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Nov 22, 2006 02:55 AM

Han Shin Pocha, Flushing

I had a terrific meal at Han Shin Pocha, one of the many Korean places around the Murray Hill LIRR station. Last time I was around there, I peered in Han Shin Pocha, and noticed that it has the feel of a typical izakaya that you find all over Japan. Kind of worn, but very warm and comfortable. Everything about it looked good, though it might be a bit intimadating for non-Koreans. As our party walked in to a chorus of welcomes, the first I noticed was a table grilling all kinds of shellfish. Looked promising. When we asked for a menu with some english, they seemed to have a hard time finding it and once they found it, they had to dust it off. Another good sign. While we struggled to find items that we thought would be the specialties of the house, our waiter came by and casually spoke to our group in Japanese (our party was all Japanese). After that, we were all put at ease, and we simply put ourselves in his hands and asked what were the specialties of the house.

The main specialty are grilled clams. All the tables are equipped with grill inserts for charcoal grilling. There's a small range of offerings and we chose the assorted clam grill, which included a ton of regular clams, razor clams, chopped scallops in the shell (with some sauce), turban shells, and an udon noodle dish with squid, crab (I think), and another chopped clam/oyster/enoki mushroom thingie. This was all bound together with this strangely good orange sauce that you dipped or drizzled on the shellfish. I couldn't figure out what flavors were mingling in there, but there was definitely garlic and maybe a bit of vinegar. The clams are best when eaten as they just open up and are just warmed up with their juices. A little of that orange sauce, and it's all good. The turban shells (basically large sea snails) were a little different than the sazae I've had in Japan, being slightly smaller, and slightly funkier, but still a good version (it's not something you find in NYC). The cut up scallops and the other cut up clam mixture with enoki mushrooms were also quite good, though I couldn't figure out what else was in there. The udon noodles are what you save for last. By the time you're done with the clams, the udon broth is boiling hot and the noodles are soft. Best of all was the soup, with bits of squid and crab. I now realize that we lost a lot of the juice from the clams as we were fiddling with the clams. I think it might be a better idea just to drain them into the soup.
Clam Grill:

Another specialty that our waiter offered was a sauteed dish with baby octopus and pork belly in a spicy red sauce. Some at our table thought this was a little too spicy, so I got to eat more than my fair share of it, and I couldn't stop eating it. This dish is accompanied with sesame leaf (kind of like shiso, but with a deeper fennel-like undertone), and slices of chili and raw garlic. I really enjoyed this dish (so much so, I complete forgot to take a photo).

As we were finishing up with our grilled clams, our friendly waiter came by and threw two small flat oval-shaped items on the grill. It was a dried fish/squid jerky sheet, that is a familiar accompaniment for drinking. The grilling releases some of the oils and makes it more malleable. The sheet is cut into strips with scissors and eaten dipped in hot sauce and/or mayonnaise. I'm not sure if these came with the order of clams, or if it just came on the house, but it was a good foil for all the drinks around the table.

We continued to ask our waiter for what he would recommend and he suggested a dried cuttlefish with peanuts to enjoy with the soju that was going around. This was a little tough, and it's something that you find all over Japan, so it was no revelation, but more like comfort food.
Dried cuttlefish:

Another dish that was recommened was the fried dumplings. When our waiter was describing it, I had envisioned mandoo, and figured I've had those before, and was willing to pass on these, but I'm glad I was vetoed. These were more like filled crepes. Pan fried crispy, with lots of chive, garlic, pork, and clear noodles. Another hit.
Fried dumplings:

Just when we were wondering what else we wanted, our waiter came back with a plate of pajun. It came on the house. What a pleasant surprise. Just like the one I had at Ham Ji Bak just down the street, these were nice and crispy, and fairly light. A very good rendition of pajun.

One in our group was still a little hungry and wanted to know what the items were that weren't translated on the menu with english, that ranged in the $5-$8 range. These turned out to be the noodle dishes. I think the noodles were of the instant noodle variety, so we were a bit befuddled, but the broth made up for any misgivings. I only had space for a small taste, and was satisfied.

Since Han Shin Pocha is really a drinking establishment, I should mention something about the drinks. After a round of OB beer, the table moved on to soju. We tried a Jinro brand soju called Chamjinisulro that we haven't tried. We offered glasses of soju to our waiter to toast, who gladly took our offer. Later on, we noticed the next table drinking a wine, which turns out to be a Korean raspberry wine. I'm not sure what kind of alcohol is involved here, but it's a really sweet slightly thick drink. It made for an interesting dessert wine.
Soju and Korean Raspberry wine:

We probably have our waiter to thank for our successul outing, having steered us to some good and fantastic items. We even earned a space on the wall of polaroids.

Han Shin Pocha awning:
Han Shin Pocha business card (front/back):

Han Shin Pocha
40-03 149th Place
Flushing, NY
(718) 886-1328

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  1. thanks for the post, eric.

    i've actually been to this place many times - it's called "goo gong tan" in korean. as you said, it's very authentic - places like this here in the u.s. are meant to duplicate the little dives called po jang ma cha that you find in basements and portable tents all over seoul and other cities in korea. whenever i go to a real po jang ma cha in queens or la (probably the only 2 places that have "true" versions--even northern nj doesn't really have any, while manhattan and the other boroughs certainly don't), i feel like i've gone back to korea - the menu offerings (much of which you won't find at the more "mainstream" korean restaurants, i.e. true comfort food), the korean pop music, the graffiti all over the walls, the utter lack of restraint in drinking and eating, the camaraderie, the lack of english spoken, the absence of gringos (for lack of a better term), the uncomfortable seats. this is truly what it's like to eat and drink in korea.

    note that a po jang ma cha is a little bit different from a "hof" such as baden baden in manhattan and nj. the latter type of establishment, which is much more common in the ny/nj area, often features tong dahk (rotisserie/deep-fried chicken) and more beer on its menu and is situated in more spacious/less divey conditions. "hofs" are probably slightly less intimidating to gringos as well, if only by default; most po chas and hofs in queens are pretty hard-core korean, and it's best to go with someone who speaks korean well if at all possible.

    anyhow, i just wanted to make a few comments on the food that eric ordered:

    -the clams cooked over the grill are called "modeum jogae". very hard-core, down-and-dirty korean comfort food - exactly the type of thing you'd eat at some tent off the main street in seoul. it's a must-order at any place that offers it, as you'll never find this kind of stuff at a typical korean restaurant or even at a hof. usually this dish is offered in several sizes, with the larger versions offering a greater variety of shellfish and more of the "weird" stuff like turban shells (conch- or "sazae"-like shellfish).

    -the "sauteed dish with baby octopus and pork belly" is similar to "nakji bokkeum" (sauteed octopus) that you find at most korean restaurants, but a little bit simpler and homier. another great comfort food dish. the sesame leaf you're referring to is called "ggae-nyeep". when i was in college a great cheap meal was to eat a leaf of ggae-nyeep wrapped around a bit of rice, with kimchi on the side. anyhow, i'm not sure what that dish is listed as in korean on the menu, but i'll update once i get a chance.

    -the "dried fish/squid jerky sheet" you're referring to is called "jwee-poh" (the "w" is almost silent). it's the type of quick snack that little korean kids who can't cook make at home in the kitchen, and is another thing you'll never find on a korean menu except at the most koreanized po chas. eric, this snack was definitely not included as part of your clam dish; they gave it to you gratis, or as koreans say, as "service". besides, you can get a pack of jwee-po for like $2 at any korean grocery and then cook it on your stovetop in about 40 seconds, so there's no need to really order it; if you order a lot of alcohol at this kind of establishment, they'll often (but not always) just throw jwee-poh in as "service".

    -the "dried cuttlefish with peanuts" is a dish called "ma reun ahnjoo". it's basically a throwaway dish, as i'm sure you know, where they just put together a little bit of dried cuttlefish and peanuts (and usually raisins as well). we never order ma reun ahnjoo under any circumstances, b/c if you order enough (read: liquor), they'll often give this to you as service. otherwise, you'll end up paying $10 or more for something that costs $0.30 or so. btw, in your picture it looks like they didn't give you any raisins, so they kind of gypped you (not that having raisins would've made this dish much better). and ma reun ahnjoo never comes with anything other than pre-packaged dried stuff like the dried cuttlefish, nuts, and raisins, so i wouldn't recommend it in the future unless, of course, it's given as service.

    -the dumplings that you got were "goon mandoo", i.e. the typical korean dumplings that you'd normally get, but just prepared with slightly different fillings than maybe you're used to. the noodles inside the mandoo are sometimes, but not always, included in the filling; it's just a matter of preference, but ultimately they're pretty much the same mandoo you'd normally order. incidentally, the noodles included in your plate of mandoo are the same type of noodles used in jap chae.

    -glad to see they gave you the pajun on the house. since you apparently paid for the ma reun ahnjoo, this sort of balances it out, cost-wise. i'm surprised that the pajun here was good, since most po chas and hofs don't do it well (despite the fact that it's very, very quick and easy to make). incidentally, i can't get over the fact that all the overpriced, bad-to-mediocre korean restaurants in manhattan charge $15 for pajun; that is the absolute biggest rip-off ever.

    -yeah, the ra myun (ramen) and other noodle dishes served here at goo gong tan (and at almost all po chas in ny) are strictly of the instant "shin ra myun" variety. in other words, they're exactly what you would buy at han ah reum and cook for yourself in a matter of minutes. i agree that it hits the spot if you're in the right mood, but i wouldn't really order ra myun at any korean place, unless a korean ra myun specialist were to open up one of these days. stick with the clams and other "prepared" dishes instead.

    so you made the wall of polaroids? you're probably the only group of non-koreans on the wall. i'll have to look out for your pic next time.

    2 Replies
    1. re: surly

      surly, thanks for the comments. As you can tell, I'm still a novice with Korean culinary customs, but I'm very willing to learn and work my way through its intricacies. There are many similarities between Japanese and Korean customs, so the learning curve might be a little less robust in my case. Also, having that waiter be so patient and helpful with us, and speaking Japanese was a real help. Our waiter told us the Korean names of the dishes we had, but I retained about 2% of it, so thank you for that information too. Our waiter told us that the name of the place is Goo Gong Tan, but I couldn't remember that either. What I do remember is that Han Shin refers to the parent company that owns the restaurant, and pocha is basically synonymous with "izakaya" in Japanese.

      Close to the end of our meal, we noticed a table nearby grilling sliced pork belly that had been precooked. I think it appears as "soy sauce pork" (or something like that) in the meats section of the menu. That looked really good too. I'm going to enjoy exploring this place some more.

      1. re: E Eto

        eric, you're absolutely right that po cha is basically the equivalent of izakaya. i'm not sure if the chinese characters for the two words match up, but i wouldn't be surprised if they do. anyhow, that's cool that the waiter could speak japanese w/you guys; goo gong tan is definitely not an easy place for a non-korean to venture into. even my more americanized korean friends don't want to go in there alone, as the waiters certainly don't speak much english, if at all. like i said, this place is as hard-core korean as it gets. incidentally, i'm wondering if there is a japanese equivalent of this place somewhere, atmosphere-, food-, and decor-wise (in other words, i don't think all the various izakayas on st. marks like yakitori taisho, village yoko cho, or kenka qualify as being as hard-core and authentic as goo gong tan is for koreans).

        anyhow, re: your last comment:
        the precooked sliced pork belly you're referring to is almost certainly the gan jang soo yook. "gan jang" means soy sauce, and refers to the fact that the meat has been pre-marinated. "soo yook" refers to meat that's been boiled or steamed, but this is different than typical soo yook b/c of the subsequent grilling step. ends up tasting a lot like jokbal, which is a korean pig feet dish. anyhow, gan jang soo yook is definitely one of the best things on the menu here.

        for what it's worth, the general term for sliced pork belly is "sam gyup sal", which is featured at most korean restaurants, including ham ji bak, the pork bbq specialist in flushing and bayside. it's possible that the other party may have ordered sam gyup sal, but more likely they got the soo yook.

        other things to order: oh-jing-uh soondae (whole steamed squid stuffed with sliced soondae sausage) and ahl jjigae (stew of fish (possibly shad) roe).

    2. is this place still here? it looks good

      4 Replies
      1. re: Lau

        Interesting you brought this up. I was going to respond to the izakaya thread on the Manhattan board with a link to this thread actually. Yes, it's still around. And it is good and fun and reasonably priced. All things considered, I prefer the Korean "izakaya" scene in NY vs. the Japanese one. Not only these places, but the style and vibe of the BBQ places in Manhattan. Bang for buck, the Korean scene is probably better represented than the Japanese one. And that's from someone who's second home is Tokyo... My only complaint is that I MUCH prefer Japanese shochu to Korean soju.

        1. re: Lau

          Its still there. I just went this last weekend with a Korean friend and we both loved it. It gets really crowded on weekends. It seems that whole block gets busy. The only odd moment is when they turned off the lights for someone's birthday. The lights were out too long and I couldn't see a thing. But this place is great and there is a spot on the corner that seems very busy and will probably be my next visit.

          1. re: designerboy01

            I'm guessing the corner joint is Sik Gaek, another publike joint that came up on Gothamist in spring ...

            It's connected with a similarly named buffet place, a few blocks east on Northern Blvd., that was sniffed out a couple weeks ago by ScottK ...

            Han Shin Pocha
            40-03 149th Pl, Queens, NY 11354

            Sik Gaek Buffet
            157-26 Northern Blvd, Queens, NY 11354

            Sik Gaek
            40-01 149th Pl, Queens, NY 11354

          2. re: Lau

            Just to warn you it was pretty crowded when I went there on a Saturday night around 8:30pm.

          3. I have to give this a try! Are they open for lunch too?

            1. Delighted to bump up this post, as my wife and I made our virgin visit to this place and loved it. As my wife is Korean, and I've been to Korea three times myself, we definitely felt like we were back in some funky, wonderful little bar in Seoul.

              As some have stated, you go to Han Shin Pocha for the total experience. It's a place to linger, to drink, order some food, drink some more, and then let the buzz take you where it will. We started off sharing some soju, took our time, then ordered a seafood platter that included lots of clams, conch, scallops and welk, along with some udon noodles in a bubbling hot and tangy broth. Now, mind you, just about anything goes down better with a vodka buzz going, but I'm pretty sure we would have dug the food stone sober as well. It's way above-average bar food, and I love watching sparks fly everywhere as it cooks up over hot coals, which are regularly replenished by the attentive staff. Indeed, sparks are falling everywhere you look in this joint, out of hot tin pots like some beautiful lightshow. As an aside, I loved the noodle dish, which itself was flecked with chunks of seafood - I'd order it on its' own in a second. After lingering over another bottle of Lemon soju, we went for broke and ordered the house special gyoza and a tall bottle of Hite beer.

              These gyoza are unlike any I've ever seen, and are, all by themselves, worth the price of admission. They are gigantic, four-to-an-order, and look more like like crepes than any dumpling I've ever seen. The exteriors are fried to crunchy crisp, and almost have the consistency of a nice, greasy chip. The insides are filled with some type of beef, green veggie and cellophane noodles. Not surprising, these big boys fall apart pretty easily, sometimes making it hard to combine the tasty insides with the wonderful crisp texture of the skins. I think of these dumplings as being like a huge, monster budget movie that has tons of good things about it but doesn't quite hold up as a whole. That said, you walk away remembering the sum of the parts, and are damn glad you saw it.

              Try the dumplings.
              I'm looking forward to a second helping when I come back.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Polecat

                esp. with the noodles inside, sounds like the good ol' "chive box" (horrible translation) but pretty literal; flour-dough wrapper, pan-fried, the filling sounds just like what you describe.

                1. re: bigjeff

                  Wish I had remembered this post when I went a few weeks ago. We all walked into "fusion" pocha a few doors down and were soundly disappointed. The food was good, but it didn't seem right for 'dank' drinking establishment. We weren't all that hungry either, having just left the Golden Mall.

                  And of course we asked our Korean friend (joonjoon on the board) and he said "oh that must be it". Oh well! Just remember that the name on the sign doesn't match.

                  Now I really want to go back!

                  1. re: aacharya

                    on the off chance that any of the regular diners see this before tmrw nite (2/5) - i eat seafood but no meat. and none of us speak japanese or korean.....any chance i will be able to make this clear to our waiter? everyone else going eats meat. thx!

                    1. re: djk

                      it all worked out - there was an english menu and two of the waitstaff/cooks spoke some english. it was excellent! from the seafood pajun to the pork with octopus, to the huge platter of clams, mussels, crab legs, shrimp and sauces. fine, fine soju to wash it down with and a lovely vibe - what with the korean pop and great decor. wouldn't mind if there were chairs instead of low plastic stool tho! paying for that today.

              2. We went to Han Shin Pocha and tried a bunch of things - IMO the one MUST TRY dish that nobody mentioned is their grilled eel. I've never had eel that delicious before it my life! Be sure to get half marinated and half salt grilled, because they are equally delicious. As my friend put it, it's "life changing eel!"