Right off the bat let me say that I am no expert when it comes to Koreatown barbecue restaurants. You know the kinds of spots I’m talking about: they’re loud and lively with grinning, bewildered tourists; after-work partiers, both Korean and non-; and packs of NYC destination eaters with something to celebrate and/or looking for a culinary adventure. There’s usually a grill in the middle of the table at these spots, where you (or your server) cook up platters of meat, and the staff brings out an amusingly overwhelming array of little dishes with your meal, filled with all sorts of spicy and pickled delights.
Madangsui is Certainly One of the Better Koreatown Restaurants in NYC
But even though over the years I’ve had many plenty of fun nights and good meals in this part of town–running roughly from 31st to 35th Streets, and between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and Broadway–there are seemingly a hundred similar-feeling places all crammed into such a tiny stretch of Manhattan real estate that trying to find the “best Koreatown restaurant” can quickly overwhelm even the most research-loving eater. So, here’s one recommendation, based on very recent meal, that, if possibly not the best in the city, is at least guaranteed to satisfy your Koreatown cravings.
Don’t Be Put Off by the Routine Koreatown Decor
Madangsui is located at 35 West 35th Street, hard by the hordes of Empire State Building gawkers, and it looks from the outside like every other Korean barbecue restaurant in Koreatown. There are lots of photographs of food in the window, and plastic-wrapped plates of signature dishes (the fake-food version) in the entranceway. There’s an LED scroll on the awning, in Korean and occasionally mangled English. The decor is generic restaurant-supply tables and chairs, bad wallpaper, a big-screen TV playing, on this night, the Knicks game. But don’t be discouraged by the lack of design creativity at Madangsui Korean BBQ. They’re clearly paying attention where it really counts, in the kitchen.
The Not-so-Adventuresome can Stick to the Basics at Koreatown’s Madangsui Korean BBQ
My crew stuck to the basics, which was fine. The Kimchi Pa-Jun–garlicky, greasy, spicy pancakes–were a big hit at our table, warranting several re-ups, as were the meaty Mandoo-gui, or fried dumplings. Less successful: the steamed shrimp Shu-Mi, which tasted like nothing. The Tofo Twi-Gim, four fat, fried pillows of silky bean curd, topped with a sweet sauce, were decent, however. And you should definitely order at least one of the Mandangsui Bibimbobs, which are large, sticky, and, especially after you pour on the hot sauce, explosively flavored.
But the real reason you’re here is for the Korean barbecue. The Madangsui meat menu is long and features lots of what you’d expect as well several interesting cuts. The best thing we had was the Yang-Nyum Galbi, which is butterflied boneless short rib in a sweet/spicy marinade that doesn’t overwhelm the tender beef. Also good, if you’re in the mood for some bacon (and when are you not?) was the Daepae Sam-Gyeop-Sal, a pile of “macro thin sliced” pork belly with a nice fat-to-meat ratio. The server cooks all of these at once for you, rather than letting you do it piece by piece on your own, probably to encourage table turnover.
Madangsui is not inexpensive (the marinated short rib is priced north of $30, for example, and, if you aren’t getting much else, really serves only one), but since you’re probably here for some sort of celebration, it’s worth it for the raucous, shareable fun.