Like many other large cities, you might already know that New York has a large and continuously growing Chinatown. Yet in a city that is home to more than 100 distinct immigrant groups, it’s also home to a surprisingly diverse assortment of residents from homes across the Asian continent. One strip of authentic Asian culture that tends to get overshadowed by Chinatown is Koreatown, its lesser-known neighbor on 32nd Street between Broadway and 5th Avenue.
Also known by its nickname “K-Town,” this densely-populated block packs in a huge range of entertainment and culinary options, enough in fact to make a full evening out of it. Sandwiched inside the upper floors of surprisingly drab commercial office buildings are hidden Korean Barbecue joints, raucous BYOB Karaoke dens, swanky lounges and rooftop bars with stunning views of the Empire State Building. It’s a city in and of itself, and a strip that’s particularly ripe for exploration.
Want to learn more about where to go and what to see to make the most of your trip? Step inside Undiscovered New York’s guide to Koreatown.
Bon Chon Chicken
Think you’ve had some great fried chicken before? You haven’t lived until you try the spicy and soy-garlic style Korean fried chicken at Bon Chon. This swanky spot offers a range of Korean bar-food favorites including the aforementioned chicken, Latin American-style sweet corn, sushi and rosemary french fries. It’s a Korean smorgasbord in the best possible sense – trust me, the combination of food sounds odd, but it works. And when you take that first bite of chicken you’ll be making plans for your next trip back.
Koreatown is not just about eating – it’s just as much a street that’s made for entertainment. And when we’re talking about evening plans in Koreatown, that typically means Karaoke. As you walk down 32nd street you’ll find any number of signboards advertising karaoke bars on the floors within. Just find any place that looks interesting and walk on in. Those with a severe case of stage fright shouldn’t despair – almost all karaoke spots in Koreatown let you rent private rooms so you can belt out that off-key rendition of Barry Manilow without fear of embarassment. A karaoke session typically includes a private room, a variety of bar snacks and server to bring you drinks. One of the better known spots on 32nd Street is iBop, well known for its “bring your own alcohol” policies.
As you might expect on a street specializing in the food and culture of Korea, there’s a plentiful assortment of Korean Barbecue restaurants. A meal typically consists of an assortment of plentiful grilled meats, prepared on an in-table grill as well as an array of small dishes like the ubiquitous kimchi and other pickled vegetables. Though there’s a number good Korean Barbecue spots on 32nd Street, our favorite is actually Kum Gang Sang, if for no other reason than the insane fake-rock grotto complete with grand piano wedged in the corner of the restaurant. Another good choice is Seoul Garden, a restaurant located in an unassuming corner of the second floor of an office building.
Million Dollar Views
One of the more interesting characteristics of Koreatown is its proximity to one of New York City’s most iconic buildings, the Empire State Building. Want to get a bird’s-eye of this amazing structure? Shhhh….you’ve got to keep it a secret though. Koreatown visitors in the know head to the rooftop patio at the La Quinta Inn, called Mé Bar, where they can drink in million dollar views along with a beverage of choice. Its perhaps the perfect way to end an evening in one of New York’s lesser known but fantastic neighborhoods.