a raw egg that cooks as you mix it all together in a blistering stone pot. Or if you’re looking to make use of the barbecue grill, choose the yangnyum galbi (butterflied marinated short rib) or the prime kkot deungsim (tender boneless ribeye).
Barbecue in luxury at this upscale locale, where every table is punctuated by an ornate infrared grill made of a single slab of crystal. Opt for the 13-ounce Wagyu beef ribeye, shrimp, or duck—but if you’re not in the mood to cook your own meal, order the braised black cod or slow-cooked ginger salmon.
Other highlights include the silken tofu stew, spicy octopus, and wild mushroom bibimbap (served with organic mushrooms, quinoa, carrots, zucchini, beets, daikon radish, kale, and fiddlehead ferns).
Also open 24-7, this multilevel space is the perfect refueling post for carousers after a long night at the club. (The line is often long during the dinner rush, especially on weekends—so it’s best to come at odd hours.) Here, every table gets a steamed egg appetizer and a fair selection of side dishes, or banchan—but tack on an order of goong joong dduk boki (pan-fried rice cake with vegetable and beef) or man doo jim (steamed dumplings) for good measure. Follow up with a bowl of sulong tang (oxtail bone soup with glass noodles and sliced beef) or a sizzling plate of godunguh gui (broiled mackerel) with soon doo boo (spicy soft tofu stew). Complimentary cups of chilled cinnamon tea are poured for dessert.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong
This lively locale—the Manhattan outpost of the South Korea–based chain—borrows its name from the Korean word for “butcher”—and rightfully so. Here, barbecue is the star: Set on contemporary circular grills, the premium cuts range from pork jowl and thinly sliced brisket to prime boneless short rib (the best). If you’re not alone, it’s best to order one of the combo plates (a small for two, a large for three or four), each of which comes with a choice of beef brisket, soybean paste stew, and strips of steamed egg and corn cheese (cooked alongside the meat). To offset all the protein, order the Lunch Box—white rice dressed with a fried egg and an assortment of sides.
Tucked below street level, this modish restaurant-bar is ideal for late-night revelers with an appetite for bizarre bites. The most-ordered items on its oddball menu are budae jjigae, or army stew (ramen noodles with sausage, Spam, bacon, and kimchi, finished with melted cheese), and seafood cheese tteokbokki (a spin on the popular Korean street food, featuring a spicy rice cake capped with assorted seafood and smothered in mozzarella).
Fearless chowhounds should go for the barbecued intestines, spicy chicken gizzards, or chilled snails with chewy noodles. Those with more conservative palates won’t go wrong with the shareable andong jjimdalk (steamed and stir-fried chicken with vegetables and glass noodles) or garlic soy fried chicken. In any case, the kimchi pork belly pancakes—which pair well with Bangia’s makgeolli cocktail (made with pear, green tea, and yuzu)—are a must.