Lunching on Korean Classics

September 12, 2018 Updated: October 1, 2018

Midtown Manhattan is known for its limited options for good eating at lunchtime. If you want a filling meal that is flavorful and doesn’t just satiate your hunger, missKOREA in Koreatown will leave you full and happy.

MissKOREA is a mainstay in the neighborhood, serving a comprehensive selection of Korean staple dishes with a bent towards clean, healthy preparation—unlike many restaurants that layer on the sodium and sugar.

For example, bulgolgi, that ubiquitous dish of marinated beef grilled on a barbecue, is handled with special attention to the sweetness level in the marinade. If you’ve had bulgogi before, you’ll know that some versions are simply too cloying. This version uses a combination of Korean pears, apples, and onions for sweetness, rather than relying on just sugar.

Finding that perfect balance between sweet and savory is a test of mastery. The restaurant even uses a device to test the sweetness level, ensuring it’s just right.

For lunch, there’s a special Yuksu Bulgogi ($17.95). The thinly sliced beef is cooked on a traditional copper grill, featuring a dome shape with a gutter around its rim. As the beef cooks, its fat dribbles down to the gutter below, which has been filled with beef broth, along with glass noodles, enoki mushrooms, and other vegetables. Once the beef sizzles, which signifies it’s ready to eat, you dip slices of it into the broth. Each bite is filled with succulent meat juices, lightly sweet and rich thanks to a marinade that includes potent garlic and savory spring onions. As Lee would explain, not all fat is bad for you, so you can indulge a little in this succulent dish.

As much as Korean cuisine is associated with Korean barbecue, the country actually ate little meat prior to the past few decades. Lee explained that meat was only eaten on special occasions; more often, everyday meals cooked at home consisted of vegetables grown on the mountainside—owing to Korea’s mostly mountainous landscape.

Bibimbap, meaning “mixed rice,” is a classic dish consisting of seasonal vegetables, rice, and an egg. MissKOREA’s version includes carrots, red bell peppers, zucchini, bean sprouts, mushrooms, radishes, lettuce, watercress, mung bean jelly, and seaweed. The vegetables change slightly according to season. The Dolsot Bibimbap is served in a hot stone pot, which crispens the rice at the bottom for a delightful layer of chewy and crunchy rice ($14.95). Meanwhile, the different textures and colors of the ingredients tantalize the eyes and taste buds. The varying colors represent the harmony of the five elements.

Bibimbap, a popular rice dish with vegetables, is served in a stone pot.(Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Bibimbap, a popular rice dish with vegetables, is served in a stone pot. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

MissKOREA also makes a Jeonju Bibimbap, named after the city in the western part of the Korean peninsula that is renowned for making the most excellent bibimbap ($12.95). In this version, rice is cooked in beef broth, giving it extra umami.

If you’re in the mood for seafood, missKOREA’s Haemul Pajeon, or seafood pancake, will more than satisfy. It’s studded with hefty bits of squid, shrimp, and scallions ($14.95). The chewy textures in both the dough and the seafood fillings make for fun noshing. Lee calls them Korea’s version of pizza.

Haemul pajeon, or seafood pancake. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Haemul pajeon, or seafood pancake. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Sometimes lunch needs to be a restorative meal that gives you energy to get back to work. Samgyetang, or chicken ginseng soup, provides plenty of nutrients ($15.95). The broth is made from simmering a young hen—it must be an eight-ounce young chicken for the best possible tenderness, Lee explained—and a bevy of herbs for 48 hours. They include astralagus root, good for the immune system; angelica sinensis, good for blood circulation; and of course, ginseng, which helps clear out toxins and enhance strength, Lee said.

Samgyetang, ginseng chicken soup. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Samgyetang, ginseng chicken soup. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The flavors of chicken and energy-boosting herbs hit your taste buds with surprising intensity. Each spoonful of the soup also contains bits of glutinous rice, rendered soft and fluffy after cooking for so long.

If you’re pinched for time, missKOREA also makes take-out lunch boxes for eaters on the go. Rice and an array of banchan (side dishes) accompany a choice of protein: galbi (marinated beef short ribs), bulgolgi, spicy pork stir-fried in gochujang (fermented red pepper paste), and marinated chicken ($11.95). It’s a hearty meal at an affordable price.

A lunch box featuring spicy pork stir-fried in gochujang, or red pepper paste.(Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
A lunch box featuring spicy pork stir-fried in gochujang, or red pepper paste. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Lunch served from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., except on weekends and holidays.

10 W. 32nd St.

The First
Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

The Second
11 a.m.–10 p.m.
11 a.m.–midnight

The Third
11 a.m.–10 p.m.
11 a.m.–midnight