Once a month my job as Plated’s recipe editor mandates that I join my Culinary team members for a day of eating. Even though it’s a big ask, I’m always happy to oblige! Perpetually on the hunt for nuggets of inspiration to liven up the weekly menus you see, we go on field trips to explore eclectic ingredients and sample various cuisines. On the latest quest to challenge our tastebuds, we ended up in none other than NYC’s famed Koreatown, about a dozen blocks north of our office.
From Los Angeles, California to Plano, Texas, wherever there is a significant population of Koreans, you can discover a wonderfully bustling Little Korea not too far away. Rife with bold, flavorful food to tempt the hungry, NYC’s Koreatown is a dense ethnic enclave packed with a variety of Korean businesses, including a dazzling array of restaurants. The heart of this community is 32nd Street or “Korea Way,” a lively commercial district full of people, skin care shops, and eateries. We were appropriately giddy on a recent winter afternoon spent eating our way through the neighborhood.
Since no visit to NYC’s K-Town is complete without barbecued meat, we stopped at 24-hour New Wonjo Restaurant to get our fill. An eye-catching assortment of banchan, or “side dishes,” materialized at our table minutes after sitting down. Among the half dozen tiny plates presented, zesty baechu kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage) and pillowy gyeran jjim (bubbling egg custard) made the tastiest impressions. Hot, cold, spicy, sweet, and salty, these small bites whetted our appetites for the meat portion to come.
With some help from the waitress, we decided on gal bi, a plate of marinated short ribs and ju mool luk, the house special top sirloin, both of which were succulent and subtly smoky. Individually portioned out by our server, a frisbee-sized pancake (kimchi jeon) turned out to be perfect: soft, pungent, and greasy. And since we’re enthusiastic researchers, we walked over a few blocks to Cho Dang Gol, a rustic eatery known for its silken tofu. Made fresh daily on the premises, the warm slices came with sesame-soy and peanut sauces for dipping. Universally loved by the group, dolsot bibimbap—“mixed rice” tossed with vegetables, meat, and chile sauce—was served from a sizzling stone bowl for added excitement.
Then, as an unabashed lover of all things approximating dessert, I suggested a quick stop at nearby Grace Street Bakery (on already full stomachs). Without too much convincing though, we capped off our expansive lunch with ho-dduk—a cinnamony, walnut-filled, butter-laden fried Korean-style doughnut.
What I treasure most about dining in Koreatown—on this occasion and every other—is the feeling of being embraced by other people who also want to fuel up on warming food made with humble ingredients. Within restaurant walls, we ate and talked and enjoyed the gift of a good meal. Then we returned to our shared city streets feeling satiated, restored, and ready to work. Lucky for our crew, “work” on any given day means being tasked to bring ridiculously delicious flavors to the dinners you choose from weekly.