Ask the Critics: Where Can I Try Vegetarian/Halal Korean Food?
Rob Z. asks: I am fascinated by Korean food due to watching Korean dramas. I have made a dish or two at home but would love to try out an actual restaurant. I don't eat non-halal food but will eat fish and everything else that is not meat. And would love if it is cheap and filling. Thanks for any suggestions.
Dear Rob: Korean is an exciting cuisine filled with lots of spicy and pungent flavors. It can be a little intimidating knowing what to order (or not to order) at a restaurant, especially if you have certain dietary restrictions. However, I've got a few suggestions in mind, including a great vegetarian Korean restaurant that I'm sure you'll fall for.
That vegetarian restaurant is HanGawi, located in Manhattan's Koreatown at 12 East 32nd Street (212-213-0077). Both the food and rustic temple-like setting are well worth the trip. Here at Fork in the Road, we're big fans of everything, from the fiery kimchi to the crisp pancakes (try either the kabocha squash or the kimchi mushroom ones) to the heartier dishes like tofu in a stone bowl with sesame leaves. It's not necessarily the fare you think of when you first envision Korean cuisine, but this "Buddhist mountain cuisine" is spot-on.
If you are looking for something beyond veggie fare, though, things can be a bit trickier. Han Joo Chik Naeng Myun & BBQ (41-06 149th Place, 718-359-6888) in Flushing always makes for a fun time, in large part because you can marvel over the meat cooking on the huge crystal slab, but I think non-halal meat offerings might be slim pickings. But ... many of the banchan are vegetarian, and quite tasty. Next door at Hahm Ji Bach (41-08 149th Place, 718-460-9289), there are also many vegetarian noodle dishes that would work. You could probably find others in Koreatown, but Flushing offers more of a fun time in my opinion.
Lastly, if you want a good but still more accessible or mainstream Korean restaurant, I'd suggest Dok Suni, a longtime East Village favorite. It's quite cheap (most dishes are less than $15), and the menu basically comprises a greatest-hits list of Korean fare. There's a sea bass marinated in a garlic and soy sauce that isn't bad, nor is the vegetarian dumpling soup. Similarly, I'm a big fan of newcomer Danji, which fuses French and Korean culinary traditions. The kimchi fried rice paella is great, as is the poached sablefish with spicy daikon. It's a little more expensive than Dok Suni, but a great, non-intimidating way to get your feet wet in the spicy waters that constitute Korean food.