An amazing spread of pan chan is only one of Kunjip’s lures.
Nearly all the two dozen or so Korean restaurants in Manhattan’s Koreatown offer some sort of lunchtime special, often priced at one-third to one-half what a regular meal would cost, and usually incorporating extra freebies.
Service is fast and efficient at Kunjip.
The keen observer of Koreatown will tell you that the most popular place in the neighborhood when the noon hour arrives is Kunjip. Located on 32nd Street in the heart and Seoul of the region, this place boasts the longest lines and the most enthusiastic diners.
For one thing, it’s known as the place with the best spread of pan chan. These little appetizing dishes run from regular kimchis to sesame-oiled seaweed to raw ray in sauce to acorn jelly lozenges that quake in the incandescent light. Two lunchers get a combined total of nine dishes, on the average. Some burn the tongue, some soothe.
You can treat these pan chan as appetizers (the dishes will be replenished at your request when they run out), and also eat them as condiments and side dishes during the meal. These — and a bowl of rice — are part of the lunch special that includes a choice of 21 main dishes. All are comparatively voluminous. The cost is from $8.95 per person to $13.95, with about three-quarters of the dishes at the lower figure, making quite an amazing deal.
The spicy oxtail stew, with ox blood
The limpid mandoo dumplings are a fresh-tasting pleasure.
The other afternoon, a pal and I waited briefly to be seated, then ordered L2, spicy ox bone stew with ox blood and vegetables, and L12, “dduck mandoo guk,” or dumpling and rice cake in ox bone soup. The former was fiery, filled with sprouts and big red icebergs of ox blood, a thoroughly fortifying stew. The second was bland and starchy, with perfect homemade mandoo dumplings, thin-skinned and bursting with scallions and pork.
For dessert there’s a sweet broth served cold in a metal vessel. Out on the sidewalk again, you’ll already be plotting your next appearance at Kunjip.
9 West 32nd Street
Koreatown’s lunchtime treasure
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 19, 2011