Sometimes my cousin invites me to posh events on the East Side, full of business people and free wine. I get to wear my leather pants, and he gets someone to fix his pants when they have holes, and usually food is involved. It’s a win-win-win sort of deal. So earlier this spring, post-event at the Asia Society, we wandered up and down the Upper East Side, looking for a place to grab a bite. We passed several subway stops before he finally just said, “You know, I really just want to go to Koreatown.” So we went. And it was great.
One of our favorite K-town spots is Kang Suh, located on the edge of the neighborhood. The heart of Koreatown is the block of 32nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, accessible via a short walk from the 34th Street Station on the B, D, F, M, N, Q, or R trains. Kang Suh is on the south side of the street, closer to 6th Avenue.
Kang Suh is a fairly large restaurant and has two floors of seating. The first floor is a typical restaurant experience, with menus and tea service, and the second floor is more of the coveted KBBQ experience, complete with hibachi grills and steam vents.
For the uninitiated, part of the allure of Korean barbecue is a do-it-yourself grilling experience. First you order trays of marinated and sliced meat, and then you grill it on your own table. You can also order various rice and noodle dishes to supplement, and the entire thing is family-style to the next level.
The grill option is very good for an intimate party who has varying tastes—you can pick your meat off the grill at any time, and therefore control your level of doneness. Be very careful, of course, with young children, and with expensive clothing, as the table can get very smoky and the grill can be greasy and obviously extremely hot. One thing that concerns my family is the contamination of raw meat with cooking utensils, and it is typical for the waitstaff to come by your table and mix up your meat for you, often with the tongs that came with the platter of raw meat. Everything gets cooked eventually though, so I would definitely recommend cooking your own food at least once!
Kang Suh has a very nice grill set up, with lots of other table space, so you don’t have to worry about your sleeves getting greasy like you might at some other restaurants. One interesting thing at Kang Suh is that they change the grill for practically every platter of meat, which can be overwhelming. We tried to ask them not to change it once, and they seemed very unhappy about that. Overall, they give decent portions of food, and it’s easy to order a combo platter to try a little bit of everything. We always recommend the short ribs and the beef, but look at the menu and ask questions about what seems interesting to you. Because the meat is only marinated and served raw, it is easy to avoid dairy and peanuts, because those do not generally appear in meat marinades.
If you have a large party, it can be difficult to grill yourself because you will have to be separated into different tables because the hibachi is built into the table and can usually only allow six or so people to one grill. Therefore, we recommend you eat on the first floor, at the regular table service section. The regular restaurant section can also be good for parties with young kids, or with people who are upset by raw meat or afraid of hot grills.
The food will be cooked in the kitchen, as usual, and served family style. I like to supplement my barbecue with noodles and a bibimbap, sort of the Korean style of fried rice. The kitchen service is very fast, and they usually have your food on the table within minutes of ordering it. Whether you choose to do your own grilling or not, Kang Suh is a great place to eat!
K-town is generally cool, full of karaoke and boba and barbecue, but is also fairly expensive so be mindful when you plan your outing. Luckily, Kang Suh has a great lunch special and is pretty reasonable given the average prices of KBBQ. We’ve also done dinner there a few times, and it has turned out to be a decent value compared to some of the portion sizes.
As the temperatures drop and the holidays start, you might find yourself with an influx of guests and cold air. Instead of cooking up a storm—or just cooking in a storm—take the night off and venture down to Koreatown for a hot hibachi grill, and even a steamed egg if you order enough. Your friends and your taste buds will thank you, and you might finally get around to trying that one new thing you resolved to do this year!