The Best Korean Dining in New York City Right Now Isn’t in Koreatown
Korean-American and expat chefs are livening up the New York City restaurant scene with spots that put a deeply personal spin on classic dishes and styles of dining — as well as the culinary trends of the moment.
Here are our picks for the best new Korean (and Korean-ish) places to eat in Manhattan right now.
A version of this story first appeared in the February 2019 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Manhattan Restaurants Showcase the Diversity of Modern Korean Cooking.
The All Day Café
The casual, come-in-come-out restaurant trend goes Korean at this Hudson Street spot. Noted Tribeca’s married co-owners Seong Choi and Minho Yang — who also designed the small, comfy space — enlisted Masa alum Steve Song to create a menu that transitions from craft coffee and light lunch options to a cocktail-driven dinner spread. The chef uses his classical training with Korean flavors, crafting sharing plates like purple sweet potato toast and bite-sized jumokbap, or Korean rice balls, as well as large-format items like a family-style ssam. Entrées $15-$22.
The KBBQ Joint
The Woo, brainchild of third-generation NYC restaurateur Julie Choi, is actually the reincarnation of beloved barbeque mecca Woo Lae Oak, which closed in 2011. The sleek new digs prove that you don’t have to brave the crowds of Koreatown (around 32nd Street) to have a good old fashioned grill-it-yourself experience. But there are some twists and turns among the kalbi, bulgogi, and seasonal banchan; uncommon meat options include Long Island-raised duck, yellowfin tuna, and thinly sliced beef tongue. Entrées $18-$38.
The Noodle Counter
One of the hottest (and most affordable!) new additions to New York’s Michelin list this year is Jeju Noodle Bar, occupying the West Village corner rumored to feature in Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” The menu from executive chef Douglas Kim and chef de cuisine Jane Peang specializes in ramyun, or Korean ramen, which carries everything from pork belly to plankton oil to truffle duxelles. But the restaurant goes far beyond that; order the prix fixe (a steal) to slurp your noodles alongside soy-butter-roasted corn, Korean chicken wings, and fatty tuna lettuce wraps. Wash it down with a can of craft makgeolli, an unfiltered rice beer that’s hard to find stateside. Entrées $16-$35, prix fixe $42.
The Mixology Upstart
Soju — the ubiquitous spirit distilled from ingredients as varied as rice, barley, and sweet potatoes — is the backbone of Reception Bar, on a quiet street at the convergence of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Here, proprietor Katie Rue explores Korean-American identity and culture through cocktails, born from a home infusion lab where she first tested her experiments on willing friends. In addition to the mixed drinks from beverage director Sergio Dimoff — highlights include the Lotus Breeze (lotus soju, chrysanthemum, green plum, above) and the Matcha Meadow (matcha soju, jasmine, Korean pear) — Rue offers five equally nuanced non-alcoholic “elixirs.” Cocktails $14.
If you haven’t seen Simon Kim's Cote on your Instagram feed, you’re not looking. This carnivore heaven has been one of the sexiest tables in Flatiron since it opened, and the tableaux that unfold during a meal from executive chef David Shim — piles of prime meats, colorful pickles, lush trays of lettuce and shiso — are practically begging to be photographed. It’s a quintessential New York steakhouse, where wine flows freely and you can order a tin of caviar to go with your ribeye, but with the trappings of a KBBQ table and roaming aides who ensure a medium rare on the brazier. If you can, snag a reservation at basement bar Undercote, where you can get Alice in Wonderland-style drinks in a jungly, blacklit space. Entrées $14-$85, tasting menus from $52.
The High Concept Laboratory
On the heels of their successful first restaurant — the family-style Atoboy (prix fixe $42) — husband-and-wife team Junghyun "JP" and Ellia Park opened Atomix, a more intimate, and much more experimental, space in NoMad late last year. Ellia holds court upstairs at the minimalist, walk-in-only bar, with snacks and Korean-ish cocktails (like the soju-based Three Kingdoms, with vermouth and banana liqueur). JP helms the kitchen in the subterranean dining room, hosting two 14-person seatings per night, with ten poetic courses such as sea bream with mustard-leaf kimchi and uni (above). Tasting menu $175.
The Weeknight Bistro
From the outside, the dimly lit, warmly decorated Soogil would look like any other casual brasserie — and that’s the point. At this East Village hangout, Korean-born, New York-trained Soogil Lim channels the unfussy, convivial atmosphere of Manhattan’s classic neighborhood restaurants. The approachable bistro menu shines a spotlight on the chef’s dual culinary influences, and nails a balance of refined entrées and comfort food: poached monkfish and seared foie gras coexist peacefully with mung bean pancakes, homey braised short rib (above), and a “jenga tower” dessert of fried dough cigarettes topped with chestnut ice cream. Entrées $15-$28.
The Date Night Showstopper
In Korean, Hwaban is a descriptor that translates roughly to “as beautiful as a flower” — and it’s a fitting sobriquet for this Flatiron fine-dining restaurant from restaurateurs Key Kim and chef-owner Mihyun Han. The space is airy but pleasingly moody, with cozy gray leather banquettes and light fixtures reminiscent of petals and water droplets. Each meal unfolds over three courses, which show off executive chef Woong Jang’s impeccable technique (though some plates do come delightfully obscured under a rambling mess of blossoms and tangled herbs). The recipes are very traditional — you can easily build yourself a dinner of bibimbap and fried rice cakes — but the delicate, often surprising treatment is a testament to the possibilities of contemporary Korean cuisine. Tasting menus from $55.
The Living Legend
Okay, this one isn’t exactly all that new. It’s the first New York outpost of a famous Seoul restaurant Samwon Garden, founded in 1976 and considered the world’s longest-running KBBQ establishment. Known back in Korea for its sophisticated spin on the barbecue experience, the stateside opening has brought more hype to Koreatown than it's seen in years, with a three-story, 180-seat space that's consistently buzzing with diners. You'll find all the classics you want here, but with a few Americanized additions — including a gouda-and-bacon egg souffle, kimchi cheese fries, and a special "late night" menu of seasonal drinking snacks. Entreés $17-$43