I’ll Take Koreatown

2009 June 19
by Leah Yale Potter

New Yorkers may disagree about where to find “real” New York pizza, or “authentic” Schezuan, or the best bagel in the city, but everyone pretty much agrees that you can’t do worse than Midtown.  Blighted with fast food chains, sad salad bars, and all-you-can’t-eat buffets, Midtown is the neighborhood foodies love to hate.  There is even a public-service blog, run by Zach Brooks, devoted to helping people find relatively afforable, palatable lunches amid this culinary “wasteland” (relatively being the key word). Which is why ASHP staff frequently get lunch at the CUNY Graduate Center Dining Commons.  Conveniently located one floor up, the GC cafetaria offers natural light, views of the Empire State Building, and a relatively decent rotation of hot foods, salad bar fixin’s, Au Bon Pain soups, “action stations,”  “Ethnic Gourmet,” and themed menus (including my personal favorite, “Hot Dog as America”).

I average about $5 bucks for a lunch that’s more or less healthy and fills me up.  However, prices have been steadily creeping up and quality, some say, has been going down. Plus, the pickin’s get slimmer come summer when students disperse.  Maybe it was because today was Friday and I had gotten my last four lunches from above, but when I walked in and saw the sign for Broccoli Cheese soup, I quickly reversed course.

Fortunately, there’s Koreatown.  K-Town’s two main clusters of restaurants, on W. 32nd and 35th streets between 5th and Broadway, are within a four-block radius of the Graduate Center ( which, thanks to the tourist traffic, is about as far as you want to walk).  The priorities today were high-speed and low-cost, so I headed for Woorjip––a 32nd street standby of New Media Lab students and recently featured in a New York Times Dining article about the aforementioned Midtown Lunch blog.  Passing Mandoo Bar––another staff favorite, but a sit-down place in the $10-15 range–I caught sight of a E-Mo Kimbab and decided to give it a try.  The restaurant has been around for a couple of years but, with a storefront about the same square footage as a Hyundai, is easy to miss.

E-Mo Kimbab offers ten types of Korean seaweed rice rolls (similar to Japanese sushi rolls) all priced $5.50 or $6.00, half of which are vegetarian.  Each order comes with 12 pieces and complimentary miso broth.  I went for the Mushroom Kimbab which looked pretty similar to the one pictured above but with shitakes instead of sausage.  Next time I’ll know to ask for extra soy sauce which helped balance out the sourness of the bright yellow pickled radish.  All in all though, it was fresh, tasty, and equally cheap alternative to upstairs that kept me going until, well about now.

Last 5 posts by Leah Yale Potter

2009 June 22
Ellen Noonan permalink

Experiencing the same end-of-week cafeteria fatigue two Fridays ago, I made the moderate schlep to the Vietnamese sandwich place on Lex and 25th (Ba0guette). It, too, is a teeny storefront, and even with its line out the door it was worth the wait. (The line is reasonable, not Shake Shack -esque, and they move pretty fast.) Those sandwiches are huge and tasty, and the papaya salad was also quite tasty–together I got two meals out of it. Although it’s probably a good idea to check your sandwich before you leave–they gave me the wrong one, which was okay, but would have been a problem were I a vegetarian.

2009 June 22
Aaron Knoll permalink

My out-of-office favorites are Tip Pio on 36th, and Tina’s Cuban on Madison. Isa also turned me on to the cart guy on Park and 32nd, Rafiqis. It’s a challenge to keep lunch feeling fresh, but I’m on to home made for the time being… (we’ll see how long that lasts)

2009 June 25
andrea permalink

As for Restaurant Associates, Pennee and I recently complained to the manager about their increasingly watered down salad dressing and the jar of “balsamic” vinegar. Have you ever seen a balsamic vinegar the color of weak tea??

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