Last we left it, the Outseekers and I were taking a break because we wanted to pace ourselves. At the recommendation of the server from Mandoo Bar, we went to a Korean style bakery/café down the street and sipped some tea before moving on. It was a good idea because next up was the first Korean BBQ place.
This is Bul Goki: New Wonjo Restaurant
Traditionally, when you go for Korean barbecue you’re planning to eat a lot. The dishes are designed to share, and you’re supposed to order for the number of people at the table. Now, we did not order, “the way you’re supposed to,” knowing that we had much more food to eat later, and our server made no attempt to hide his displeasure at our decision. Of all the restaurants, this was the absolute worst service we received — but we were there for the food, and that’s what Outseeker’s “Food on a Budget” targets, the quality of the food more than anything else. That said, the food was really great, hot, and flavorful.
We deliberated over what to eat because there were a lot of tasty offerings. It was a tough choice. Ultimately, we ordered the beef Bul Goki, a classic of Korean BBQ, because when in Rome, right? We were really pleased with our decision. It would have been cool to cook it at the table, as is customary, but because we didn’t order much they “suggested” (read: insisted) we have them prepare it in the kitchen. We also ordered some fried dumplings that were delicious, but not as good as Mandoo Bar. You'll also see some of the banchan that are offered here, and the kimchi is very good.
· We all agreed that the service was an abomination, but that the food was delicious enough that it didn’t particularly matter
· Fried dumplings are worth trying if you’re there, but don’t go for the dumplings
· We agreed that Outseeker’s grades were appropriate and this is a spot best visited with 3 or more very hungry people
Fried Chicken Challenge: BonChon Chicken vs. KyoChon
KyoChon was first simply because it was closer. We walked into a space that was sort of K-Pop music video meets high school cafeteria. The staff was really friendly and engaging, although interestingly not Korean. Suggesting to them that we’d not been before prompted the cashier’s recommendation to order the wings. We ordered ten, five spicy (which, they warned us more than once just how spicy they were to be) and five sweeter, ginger garlic. We went upstairs and they were delivered to us, which was cool.
The sauces were good, but the chicken seemed less-than-fresh. If I had to guess, they used the “twice fried” style to mask the fact that the first frying was some time before we arrived and ordered… Who knows for sure, though? The atmosphere of this place was über-modern with an array of eight TVs playing K-pop and American-pop music videos at different resolutions, providing a Times Square-style sensory bombardment, but this added to the exaggerated Korean pop culture vibe they were going for.
We finished up our wings and headed over to BonChon Chicken. We were assuming that it would be a similar experience, the way any fast-food joint is simply re-branded while maintaining the essence of that plastic design. However, we were met by a host who offered us a corner table on a banquet and presented us with menus. Ironically enough, this was the best service we’d receive the entire day! Our server was really friendly and walked us through the menu and made some suggestions, answered our questions, and the whole nine. We ordered ten wings, five spicy and five with the sweeter garlic, ginger sauce, along with a side of seasoned fries.
The fries were mediocre and reminded me of a less-than version of the “cajun” style curly fries that you would get at a bowling alley or ice-skating rink. The wings, though, were really good. The chicken was supple and notably larger than the KyoChon counterparts we’d just enjoyed. The flavors were a little more subtle, but delicious nonetheless. They had a lot of offerings on the menu and it would be interesting to explore this further. So, who won the challenge?
· For Lunch or a Quick-Bite KyoChon is your best bet. The food was delicious, they have other offerings like sandwiches, and an assembly-line style service
· For a meal that you have more time to enjoy BonChon is the move. The server was friendly and there were a variety of options.
Defeat: We'd Earned a Drink
We had every intention of continuing to Don Bogam’s next, another Korean BBQ spot. Really, we did. This place was rated highly by Outseeker and has glowing reviews about the food. Unfortunately, we barely made it through the 20th chicken wing at BonChon Chicken. We started at 11:30 and it was almost 6 pm; we’d successfully eaten our way through an entire day! The sampling of this neighborhood and particular cuisine was really phenomenal. Outseeker did a great job in making it easy to navigate otherwise murky waters.
Instead of consuming more food, I took Andre and Dwayne to a spot that I was brought to only one other time by a friend who'd studied abroad in Korea. It wasn't on Outseeker's list, but that's because it's really a bar/lounge. In the style of a speakeasy, almost, we walk into what looks like a regular office building with an entirely disinterested doorman slumped over his phone watching a YouTube video. We enter an elevator car and go to the third floor. When we arrived, we enter into a legit bar. It's called Third Floor Cafe. We had this lychee flavored shochu cocktail, which was basically lychee flavored sugar water. For a whiskey drinker (usually unadulterated by anything aside from a few drops of water), this was dramatically sweet for my palate. However, it definitely gets some extra points for this vessel! It was a great way to end an awesome day of eating and exploration of NYC's Koreatown, for sure.
If you’re in Koreatown or want to explore it, I would love to know what you think of these places! Either comment here on the blog or send me an email.