Good Korean restaurant in NJ and within 40 minute driving from Midtown Manhattan?
just read the article you linked. one line in particular really jumped out at me:
"Mr. Kim noted that many Korean restaurants in the area change owners, or cooking staff, frequently, meaning that the great meal of last month might be mediocre today."
this is so true, unfortunately - not only in the greater ny/nj area, but really, anywhere korean restaurants operate in the country. even the best restaurants inevitably go into a period of steady decline after their first few years. some are able to stabilize after this point but most just settle into a comfort zone of utter mediocrity.
of the restaurants discussed in that article, so moon nan jib and shin po have been able to retain a solid level of consistency, while so gong dong has declined considerably and yong su san has closed. so moon nan jip is no longer outstanding as it once was in the late 1990s, but i still have no problem going there as a korean. and for your all-purpose needs (good bbq, stews, bibimbap, pajun, etc.) it's a one of the better choices, and far better than anything in manhattan. having said that, a lot of times i'll go to a smaller place that specializes in a specific dish to sate a particular craving - those places tend to stay good for a longer time.
so gong dong (spelled "so kong dong" in the article) is one of those specialists - their niche is soondooboo jjigae, or soft tofu stew. back when they opened in 1998 they were really outstanding; everyone i knew agreed that this was the best soondooboo jjigae they'd had outside of korea. since then they've slowly declined, and while they're still quite busy, the food over the past 3-4 years has been a mere shadow of its former self. having said that, it's still better than any of the soondooboo specialists that i've tried throughout the metropolitan region. so i'd recommend it as well, with the caveat that it's past its prime but better than anything right now. but i'm still waiting for the next so gong dong to appear.
for what it's worth, all-purpose places like so moon nan jib generally don't do soondooboo jjigae well. preparing this dish requires a lot of time and meticulous attention to detail - at least if you want to get it right - and the all-purpose places simply don't have the time or energy to do that. they are, however, better at making other stews like kimchi jjigae and dwenjang jjigae.
over the past couple of months i've been canvassing northern nj and queens for all the new korean places and/or places that i've seen but never tried. i'm hoping to find a hidden gem amongst these but so far, what i've found has been, at best, good but not great. the all-purpose places are the most likely to disappoint. so that's why i wasn't able to give you a place that i find to be unbelievably delicious and authentic - i'm not sure there is one right now anywhere in the region.
but i'm still looking and haven't given up hope; koreans keep moving into the area and new places keep opening up. it's just that i'm getting less and less optimistic that any of the bigger and/or all-purpose places will be better than slightly above average.
as for the other two places in that ny times article, yong su san closed about a year ago and shin po is on a hiatus until march 1. yong su san was outstanding when it opened up in the early 1990s - it was the go-to all-purpose restaurant for koreans throughout the region - but once the owner/head chef stopped doing the cooking, the food quality plummeted. this had happened long before that article came out, btw. the space is now a mama mexico, which is apparently atrocious (do a search on the board - someone blasted it the other day).
shin po serves very good naeng myun - really, you can't get great naeng myun except at a specialist - but for some reason they never seemed to do well. hopefully when they come back they'll be as good as ever.
re: squid kun
sorry, i didn't see this post until now...
hmm, in nj there's a bunch of new korean places, but i haven't been to all of them.
my favorite of all the korean specialists is definitely boom boom chicken, on main street near the rt. 46 overpass in fort lee. it's related to bon chon chicken, but definitely better than the branches in manhattan or flushing. they use the same recipe for the marinade and seemingly the same quality of chicken, but somehow the end result ends up more juicy and flavorful on the inside while retaining a nice crisp edge on the outside. definitely the best of the newish korean fried chicken shacks in the ny/nj region.
for sullungtang, the fort lee, nj branch of gam mee ok is generally pretty good. sometimes it's very good, and sometimes not so much. but at this point it's clearly better than the original location on w. 32nd st in manhattan. they also do a good job with other stuff like bin dae dduk, soondae, and bo ssam, based on the few times i've ordered those other dishes. located on main street at edwin ave in fort lee.
my favorite boonshik (korean comfort food place) in the area is nakji daehak ddukbokki gwa (written using korean letters), which is located on broad ave btwn edsall blvd & washington pl in pal park. there's virtually no english on the awning outside (save a tiny bit of lettering that says "korean restaurant"), but look for a small, narrow storefront with an orange awning that has white korean lettering. there's also a small logo of bells at the top of the sign.
although the food here can't really compare to what i could get in korea, nonetheless it's a very solid, reliable place for korean comfort food--bokkeumbap, ddukbokki, odeng, omurice, kimbap, etc. has a very mom-and-pop feel, and tastes like what my mom would make at home.
there's also a longtime boonshik standby across the street called ddo ddo wah (for some reason, the sign says "oh oh wha restaurant" in english). it's not spectacular but has always hit the spot for very competent, filling food. i feel it's declined slightly since the mid-to-late 90s but on my last visit a few months ago everything we ate was still reasonably fine.
further south on broad ave is cap udon, another boonshik. i always thought they were merely fair but a lot of korean friends really like that place.
down the street, on the 2nd floor of a korean plaza, is mandarin restaurant. they probably serve one the best renditions of jja jang myun in the area right now, although there are a lot of new places that have opened up which i haven't tried.
for steamed mandoo, there's a place called wang mandoo a little bit further south on broad ave in pal park. the place is take-out only but their stuff is generally good, as long as you get a fresh batch.
for naeng myun, there's you chun on broad ave in pal park or shin po on anderson ave in cliffside park. i should note that shin po went on hiatus for the entire winter due to slow business (naeng myun is more of a summertime thing, anyway) but was supposed to reopen on march 1. i never knew why they didn't do well, since i thought they always served pretty good food.
for kalgooksoo and soojehbee - as well as some hybrid soojehbee/spicy jjigae dishes - go to myung dong kalgooksoo, which is on the same block as nakji daehak ddukbokki gwa in pal park. it's the fairly large restaurant on the east side of the street with the white awning. one of the only kalgooksoo/soojehbee specialists in the entire ny/nj region.
there are a bunch of other places, but i can't think of them at the moment.
I don't know why nobody ever mentions Woo-Jung, which is right next to So Moon Nan Jib. I personally always thought WooJung was superior but no one seems to know about this place...
And about Bun Shik joints, I went to the place next to Yu Chun...I forget the name now...kinda disappointing. I haven't tried Nakji-U yet but I'll definitely check it out. Do they have juk-suk duk bokki?
Is Woo-Jung the place with the "friendship' sign outside?
Why do you think it is better than So Moon Nan Jib which seems to be everyone 's favorite all purpose BBQ/Stew Korean restaurant in Palisade Park. Any suggestion as what to order there?
Maybe I will give it a try next time I am around there.
I don't know if there's a friendship sign, it's literally across the street from So Moon Nan Jip though.
Things I like about woo jung:
1. Kket nip in addition to lettuce
2. Gye Jang ban chan.
I used to say that their meat was also better but the last time I went to So Moon Nan their meat was fantastic...
so i ended up eating at ddo ddo wah b/c nakji daehak ddukbokki gwa (ugh! was really looking forward to trying it, it looked so good)...that said i thought ddo ddo wah was good, we had 5 people so we ordered a ton of food:
- odeng (fish cake soup) - i thought this was very good, soup base was nice and not too salty and it was overall pretty simply prepared and i really like odeng, so this hit the spot
- tenjang chigae - didn't try it, so cant comment
- tang su yook (sweet and sour beef) - i liked the sauce alot b/c alot of places make too sweet or has too much citrus, the meat itself was fine although the batter was a little too thick, but it still tasted good
- yuk gae jang (spicy soup) - decent though nothing to write home about, not as spicy as i like and slightly on the watery side
- kim bap - these were very good, typical kim bap, but they tasted good and they fried up the egg themselves and the sauage was good inside as well
- nakji bokkum - huge portion, i thought it was good, has nice thin noodles and the sauce was tasty
- omu rice - huge portion, pretty good, interesting b/c instead of a ketchupy tangy sauce it had something that was more similar to a light gravy, but it actually went pretty well
- dduk mandoo gook - didn't try it, so can't comment
- panchan - all the panchan was pretty typical stuff, but it was tasty and nothing was bad)
overall, happy and was a nice change (much better than manhattan, similar to flushing / bayside) and btw it seemed like everyone at the restaurant was ordering tonkatsu (it was a massive portion like really big), so maybe that was the right thing to order. Also, it was cheap ($80 for everything), looking forward to coming back to pali park (this was my first time) b/c i really want to try nakji daehak ddukbokki gwa
yeah, the so gong dong location in fort lee has always been noticeably better than the pal park branch, in my opinion. to be fair, i haven't been to the pal park branch in at least two years because i was always disappointed there. maybe it's improved, but i doubt it.
but as i mentioned, i feel that even the fort lee branch has declined significantly since the late '90s. i've actually tried a number of soondooboo jjigae places throughout queens and nj in recent months, but nothing has come even close. so unless another so gong dong - circa 1998 - opens up in the area, i'm going to have to wait until my next trip to korea to get a really outstanding version.
a solid all-purpose standby for barbecue, stews, and other dishes is so moon nan jib on broad ave in palisades park. less than 10 miles from midtown. lots of other korean eateries on that street as well, but many of them are specialists that focus only on one or two dishes (generally, these places are good at what they do but might not serve what you're looking for). is there a particular dish you're seeking? if all you're looking for are bbq, bibimbap, and so forth, this is one of your better bets.
lots of other korean places in the area, though - really depends what you're looking for specifically.