New experiences have been hard for me to come by in quarantine. I wake up at the same time every morning (ten minutes after my alarm goes off). Breakfast never changes (it’s always some nutrient-devoid, ultra-sugary cereal, like Captain Crunch), then I’m hurled headfirst into a ceaseless combination of staring at the computer, seeing at most two or three friends, then trying to decide if it’s finally the day I commit to watching I May Destroy You.
Which is why these three specific Korean restaurants and pop-ups feel like such a needed breath of fresh air. In a city rich with small mom-and-pop shops selling classic versions of bibimbap, galbi-jjim, and knife-cut noodles, the spots on this guide are in an entirely new class altogether. They all serve Korean food, obviously, but with a twist - the flavors and ingredients are familiar, but balanced with tastes that are new, exciting, and completely novel. Unlike the fact I was 15 minutes late to this morning’s all hands meeting, which everyone definitely noticed.
Once a month, Korean-American restaurant vet, Arnold Byun (who cut his teeth at fine dining NYC restaurants such as Eleven Madison Park and Atomix), works to create a brand-new dosirak meal at his pop-up, Naemo. Sometimes that meal is prepared solo, other times with a partner like Hanchic, but what stays consistent is his commitment to innovation and reimagined Korean cuisine. Takeout boxes come wrapped in a beautiful, gauze-y cloak. Grilled mackerel rests on charred, smokey confit mushrooms, and raw flounder is dressed in a bright gochujang vinaigrette that leaves a tangy taste on the tongue. A meal from here is sort of like seeing your coworker at the grocery store, or this clip of Lester from The Simpsons - at once, so nostalgic and familiar, but also a completely new experience. Naemo is a takeout-only spot, so head to their website to place an order.
Bursting with creativity and experimentation, this Grand Central Market stall feels like a real incubator for Korean food. Kwang Uh and Mina Park (formerly of Baroo and Baroo Canteen) use this space to both serve traditional favorites, like galbi jjim and doenjang-marinated chicken, while also offering an array of unique banchan you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the city. If you’re familiar with the duo’s previous projects, you’ll know that fermentation innovation is woven into their DNA. There are two kimchis on the menu - one slightly salty and made in the style of Jeolla province, and one stir-fried with perilla seeds and oil. Containers are filled to the brim with a spicy tuna dish that features bright-red fish, potatoes, and carrots, and is packed with umami. And my favorite, the myulchi saewoo bokkeum, is made crunchy with dried shrimp while still having sweet and savory flavors from the shishito peppers and walnuts. It’s a perfect snack for a long car ride home, or staring at your phone for hours, deciding whether or not enough time has passed to text your friend back. Shiku is takeout only, head to their website to place an order.
Bright orange daikon kimchi, perfectly rolled eggs stuffed with seaweed, and the prettiest box of seasoned rice we’ve ever seen - looking through the menu at this Korean banchan pop-up is like flipping through the world’s most beautiful coffee table book. But Perilla’s about more than just looks - chef Jihee Kim takes what is normally considered as side dishes, gives it a Cinderella-esque transformation (we’re partial to the Brandy version), and turns them into the stars of the show. She utilizes fresh, local produce found at farmers’ markets and creates seasonal dishes like spicy summer squash braised with garlic in chili oil, green bean muchim with creamy garlic confit and ground sesame seeds, and charred okra marinated overnight in soy vinegar. Each dish is bright, refreshing, and completely what you need after a long day of deleting all of your tweets. Perilla is takeout only, head to their website to place an order.