New York City's Koreatown: The Complete Guide

Koreatown

Courtesy of Lawrence Ferber

While some parts of New York City do in fact sleep, Koreatown isn't one of them. Among Manhattan's buzziest districts thanks to a nearly 24-hour restaurant and nightlife scene, Koreatown's compact heart is situated on 32nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, but many distinctly Korean businesses also extend several blocks east, west, and south. And as with South Korea's metropolises of Seoul and Busan, you'll find restaurants, bars, beauty salons and other businesses and attractions tucked into all levels of its multi-floor buildings.

From New York's number one destination for buying K-Pop merchandise to soju concoctions served in a hollowed out watermelon to the Korean delicacy gopchang (intestine barbecue), you'll find these and plenty of hidden gems in this guide.

New Wonjo

Courtesy of Lawrence Ferber

Where to Eat And Drink

While there are plenty of eats to be found, Korean barbecue is a major draw and nearly ubiquitous. Many restaurants added enclosed (and semi-enclosed) outdoor seating areas in 2020, effectively doubling their capacity, although these only offer portable stoves for cooking at your table (the meat comes out almost entirely pre-cooked, but you can still get a bit of sear from the grill). Some popular (and good!) spots include The Kunjip (request a table by the window upstairs if ordering barbecue) and the NYC flagship of chain Baekjeong, owned by a famous South Korean comedian Kang Ho Dong (a poster depicts him climbing the Empire State Building) and distinguished by its tasty, gooey cheese and corn kernel accompaniment, and celebrity clientele (Chris Rock, Momofuku's David Chang, the late Anthony Bourdain and plenty of Korean singers, actors, and chefs among them).

For an authentic, old school barbecue experience, the multi-level New Wonjo offers charcoal grills on its upper floor (plus views of Koreatown's main strip). Watching the staff deposit a canister of piping hot orange charcoal into your table's pit is a reliable bit of drama, and adds a smokiness you don't get with gas or electric grills. The included selection of banchan (side dishes) is eclectic and can range from creamy potato salad to raw crab segments and of, course, kimchi.

Another barbecue spot, Gopchang Story, offers the delicacy of gopchang: intestines. Try the combo for a mix of small and large intestines and their respective textures and flavors, and definitely add on the optional, addictive fried rice with cheese, prepared afterwards on the same skillet (there are also non-intestine meat and seafood dishes for the offal-averse).

Billing itself as a more modern, almost disco take on barbecue (with a live DJ no less), Love also serves up shareable dishes like "bangin' bulgogi kimchi fries" and "Whip it Good Army Stew," their version of budae jjigae, which came to be right after the Korean War and incorporates spam, cheese, and other ingredients left behind by US troops, plus kimchi, tofu, rice cakes, ramen noodles, and more. Army Stew is a favorite at funky, atmospheric second floor bar Pocha 32, although its most famous for inventive, delicious, photogenic, and dangerously easy to scarf down shareable soju creations including the Watermelon Punch (a half-watermelon filled with soju, lemon-up soda, and crushed ice), Pineapple Punch, and Yogurt Soju.

Meanwhile, Rib No. 7 takes a more upscaled and refined approach to its menu of Korean staples, as does Gaonnuri - located on the 39th floor of Nomad Tower, its panoramic city views are a major draw—and Her Name is Han brings hipster flair to its homestyle, seasonal creations, plus boutiquey decor and vibes straight out of Seoul's Hannam-dong. Vegetarians should pass through the wooden doors of HanGawi, a meat-free culinary and atmospheric sanctuary dripping with Korean tradition and zen (shoes must be removed upon entering, so socks are recommended).

Mochi Donuts

Courtesy of Lawrence Ferber

Don't forget dessert! Mochi Mochi Donut serves chewy mochi donuts made with glutinous rice flour in an assortment of colorful flavors, while Cafe Grace Street offers a wide array of indulgent treats, from silky shaved snow towers to custardy, caramelized burnt cheesecake to a coffee with—made famous in "Squid Game"—dalgona honeycomb candy with a heart shape to eat around (don't break it!).

What To Do

Although you'll need to visit the Flushing, Queens area for a large-scale jjimjilbang (Korean spa) experience at the sprawling Spa Castle complex (which includes gender-designated wet areas, co-ed dry saunas, swimming pools and hydrotherapy, food, full service scrubs and massage, and resting areas), there are intimate, under-the-radar spa facilities in Koreatown. Open 24 hours, the two-floor Asian-European fusion Juvenex Spa features a semi-precious stone Jade Igloo sauna, diamond herbal glass steam room, Japanese-style soaking ponds filled with sake, ginseng, and other medicinal ingredients, while the treatment menu is expansive - scrubs, facials, massage - with plenty of packages and female beauty-centric options (e.g. "Luxurious Luscious Lips"). Note that from 7am-5pm daily the fifth floor is women only, and bathing suit optional, and bathing suits are mandatory during co-ed hours (and on the 4th always co-ed floor).

Koryo Books

Courtesy of Lawrence Ferber

Shopping

A mecca for K-pop fans, Koryo Books stocks NYC's largest selection of CDs, DVDs, and merchandise, including brand new releases within a day or two of their South Korea street dates (many come with free posters). BTS, Blackpink, Nu'est, Enhypen, Red Velvet, Shinee, and dozens if not hundreds additional boy/girl groups and artists are stocked. Koryo also carries plenty of Korean language books, magazines, home and gift items, and more.

Cosmetic and skincare products can be found at neighboring/connected store Kosette, as well as Besfren Beauty—which stocks over 60 Korean brands including its own—and aptly named, eclectic The Face Shop, the latter also stocking merchandise related to characters from Korea's chat app Kakao and pop group BTS.

Karaoke And Nightlife

Most if not all karaoke bars are located on upper floors around Ktown, and some quite hidden away. Opened since 2004, the bi-level Maru Karaoke Lounge requires a freight elevator to access, and features both a glowing tunnel-like bar straight out of a Stanley Kubrick sci-fi flick and private karaoke rooms (standard time limit is 2 hours, exceptions made by request). 32 Karaoke is a rarity - it's BYOB! - and you can search its 30,000 song library in advance online. Gagopa, from the same owners, does stock booze (with a BYO option).

There are a couple of buzzing rooftop bars around Ktown to check out as well: Cloud Social and the Arlo Nomad hotel's Arlo Roof Top.

Tips For Your Visit

  • Hotel NYMA is smack dab in Koreatown's heart and home to Cloud Social Rooftop Bar, and guests can book a room with complimentary welcome drinks.
  • Be sure to reserve restaurants and karaoke rooms especially on weekends, which are perpetually bustling.
  • While restaurant prices can seem steep, especially for barbecue, lunchtime sees fantastic, affordable specials and combination deals.
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