Just north of 30th Street, Manhattan transforms into a land filled with tourists, office buildings, and souvenir shops that also sell electronics for some reason. Finding food in this area can be difficult - but not if you go to Koreatown. This is one of the smallest neighborhoods in the city where you’ll pass a good restaurant every five feet. And we mean that literally. So if you need help narrowing down where to eat in K-Town, here’s a guide to our favorite spots.
Jongro is on the second floor of a nondescript office building, and there’s minimal signage to point you in the right direction. But take the elevator up one flight, and you’ll wind up in an enormous room that looks like a small town that happens to be indoors. This is one of our favorite spots for Korean barbecue, and we typically get the platter that comes with a few large pieces of pork belly - but the beef is great as well, and you should get both if you’re with a large group. There will inevitably be a wait when you come, so put your name in and then kill some time at the karaoke bar on the 7th floor.
Walk into Osamil, and you’ll hear The Isley Brothers, Otis Redding, or some other kind of old-school R&B that’ll make you want to hang out in this dimly-lit space for several hours. It also doesn’t hurt that this little Korean pub serves some of the best food in the area, with a great kimchi pancake and various other things like uni bibimbap and a burger. There’s a bar up front where you can drink or eat by yourself, and the dining room in back is perfect for a slightly upscale meal with friends, parents, or your friend’s parents.
Along with Cote and Jongro, Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong is another one of our favorite places to eat Korean barbecue in the city. The meat here is very high-quality, and they give you some cheesy corn along with the usual banchan (complimentary sides like kimchi and radishes). This place is perfect for group dinners, and if it’s your birthday, they’ll play “Gangnam Style” and wave glow sticks in your general direction. Other than that, this place is a little less festive than Jongro, although the food might be just a little bit better. Wait times get very long here, but you can make a reservation if you have six or more people.
Her Name Is Han specializes in homestyle Korean food that tastes fresh and light. It’s also uniformly excellent, and the space itself looks like the film set of an improbably large New York City apartment. Come with a group and share a large pot of seafood stew, then supplement with some dumplings, rice cakes, and pork belly. This place is not only one of the best restaurants in the area - it’s one of our favorite restaurants in the city. And you can book a table pretty easily online.
When you’re at Take 31, you drink makgeolli. It’s a cloudy, sparkling rice wine that’ll go perfectly with some kimchi stew or fried chicken, and here they’ll blend it into slushy form with things like peach or banana. This place is from the owners of Her Name is Han, although it’s a little more casual, and it’s a coffee shop during the day. At night, however, it’s ideal for an affordable small group dinner, and you should have at least one pot of stew on your table when you come here. Just be aware that this place gets busy, and you’ll probably have to wait a bit.
The original Sam Won Garden is in Seoul, and it’s one of the oldest Korean barbecue restaurants in South Korea. But, if you don’t have time for a 14-hour flight, you can go to their location on 32nd Street in New York City. It’s a little more upscale than your average barbecue spot, the food is very good, and the atmosphere tends to be a little calmer than Kang Ho Dong Baekjong or Jongro. So if you’re getting Korean barbecue with some kids or parents, it’s a great alternative to either of those places. There are three different floors, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get a table.
You don’t go to Starry Night for the food. It’s not that it’s bad - it’s fine. But you’re here to drink soju in a dark room filled with string lights and a functional disco ball. The food is mostly heavier stuff like fried chicken, cheesy corn, and bulgogi pancakes, which is probably what you’re looking for around midnight on a Saturday. Stop by for a late-night snack and a drink after you’ve visited a few bars.
Let’s say that Jongro has a two-hour wait and there’s a massive crowd hanging around the entrance of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. Try Let’s Meat. It’s a pretty straightforward Korean barbecue place on a 5th Avenue with friendly service, good-sized portions, and quality meat. Plus, it comes with a built-in dad joke.
At the corner of 32nd Street and 5th Avenue, there is a magical spot called Besfren. It’s a small Korean pastry shop, and it’s the rare sort of place where the food is highly photogenic and also worth eating. Try an iced chiffon donut and leave with at least one triple chocolate cookie. You should also order some soft serve. We don’t care if it’s winter.
If you need a quick lunch, or if you want to eat dinner without having to sit down and interact with a server, go to Woorijip. It’s essentially a Korean cafeteria where you can pick up a pre-made meal or hit a buffet. You’ll find noodles, soup, rice cakes, bulgogi, and about 100 other options, and there’s a seating area where you can hang out, eat your food, and drink some beer or raspberry wine. They sell those things too.
If you want to have a big group birthday in K-Town and you did Korean barbecue last year, try Turntable Chicken Jazz. It’s a restaurant and bar where you can eat fried chicken, a bulgogi burger, or some spiralized potatoes on a stick in a space that always feels like a party. There are a lot of big tables for groups, and perhaps most importantly, there are also light-up towers of beer that you can share with your loved ones.
There’s a lot of meat in K-Town. So much that you probably breathe some in when you’re minding your own business on the street. But if you don’t eat meat, there’s always Hangawi - a slightly upscale vegetarian restaurant. When you arrive, you’ll leave your shoes in a cubby at the door, and then proceed to the dark and mellow interior, where you’ll eat things like stuffed mushrooms, pumpkin pancakes, and tons of rice dishes. Vegetarians will be extremely happy here, and everyone will enjoy the pleasure of eating with their shoes off.
The next time you find yourself hungry at 5am on Friday night, we hope you remember that BCD Tofu House is here for you. This is a Korean mini-chain with a few locations in California, and their place on 32nd Street happens to be open 24 hours on both Friday and Saturday. If you couldn’t tell from the name, you should be eating tofu stew here. That, and the little fried fish that comes with the rest of your banchan.
You finish a truly glorious rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody at a karaoke spot in K-Town, and then realize that all you’ve consumed for the past five hours is soju and light beer. Fortunately, Gammeeok is open 24 hours, and the food here is exactly the kind of sustenance you’ll want after a long night of drinking and singing. They specialize in a noodle soup with ox-bone broth and brisket, and we recommend getting some fried chicken and kimchi pancakes as well. Sit at a table by the floor-to-ceiling window, and when you notice the sun coming up, you should probably take that as a sign to call it a night.
You’ll drink soju at many places in Koreatown, but nowhere does soju like Pocha 32. Most of the tables in this second-floor space are topped with hollowed-out watermelons and pineapples filled with the rice-based liquor, and the ceiling is covered in fishnets with dangling soju bottle caps. It’s definitely a place to drink with groups - it’s usually packed until close on weekends - but the family-style food here is pretty good, too. The budae jjigae (a big metal cauldron of ramen stew loaded with spam, rice cakes, kimchi, and hot dogs) should be on your table.
If you’re someone who can expense copious amounts of food and drinks to your company, bring clients to Dons Bogam for high-end Korean BBQ. The big, all-black space feels like it could be in Tribeca or Meatpacking, and the interior is covered with bottles from its long wine list. If you don’t want a Monday morning meeting with your accounting department (or you don’t happen to have a corporate card), then stay away from the $100 steaks and order from the a la carte section of the menu instead. The pajeon (scallion pancakes) are very good, as are all the bibimbaps.
Bangia isn’t the kind of place you go when it’s light outside. The underground space doesn’t have any windows, and sitting alone in a big, dark soju bar is not in line with your New Year’s resolution to be a happier version of yourself. So come here with your friends who usually get a second wind around 1am, and order huge soju cocktails for the table along with bar food like pork belly, fried rice, and spicy chicken covered in mozzarella.
Most items at Tous Les Jour - donuts, baguettes, pastries - seem like things you could get at any bakery in the city. Even the name sounds like a neighborhood spot where you would go for your morning coffee and blueberry muffin. But this place serves French items infused with Korean and Japanese flavors, like milk cream baguettes and donuts filled with red-bean paste. The back of the bright space has a bunch of two-tops and stays open till midnight, so keep it in mind for a dessert stop after dinner.
Cho Dang Gol has been around for a few decades now, and they still give you a little bowl of their famous housemade tofu along with the rest of their banchan to start your meal. Expect a wait, and bring a group to try Korean classics like pork belly, bibimbap, kimchi stew, and fried chicken. Just know in advance that there won’t be a grill on your table.