Korean food is sizzling, available beyond the boundaries of Koreatown out to Astoria, Williamsburg and the East Village, among other lucky neighborhoods. Kimchi and other fiery fermented dishes are omnipresent but at many establishments the cuisine is unbounded by tradition, turbocharged with fresh herbs and cheese. We’ve rounded up our 10 current favorites: homestyle nooks, festive barbecue joints, cool bistros and a culinary temple for high rollers.
Atomix was heralded as one of the best restaurants to open in 2018 (some critics said the best), its tasting menu a pageant of modern Korean ingenuity. Each dish arrives with a flashcard that details ingredients and—without being pedantic—its philosophical underpinnings. Chef Junghyun Park (also of the more casual Atoboy) changes the menu quarterly. Look for variations on exquisite langoustine, uni, wagyu beef, duck breast and deeply flavored fermented sauces and pastes. Occupying two floors of a Murray Hill townhouse, the restaurant reserves its bottom level for 14 prepaid counter seats while the upper level is a walk-in bar featuring cocktails and elevated snacks.
Happy hour is not to be missed at Bann, a Korean barbecue bastion nestled at the base of Worldwide Plaza in Midtown West. Every day in the low-lit lounge from 5pm to 9pm (yes, Saturdays and Sundays too), select cocktails, beer and wine are discounted. There are also deals on small bites like spicy chicken wings and sticky pork ribs with little paper holders attached so your fingers don’t get messy. The expansive dining room features traditional fare like bulgogi and bibimbap as well as fusion-y takes on sushi.
Korean fried chicken and beer rule at The Coop, but this packed, modern hangout has a whole lot more going for it. Once you’ve wiped your fingers clean of the crunchy wings coated in soy garlic sauce (or the spicy version, carrying a fierce kick), move on to kimchi fried rice and mozzarella fondue with sweet pumpkin—a nod to South Koreans’ love of cheese. A better-than-average selection of IPAs and ales as well as whiskey, cognac and fruity cocktails make up the drink menu.
Cote is a celebratory Korean steakhouse shouldering about as many cuts of meat as a butcher shop. Splurge on the steak omakase, a parade of filet mignon, sirloin, dry-aged rib eye and American and Japanese wagyu hitting the tabletop grill. The butcher’s feast is another blowout way to go, with four selected cuts plus egg soufflé, two heat-packing stews, seasonal sides and a soft-serve treat. An à la carte menu is also available.
Jongro is one of the busier barbecue restaurants in Koreatown for good reason: it has excellent meats and swift, professional service. No reservations are taken (save for parties of eight or more Sunday to Thursday), so add your name to the wait list and sit tight. The wood-detailed dining room evokes a hawker plaza in old Seoul and is sequestered on the second floor of a commercial building. Groups often share the cracking beef platter (kalbi, rib eye, skirt steak, brisket), its elements grilled before your eyes and plentifully supplemented by banchan (a collection of small side dishes).
This airy, modern Korean restaurant features so many alluring, creative dishes it warrants repeat visits. Don’t miss the rice cakes dunked in spicy Tex-Mex-style sauce with chorizo and gooey queso fundido nor the gluten-free glass noodles slicked in sesame oil and topped with mushrooms. Before wowing Brooklynites, co-owner and chef Jenny Kwak ran two popular restaurants (Dok Suni and Do Hwa) in Manhattan with her now-retired mother for two decades.
Astoria’s Kal has found an appreciative audience for juicy pork belly buns, stir-fried glass noodles, boneless fried chicken (perfect for dragging through wasabi mayo) and soft tofu stew that’s tingly and flecked with seafood. The tiny, modest storefront is comforting, with personable service, reasonable prices, lunch specials and a user-friendly illustrated menu for those unfamiliar with traditional Korean specialties.
Felicia Park’s K’ook (pronounced “cook”) has a minimalist design and framed sayings like “If she doesn’t text you when she’s drunk, you ain’t the one.” She makes everything from scratch including mouthwatering fried dumplings, long-fermented rusty-red chili paste and spicy kimchi. Her bronzed chicken wings, crisp-edged seafood pancakes and dolsot (vegetables and fried egg in a hot stone bowl with chicken, beef, spicy pork or tofu) are equally terrific. She has also developed several gluten-free alternatives.
Bide your time with free popcorn while awaiting the to-die-for wings brushed with soy-garlic sauce at Mad for Chicken. The hormone- and antibiotic-free poultry is sourced from a Pennsylvania farm and fried to a shattering crunch. People also go crazy for the avocado salad, bulgogi (marinated rib eye) over rice and fries garnished with kimchi, scallions and spicy mayo. Its two locations—the decade-old one in Flushing and a new outpost in Williamsburg—have a gastropub vibe, perfect for catching up with friends.
The honey butter chips with vanilla ice cream is a mind-blowing combination of sweet, salty, crunchy and creamy, the essential reason to save room for dessert at Oiji. This elegant, intimate Korean bistro in the East Village also excels at baby octopus in a vibrant chili sauce and an artistically presented bone marrow stuffed with short rib and maitake mushrooms. The bar accommodates solo dining, cozy tables invite date nights and a long communal table is great for groups.