Foodies know that Korean barbecue has a wonderful way of satisfying cravings for both delicious meat and something slightly exotic. It’s fun grilling up fresh, delicious meat at your table while being surrounded by exotic side dishes and spicy kim chee. Here’s a look at some top places for kalbi, bulgogi and more. By Jesse Zanger
Hahm Ji Bach
Purists say Hahm Ji Bach serves up some of the most authentic Korean BBQ outside of Seoul – certainly it claims the top spot for Korean east of Flushing. The samgyupsal (bacon), served with bean powder for dipping, is especially good. The goodoong uh (fried mackerel), which is free and part of your banchan (assorted tasty dishes that flow to your table as part of the meal), is also amazing. Foodies will also enjoy the red rice. Considering it is somewhat out-of-the-way for most New Yorkers, the valet parking service is a nice feature.
This Koreatown stalwart is open 24 hours to indulge your need for kim chee, bulgogi and more. Downstairs there is a sushi bar, upstairs it’s traditional, grill-at-your-table Korean specialties. The decor isn’t much, but you’re not there to eat the walls. Instead, dive into the massive goo pae juen (fried oyster pancake with egg and scallion, large enough to feed several people), kalbi and heukyum sotang (black goat stew).
Kum Gang San
The Manhattan location, open 24 hours, is a large, open restaurant, with a vibrant upstairs seating area. A fake cliff is built into one wall, where musicians play traditional Korean harp music, or piano. The array of banchan presented on the table seems endless, but the meat, as always, is the star of the show. For the adventurous, the yuek hwe (steak tartare with raw egg) is especially good, although you have to order it early in your meal, since it takes a while for them to prepare.
Although Madangsui boasts natural wood grilled BBQ on its website, you’ll find in their Manhattan location they are in fact using gas. The aptly-named “Yum Yum Kalbi” (butterfly short ribs) is wildly popular – you’ll find out once you taste it why this restaurant gets so many raves. The staff at Madangsui – who cook your BBQ at your table – will keep the meal moving briskly along. The pace of the meal, though, is set by the diner: your BBQ dishes will come to your table quickly once you order them, so don’t do so until you’re done eating any appetizers.
Mapo still uses real charcoal pits in the center of your table, which infuses their splendid beef with a smokiness you just can’t get from a gas grill. There’s nothing fancy about Mapo, in terms of decor. The interior evokes a fast food restaurant, with around a dozen tables. The place is usually bustling. It’s helpful if you speak Korean or Mandarin, otherwise be prepared to simply point at the menu to place your order. Their corn side dish gets raves, and you won’t get out of there without sampling the kalbi, which many argue is the best in the city.