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Best Korean Barbecue in Koreatown

  • c

Hi, I know there've been threads on this previously, but nothing very recent, I think.

I'm wondering what current opinion is on the best Korean barbecue spot in K-town. I think I'd like to foot the bill, since I'll be dining with a friend who does not have a lot of disposable income at the moment, but in case he doesn't let me, I still want to keep it as inexpensive as possible (without sacrificing quality, of course!).

Thanks so much for your help!

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    1. Here is this thread from a couple of weeks ago: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/450261.

      Beyond the great 36 Bar and BBQ closing, there haven't been a lot of changes in the K town strip, so even older threads should give you something to go on.

        1. kunjip is not known so much for their bbq but more for their cooked dishes; a lot of the places on "the strip" are decent, but no real standouts; shilla has been a favorite for their kalbi since arriving a few years ago but I keep hearing more and more about a place on 35th street called Madangsui which is apparently a midtown outpost of a fort lee original, and the place specializes in bbq; apparently all their meat is fresh, never frozen, and supposed to be the best right now. Planning to make a trip myself but based on what I've heard, I'd definitely check this place out.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bigjeff

            Agreed -- Kunjip is *not* the place to go for Korean bbq. Sadly, their bi bim bap isn't so hot, either. Stick with the chigaes...

          2. I'm new to Korean food, live very near to K-town, and would LOVE some guidance on this.

            I went to Kunjip, and I have to say that the Bulgogi knocked my socks off, but the atmosphere is going to make me never go back there again.

            My husband and I went on a Friday night, stood in line, were asked to order in line, and were seated about 20 minutes later where we were rushed to the point of almost being force fed our food.

            I understand the concept of high volume dining, but is there any place near or about Koreatown that has a wee bit more atmosphere, where we could at least have a conversation over dinner and not be served assembly line / factory - I feel like I'm in a freaking sweatshop - style that you guys might recommend?

            Food is fantastic, I agree, but I wouldn't mind somewhere a little bit more chill.

            10 Replies
            1. re: coleyas

              I like kunjip, but true they are more known for their cooked dishes. i think Madangsui is also quite good, and I try to go during off peak to avoid the rush -- I enjoy eating in less crowded atmosphere, so with any of these places I try to go before 5 or late late. Its not like the great BBQ Korean places in LA or in Jersey for that matter, which is a shame. I have much more respect for the Korean restaurants in LA now that they are a million times better than the Korean BBQ places in NY. Even the Korean pizza and Korean Spicy Fried Chicken seems better out there!

              1. re: RawTunaFan

                Kunjip is one of the worst korean food experiences I've ever had. Truly mediocre food.

                1. re: Borat

                  I'm not Korean but I don't think I ever fully appreciated Korean food until a Korean friend took us to Kunjip - there was a wide variety of flavors and spices and textures that really made it more of a gourmet experience. (Don't laugh - I know some people are shocked that anyone could use Kunjip and gourmet in the same sentence.)

                  Of course the loud crowds and long waits are very annoying but I really think that the food is better than other restaurants in Koreatown. And I've been happy and full all the times I've gone back, but I wish I knew that the fried chicken dish was that my friend ordered - sweet, spicy, tasty, crunchy. Every time I've tried ordering the waitress says it's not available or not on the menu.

                  Of course Flushing is a different ballgame.

                  1. re: windycity

                    Decided to try Kunjip last night based on the recommendations here. Chose a takeout order of jaeyook gui to compare with the same dish I had just had from Hangang.
                    Based on this single-dish experience, I was very disappointed. There was a very heavy canned tomato sauce flavor that I did not like. This was the worst version of the dish I can remember having. I can understand why Borat commented above that it was one of the worst korean food experiences s/he has had.

                    I did not like the atmosphere of the restaurant at all. The space feels more cramped and has more subdued lighting than in many of the other restaurants on the strip. The wait for the food was very long (the 10 or 15 minutes that I was told to expect turned out to be more like 30 minutes), the music was loud and overbearing - apart from the loud dining parties, and the smells of food being cooked tableside were overbearing. That said, it is clearly a very popular place, and the customers appeared to be enjoying the experience.

                    Note to those going for bbq, the cooking is done on electric plates not over charcoal - if it makes a difference to you.

                    1. re: windycity

                      I am Korean which makes it more difficult for me to find really good Korean food, ignorance truly IS bliss...

                      I think the chicken dish is Kanpoongkee. It is a chinese/korean dish, maybe an offshoot of kungpow chicken, but much more tasty in my opinion.

                      Glad you enjoyed Kunjip.

                  2. re: RawTunaFan

                    I've been to Madangsui only once so far, but it was a great meal, and the service was very gracious. I think the place is great!

                  3. re: coleyas

                    Try Korea Palace-E 54 bet park and lex-much more relaxed

                    1. re: UES Mayor

                      food at korea palace is terrible

                      1. re: Lau

                        Well you can disagree but I happen to an authority of Korean cuisine-AND the UES MAYOR-that being said I have always had extremley wonderful meals there and extremely great service-i think they may Americanize the food just a tad but that's to accomodate most palates-btw-i'm a Kim besides being the ues mayor!

                      2. re: UES Mayor

                        sorry but i have to agree, korea palace is really mediocre. its not even americanized in a good way, its just poorly seasoned korean food.

                    2. I get ripped by my Korean friends for liking Kum Gang San, but this gringo likes it very much. Partly it's the atmosphere. I get together with a group of friends for dinner about once a month, and this is a place we go back to often, because we're never rushed, the service is really pleasant, and the prices are good...and we all love Korean food.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: ballulah

                        Hmm, this sound really nice. What exactly is it about the food that makes your friends not like it?

                        1. re: cimui

                          They say it's too Americanized. Honestly, I can't tell, all of the food I've tried, and my friends and I have sampled from all over the menu, has been excellent. But I'm no expert, and if you put a dish of kimchi in front of me, I'm a happy happy camper. It's really just ONE of my Korean friends who is the voice of dissent. She swears there's a better Korean restaurant in the East Village, but they don't have a two story waterfall with a white baby grand on top! (Kum Gang San does, and it's gloriously cheesy.)

                          This same friend said that of the offerings on 32nd, Kunjip is the best. I've dropped in there a few times, and I end up heading to Kum Gang San because it's just so much nicer.

                            1. re: ballulah

                              Ballulah, after I took a friend to Kum Gang San, she said that she wants a two-story waterfall w/the baby grand for her next apartment!

                              1. re: gloriousfood

                                I'll take one too! It's so deliciously over the top! I only want the waterfall if someone will bring me bowls of kimchi while I pick out chopsticks (no pun intended) on the piano.

                              2. re: ballulah

                                Kum Gang San isn't my favorite restaurant in Koreatown, but I've had some good meals there, and I can't imagine what Korean restaurant in the East Village could be better. If it's the one on St. Marks between 2nd and 3rd, I wouldn't know, because I boycott it due to the very annoying aggressively flashing sign.

                                1. re: Pan

                                  I think that is the place my friend insists is her fave Manhattan Korean place: Gama, on St Mark's between 2nd and 3rd.

                                  1. re: ballulah

                                    It's pretty good and not terribly overpriced for the EV. The food was not as spicy or pungent, my Korean friends tells me, it's more Americanized but it's quite large and they can handle groups well. More of a crowd pleaser restaurant. The banchan were only OK and I think we only got 4-5 dishes: cucumber sticks, seaweed salad, some other pickled vegetable salad, and kimchi, probably one other thing I'm forgetting (I'm not well versed in Korean food).

                                    I think we paid just under $30pp including tax and tip, and this was with a large group (12+ people) that ordered a few pitchers of the watermelon shochu, too. We mostly stuck to the standards: bibimbap in a hot stone pot, kalbi, bugolgi, scallion pancakes, bibim naengmyeon, dumplings, etc.

                          1. Although I like Kunjip best at the moment, I do agree that Kum Gang Sang is a less crowded and less rushed environment!

                            5 Replies
                              1. re: Daniel76

                                if i'm bringing non-koreans, i go to kum kang san or the place across the street (forget what it's called). my sig other mentioned that shilla down the way is a newer, cleaner and bigger place that people will like for korean bbq (kalbi or bulgogi).

                                i like kunjip for good food. i think it's the best place for korean food in k-town. but it's like most korean restaurants in korea or in queens - you're not going for atmosphere or ambiance. it's food and nothing more. you linger only if you are drinking a ton with your meal. otherwise, it's eat and go. i admit, it's def frustrating for non-koreans! if you can, go with someone korean that can speak the language. i admit that sometimes it helps with the table situation and also scoring more banchan! :)

                                and, i love gam mi oak for suhl lung tang, my favorite comfort dish. it's oxtail soup in a cloudy broth, with noodles and rice mixed in. goooood stuff.

                                1. re: Linda

                                  kang suh is pretty damn reliable, yes, and very accessible.

                                2. re: Daniel76

                                  I've heard very good things about Woochon.

                                  1. re: ballulah

                                    bbq at woochun is pretty good, regular food is terrible

                                    try the woochun special (its their best cut of kalbi)...its pretty good

                              2. Check out Madangsui, it's excellent, I think the other places don't compare, and order the fresh (unmarinated) boneless ribeye or fresh kal bi -- it is their specialty, they only use fresh meat that has never been frozen.

                                I will never go to Kum Gang San ever again, the last 3 times I went in the couple months (gives you a hint, I eat Korean food often), the tofu (ban chan) had soured. For Koreans, serving sour tofu is like serving sour milk or something else that has turned, you just don't do it. Shame on them for not paying attention to basic details like that. Other cuisines (Chinese) routinely serve sour tofu (at least that is my experience), so maybe the non-Koreans don't realize that to Koreans this is something inedible.

                                1. If you want an alternative to Kum Gang San, try Seoul Garden, on the second floor across the street from KGS with the words Natural Tofu in the window. Like KGS, they have a wide-ranging menu, and unlike KGS, they prices are not over-inflated. The feel of the place is more authentic Korean, like being in Seoul. Only, beware, the soondubu is salty -- eat it with a lot of rice or pour some water with it. Or better yet, go to Cho Dang Gol (hand made tofu place on 35th) if soon dubu is what you want.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: christene

                                    I hear seoul garden has a good kalbi combo special or something like that.

                                    1. re: bigjeff

                                      its super cheap (the combo), but the meat quality is ehhh....but its a ton of food for the price, you get soon doo bu, galbi and this marinated chicken and one order is enough for two people

                                      1. re: Lau

                                        that combo is like $17-18, definitely a lot of food

                                        1. re: Whatsgood

                                          I agree with the above -- the combo is cheap and edible.

                                  2. Thanks, all of you, for your kind suggestions. I'll have to get down there more often to try all these places. I ended up going to Kang Suh, tonight. It isn't new at all, of course, but it was the place that got the most mentions from prior threads and from folks off of this board.

                                    The barbecued hyomit gui was good, clearly fresh, but the bulgogi wasn't remarkable imo--maybe because it was sweeter than what I'm used to and less tender. I really, really enjoyed our haejang gook: It really hit the spot after my extensive pre-dinner walking on this cold evening. But I don't really feel qualified to comment since this was the first time I'd ever tried this particular dish. There was a good array of panchan (no dried out daikon or anything like that) and they brought out some custard-like egg in a hot stone dish for us in the middle of the meal, which was nice. Probably standard, but psychologically, it feels good to feel like you're getting something on the house. =)

                                    Service was lovely--really, really pleasant. Decor wasn't as bad as I'd imagined it would be, based on comments on this board. It's nothing fancy, but it's not a shabby place, and the overall impression is of clean, warm, blonde wood.

                                    I'd like to go back, but clearly, this restaurant has some strengths and weaknesses. (Based on my highly non-representative sample, I'd say strengths were stone pot casserole dishes and unmarinated barbecue meats.) Hopefully I can wheedle some additional pointers from Chowhounds.

                                    Thanks, again!

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: cimui

                                      Visited Kang Suh for dinner on the weekend a couple of weeks ago, following a Korean-Am friend's recommendation. Judging by how packed the place was and how many people kept pouring through the door, to call Kang Suh popular would be an vast understatement. Rather than wait for a seat, I opted for a takeout meal.

                                      After seeing how much everyone seated at the tables seemed to be enjoying their meals, I was very disappointed with the food I got. The mandoo gui were pretty ordinary, but were the best part of the meal. The bulgogi was surprisingly tough and pretty flavorless; the jaeyook bokeum also was not very good. Maybe I'd have appreciated the food more if I'd ordered dishes that were cooked at the table? I'll give them another try some time ...

                                      1. re: racer x

                                        everyone go to ma dang sui on 35th...its substantially better than any of the places on 32nd

                                        1. re: Lau

                                          I made it to Madangsui and found it a very good experience. It was jam packed because the space is not that large, although pleasantly modern. The service unlike most K-town joints was friendly and helpful yet efficient, and the BBQ was above average. I had the joomulluck galbi which was tender although slightly bland (the grill wasn't quite large enough so the meat tended to simmer instead of broil which might have affected the flavor), and the bulgogi was the best version I'd tasted in a while, very tender and flavorful. The banchan was plentiful and tasted good and fresh, and they gave dengjang jigae for free. The soondobu jigae was a perfectly tasty version. At some point I hear they may install real wood grills which would improve the kalbi flavor, but otherwise this place is definitely good.

                                          1. re: jeanki

                                            good i'm glad u liked it

                                            i had a similar experience to you (i.e. it was very good and above expectations)...i found the meat quality much better than the other places in manhattan ktown and the banchan was very good as well, they gave me a small dengjang chigae as well

                                            i mean i've had better bbq, but manhattan is very lacking in good korean food and think this place is a great addition

                                    2. Visited Shilla a few times in the past few weeks. The hosts are always extremely gracious; the scene is quietly classy. On one of my visits, I had a fantastic bbq pork dish that I am still dreaming about, better than anything I've had at other Ktown places. The same dish on a subsequent visit was ok but nothing special, seemingly cooked by a completely different person.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: racer x

                                        I'm not a Shilla fan. I find it worse than almost all the other places.

                                        1. re: Peter Cuce

                                          I disagree, I thought Shilla was a reasonable place. The banchan was plentiful and the portions were larger than usual. The BBQ was just OK flavorwise. The soups were tasty. Not great, but not bad and the place is very spacious. Better than Kumgangsan and Wonjo, but not better than Madangsui.

                                        2. re: racer x

                                          the pork "bulgogi" is great there

                                        3. In my opinion, Chung Moo Ro has the best BBQ pork belly. Don't forget to ask for the dduk (rice cake 'wrapper') to wrap around the pork belly.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: banquo

                                            used to go to this place a lot but, something off the last time I went. love the dduk wrapper when I can find it but both those and the pickled turnip wrappers were really too small to do any nice bundles, unlike my fave spot in bayside (hamjibak) well-known for their samgyapsal, where the wrappers be large. also, found the dduk wrappers extra greasy at chung moo ro for some reason. good restaurant though.

                                            1. re: bigjeff

                                              My family has been going to Kang Suh for bbq for the last 20 years and it's always reliable. We'll frequent Kum Gang San as well, but more often than not, go to the Queens location. Since most Korean menus are the same, I try to just make sure I go to a Korean restaurant that uses real wood charcoal instead of gas when choosing a bbq restaurant.

                                          2. *bump* Enjoyed reading all the replies here - I'm looking at K-bbq for a group dinner for 6 ppl on Thursday night - any suggestions in particular for who takes (and keeps to) reservations? Food should be good, but probably doesn't have to be super-adventurous or totally authentic (regular American group). Though I do think the cooking-your-own-meat would be cool. Reasonable price. Seoul Garden was suggested to me by a friend.

                                            Thanks in advance!

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: cazique

                                              reservations will not be a problem in ktown, you can walk in anywhere and you'll be completely fine

                                              Seoul Garden's bbq is terrible, its a soon do bu (a spicy tofu stew) restaurant and that is its specialty

                                              I'm currently the cheerleader for Ma Dang Sui on 35th, which I think is not only much better quality bbq (you cook it yourself) than the other places, but is also much nicer decor-wise....my #2 choice is chung moo ro on 32nd, but i still highly recommend Ma Dang Sui

                                              1. re: Lau

                                                A strong second of Madangsui from me.

                                                1. re: Lau

                                                  I had a fantastic barbecue experience last night at Madangsui with three friends. They had a great crowd for a Monday night, although some of that may have been St Patrick's Day related.
                                                  We ordered four plates of meat but could easily have gotten by with three: Yang-Nyum Galbi (fresh butterflied & korean style marinated short rib), Bul-Go-Gi (thin sliced boneless ribeye marinated in soy based korean style sauce), Dweji-Bul-Go-Gi (pan broiled pork in korean style hot sauce
                                                  ), Dak-Gui (pan broiled chicken in korean hot sauce). The chicken was a tad dry, but that may have been our fault for letting it sit too long. Everything else was excellent, with my favorite being the delicious marinated pork. Since all the meat we ordered was marinated, there was no need to use the sauces, but I need to mention that I love their ssamjang, the spicy bean paste you put in the lettuce with the meat.
                                                  Along with the barbecue, they bring complementary egg souffle and soon do bu, both of which are good, and last night they also gave us a fabulous tendon dish, one of the best tendon preparations I've ever had. The banchan here continues to improve: no more hard soybeans. Last night they had several new interesting ones including some kind of spicy cured meat that I liked. We tried the first three sojus on the menu, with my favorite being the Cham Isul. I'm guessing there are better ones further down the list.

                                                  1. re: Peter Cuce

                                                    i took my visiting-from-out-of-town brother to KUNJIP this weekend (saturday night, to be exact). we arrived around 7:00 and there was of course a wait. we told the woman we were a party of 2 and she immediately handed us menus. we looked them over and a few minutes later she came to take our order while we were still in line, which was a genius move, if you ask me. 5 minutes later we were seated, and 5 minutes after that, our food began arriving.
                                                    we ordered steamed mandoo (dumplings), which were a delicious, light way to start. those were followed by korean fried rice cakes with beef and vegetables, which were DELICIOUS. i could have eaten the whole portion by myself. soon after, our bulgoki arrived, which was beyond delicious, followed by (i apologize for not remembering the korean name right now...) bbq'd boneless pork ribs. this could have been my favorite dish of the night. slightly sweet and with a slight soy sauce flavor.
                                                    all of the little condiments and side dishes were wonderful too, especially the kimchi (my personal favorite korean side) and marinated string beans. YUM.

                                                    1. re: bosox

                                                      Went to Madangsui last week, enjoyed the experience, restaurant was clean, well lit. Did not have to wait, as opposed to the line out the door at kunjip. BBQ was very good, portions were generous with numerous side dishes. Prices were a little more expensive compared to the other korean restaurants but it seems you are paying a small premium for the quality and dining experience of not having to order while standing in line.

                                                      1. re: Whatsgood

                                                        I also feel like the meat is of high quality at Madangsui. I haven't been to Kunjip, though. Is the meat of equally high quality there?

                                                        1. re: Pan

                                                          i think there is some misconception on kunjip just b/c people has said its a good korean restaurant in ktown...its not a bbq restaurant and generally their bbq is fairly mediocre (madangsui is much better for bbq)

                                                          the type of stuff that is good at kunjip is stuff like the dolsot kimchi bibimbap (best dish there in my opinion) or chigaes (soups)

                                                          1. re: Pan

                                                            > I haven't been to Kunjip, though. Is the meat of equally high quality there?

                                                            I'd say no. Madangsui is a dedicated barbecue house that touts its saeng kalbi (unmarinated short rib). ... http://www.chow.com/digest/4211

                                                            Kunjip does barbecue but it's really more of a generalist, probably stronger on casseroles. On a chilly afternoon a couple weeks ago I satisfied my occasional Spam craving with a great spicy pot of budae jjigae.

                                                2. For BBQ, I would recommend Madangsui on 35th street between 5th and 6th avenues. For a new Korean restaurant, I would definitely recommend Sanmaroo on 22 W. 8th street (between 5th and 6th ave) in the village. It was the best Korean I've had in the NYC area, including Queens and New Jersey. The original branch is in Tenafly, NJ. The new branch just opened two months ago and I was very excited to hear about it! Their food tastes like homemade Korean food. Yum.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: zapadvostok

                                                    really? i was going to post about this place bc its close to where i live, guess i have to try it now

                                                    i agree on madangsui...ive kind of been a cheerleader on that place

                                                    1. re: zapadvostok

                                                      What dishes do you recommend at Sanmaroo?

                                                      1. re: zapadvostok

                                                        Another vote for Madangsui. Hands down the best Korean BBQ outside of Flushing, and it also has an exceptional variety of pan chan, courteous service, and clean interior. I don't even bother with anything else in K-town, Madangsui is my go-to place for BBQ.

                                                      2. Sadly, there is no good korean barbecue in Koreatown. That's the truth. end of story.

                                                        1. i always liked NY Kom Tang Soot Bul Kal Bi

                                                          they've been there forever - since long before the k-town and korean food boom