Nestled in the shadow of the Empire State Building, Koreatown can be easy to miss among the busy streets and crowded sidewalks of Midtown. However, the one-street- wonder, located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on a segment of West 32 Street called Korea Way, makes New York City seem a thousand miles away.
Korean immigrants started settling in this pocket of Midtown in the ‘80s, transforming the small street into a community of businesses. Together, they created an exciting atmosphere filled with karaoke joints, beauty stores and the best selection of Korean cuisine. Walking along Korea Way, you will instantly notice the neon signs in Korean, pieced together along the faces of every building. The signs will draw you into stores with amusing names, such as The Face Shop. Here, you will find an abundance of Korean makeup and beauty essentials. Facemasks line a whole wall, with deals such as buy 10, get five free. From pomegranate jelly to bee venom, the options are unlimited. Korean beauty products are so popular that you’ll even find them in the bookstore called Koryo.
After adding a few masks to your shopping basket, wander over to the books, where you can find handheld guides to mastering your K-pop lingo. The store also carries adorable phone cases and fancy pens. However, you can’t miss the K-pop idol shrine. Posters, picture books, journals, postcards and stickers of all your favorite K-pop bands cover an entire section of the bookstore. There is no need to hide your obsession for BTS here — welcome home.
Buying everything in Koryo might leave you hungry. There’s a variety of take-out food in Koreatown, from kimbap at E-MO or bubble tea atGong Cha. Besfren offers teas and lattes in flavors such as taro and grapefruit, as well as funky pastries and soft serve ice cream. Their teappucinos are sweet and creamy, and they do not contain any dairy products. For a chilly day, a matcha teappucino is the perfect drink. Or, if you want to weigh out your options, stop by Food Gallery 32, a small food court where you can get a meal and dessert from two different places.
For a sit-down meal, try bibimbap from the famous chain BCD Tofu House or half-and-half fried chicken from Bonchon. While these are classic go-to restaurants, Koreatown is full of hidden gems. Try Turntable Chicken Jazz, a classy but casual restaurant with records and turntables up and down the walls. Their soy-garlic chicken is flavorful and perfectly crisp.
At night, Koreatown lights up. Come for a crazy night of karaoke or sip soju with your friends — you are guaranteed to have a memorable night. And if you and your friends go a little too hard, you can always come back to Korea Way the following day to revive yourself at one of the many spas.
For NYU students, the trek uptown may be unappealing, but the food and countless shops will make the journey worth it.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 2 print edition. Email Natalie China at [email protected]