Find the best Korean restaurant in NYC
This spot from classically trained chef Hooni Kim was born of his frustration at not being able to find real, authentic Korean food. The restaurant's name refers to a small container for ingredients like the doenjang (fermented bean paste), gochujang (spicy fermented bean paste) and ganjang (soy sauce) that Kim has shipped to his restaurants directly from Korea four times a year, and it’s what gives the food here a unique depth of flavor. Crispy tofu teases three textures out of the bean curd: a crunchy exterior, a pudding-like mantle and a mochi-like interior, while the bossam employs pork belly cooked in Korean aromatics (soy, garlic, ginger and onion) punched up with dehydrated radish kimchi.
Korean-born Jung Sik Yim honed his haute-cooking chops in New York (at Aquavit and Bouley) and Spain (at Michelin-starred Zuberoa and Akelarre), before returning to his hometown of Seoul to open the first location of Jung Sik to much acclaim. He circled back to New York with this spin-off of the Korean restaurant, a wood-paneled 55-seat spot decorated with small hanging globe lights and an undulating ceiling. His background in fine dining and cutting-edge kitchens is reflected in the five-course tasting menu (there are no à la carte options). The bill of fare is composed of mostly signature dishes from the Seoul original, like the Five Senses Pork Belly (confited and seared pork with a potato puree and pickled greens).
Deuki Hong cut his teeth at Jean Georges and Momofuku, which explains why the Korean barbecue here is several cuts above the rest. Cartoon images of comedian and wrestler Kang Ho Dong are splashed all over the raucous dining room, but Baekjeong, which means butcher, is the reference you should pay attention to in the name—Hong takes a butcher’s care, wet-aging his beef and even conveniently cutting the romaine lettuce into bite-size pieces. Luscious beef tongue and fatty pork jowl join the traditional brisket and short rib, and discs of radishes offset the fatty cuts of premium pork and beef nicely, as does a tangle of sprouts and scallions with gochujang dressing.
Hooni Kim’s other Korean gastropub is named for an expression meaning “to have a drink.” Small plates like the salty/silky/spicy cured cod roe over rice—a dish Kim used to whip up as a post-shift snack back in his days at Daniel—and the freshly killed chicken wings, go well with libations. It’s no mere pub grub, though. Mangalitsa pork belly elevates Hanjan’s samgyup-sal, while the kimchi fried rice showcases two types of kimchi and LaFrieda prime brisket. The ruddy broth owes its depth of flavor to the wok searing of shrimp, bay scallops and squid, and Monday is Korean-Chinese night with the standout jjam pong, noodles in a spicy seafood broth.
Fine dining vets Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku (of Bouley and Gramercy Tavern) rode into the former Dok Suni space on a wave of butter in the form of insanely craveable honey butter chips. The latter isn’t Uncle Ben’s with a pat of butter but a take on jang jorim, a classic Korean childhood comfort food of braised beef that’s often enriched with a stick of butter. Oiji’s is especially rich since the rice is first mixed with butter and chilled before being cooked with even more French butter and beef braising liquid and topped with pickled radish and mushrooms. Other highlights on the menu of refined Korean fare include the blistered and just-charred-enough mackerel smoked with pine needles and truffle seafood broth with sizzling crispy rice.
Be sure your socks are looking good: You’ll have to surrender your shoes upon entering this Korean vegetarian’s paradise. Carefully crafted dishes include thin leek, kimchi, mushroom and mung bean pancakes, and maitake mushrooms sautéed with asparagus. The scene is serene, but the Zen detachment may not suit all tastes—the quiet waitstaff can seem as chilly as the delicious dessert of chocolate-tofu ice cream.
K-town gets a modern infusion with this sleek Korean BBQ spot, from Seoul pop star J.Y. Park. The bi-level restaurant features cutting-edge "grills"—infrared-heated crystals set in a smiling copper monk's belly. Chef David Shim (Gramercy Tavern, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon) oversees the menu of elevated Korean fare, but diners cook their raw selections (Wagyu beef, pork belly, organic vegetables) on the translucent stones inset in their tables. Be sure to watch the clock: Owners say the new-wave contraption cooks ingredients twice as fast as traditional metal grills.
Located on the 39th floor of a Koreatown tower, the sleek space offers some amazing sights of a twinkling skyline through its wraparound windows. But the cooking, it turns out, is spectacular too. The Korean classics are among the best in the city, and, refreshingly, at not much more than sea-level prices. The kitchen highlights grade-A ingredients and upscale presentations. Along with an oversized pajun, the ubiquitous seafood-scallion pancake, you can get a sampler of fluffy miniatures, delicately flavored with beef, fish or vegetables.
John Yu and his family run what is quite possibly the most under-the-radar Korean BBQ in the city—once inside the sleepy dining room, you’ll wonder if you’re in the right place. You are, but to enjoy the BBQ pork kalbi, pork belly, pork intestines, kalbi and grilled eel known as jang uh gui, go outside and around to the back door. There, you’ll find a tent with the characters for Majang Dong, the Seoul neighborhood the restaurant is named for (come wintertime, it’s enclosed and heated). Grab a seat on a pink plastic stool and order the dak ddong jjip, spicy fried chicken gizzards that call to mind a far crispier, far spicier General Tso’s.
The menu at this three-level K-town spot that bills itself as a Korean BBQ house is almost as vast as the space itself. Sure, there’s plenty of table-grilled meat—including beef short rib, black pork belly, beef brisket, duck and even a kalbi steak patty—but there are also tons of soups and stews like the budae jjigae, a concoction of kimchi, noodles, hot dogs and spam often topped with cheese and affectionately known as army base stew. Seafood appears elsewhere in the form of hwe dup bap—tuna and red snapper sashimi over rice—and ojinguh dup bap (rice with spicy squid in hot stone pot).
Kihyun Lee named the sister restaurant to Take 31 after his mother, and the inspiration at this self-styled Korean soul food spot is home cooking. Small plates include an innovative take on dukbokki—the chewy rice cakes are topped with slices of grilled kabocha squash and strewn with shishitos—and japchae noodles with garlicky short-neck clams. Larger dishes include slow-cooked pork belly served with kimchi, berry wine sauce and the unctuous deep-fried pork shoulder, as well as a lovely spicy seafood stew with beef dumplings.
The tofu comes boiled, cubed, spiced, ground and in tiny, buttery bits called dregs. Jung suk, the signature tofu casserole, has cubes of delicate white bean curd as well as those dregs. Stews mix snow-white squares of tofu with treats like baby octopus or squid. In nontofu territory, the pajun combination appetizer presents four generous pancakes, from mild, crispy leek to zesty kimchi. Sizzling kalbi (short ribs) are served on a cast-iron griddle with lettuce leaves for wrapping.
For those who love to watch meat sizzle, Bann (from Woo Lae Oak owner Young Choi) is a boon to the midtown restaurant scene. The Korean barbecue features a hefty plate of thinly sliced chicken, fish, beef or pork ready for grilling in the center of the table, with accompanying kimchi for another dimension of flavor. The prepared dishes are invariably prettier: Oyster tempura, for example, is served on a giant starfish. The Tropical Snow dessert is a tower of coconut ice cream surrounded by sweet beans and fruit jellies; topped with raspberry coulis, crème anglaise and purple yams and set upon shaved coconut ice in a bowl made of ice.