An Insider's Tour Of Koreatown, A Slice Of Seoul In The Middle Of Manhattan

Photo: Meredith Galante/Business Insider

Koreatown is a tiny slice of New York where Korean culture is dominant and Korean-owned businesses are booming. The heart of the small neighbourhood is Korea Way, the strip of W. 32nd Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue.Much like in Seoul, the businesses in K-Town are all stacked on top of each other, because the Korean mindset is all about location, said Joseph Kim, whose father owns one of K-Town’s original restaurants, NY Komtang House.

Click here to go right to K-Town >

So, if a business on this street is doing well, you want to be on top of it to ensure a steady flow of customers, he explained.

Even though Koreatown doesn’t have a lot of real estate, it’s a big tourist attraction, thanks to its central location and densely packed restaurants, bars, karaoke clubs, and spas.

There’s not much residential space on the K-Town strip, and many of New York’s 140,000 or so Korean residents live in the outer boroughs, especially in Flushing, Queens. But visit the street and you’ll see groups of Korean teens and businessmen who, along with the tourists, come for the Korean barbecue chicken, sugary pastries, and raw fish.

Kim took us on a tour of K-Town’s landmarks.

K-Town is very official. It has a bilingual sign for the tourists and locals.

It's just a block away from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. Thousands pass through K-Town and probably don't even realise it.

The owner of this restaurant named it for folks who truly miss Korea. Kim said that college students from as far north as Albany and Binghamton drive to the city to eat in K-Town when they are homesick.

Restaurants display fake food outside their doors, giving customers an idea of what they can order inside.

Although most of the buildings on the block are 7 or 8 stories high, there are a few commercial skyscrapers.

Here's what it looks like at ground level. Even the signs on the buildings are written in Korean.

Restaurants are considered weird in K-Town if they aren't open 24/7, Kim says.

Before American goods were widely available in Korea, Korean tourists stopped at Cosmos, a K-Town department store, to stock up.

Apart from Cosmos, there aren't other huge retailers in Koreatown since space is so limited. Most other shops sell small, hand-made knicknacks.

The Hotel Stanford is one of four hotels in K-Town.

This nightclub Spoon has been scheduled to open for months. When it finally does open, expect a young, wealthy crowd, Kim said. The exterior is pretty slick.

This bar is for college students who don't have a lot of money to spend. The colours make it seem like a good time.

H-Mart is a Korean grocery store. The small, crowded space is filled with goodies imported from Korea.

Kim said when he and his Korean buddies go out drinking and get the munchies, these wasabi chips are a must.

The market sells raw fish, which can be made into sushi. Kim said some people he knows bring their own rice to make a roll for lunch.

The place was a cultural hodgepodge. The menu is in English and Korean, and the all-Korean staff wears berets.

Paris Baguette sells Asian-infused, European-style treats, like this red poppy seed pastry. It tasted like a gooey croissant with poppy seeds on top.

The cinnamon and cream cheese pastry was a little dry but still tasty.

The cakes were all insanely decorated. Kim said aesthetics are important in Korean food.

Crazy Bananas offers some frozen yogurt and more pastry options.

Some non-Korean dining options, like this Vietnamese noodle house, have crept onto the K-Town scene.

The interior of Koryodang Inc, another pastry shop in the area, was pretty hip and modern.

Woorijip, another Korean eatery, serves buffet-style fare. It was filled with lunchtime diners.

Rice wine is a popular drink in K-Town. These bottles might look like they're filled with soda, but they're actually all alcoholic beverages.

There are a bunch of cell phone kiosks that cater specifically to the Korean population. Kim said they were popular with non-English speakers. Need a psychic reading? This place offers those, too.

The doors on this restaurant are classic Korean, like those that would appear on a Korean palace, Kim said.

Even the new Steve Jobs biography was translated into Korean.

Down the block, Don Bogam pairs European wines and Korean food, catering to mostly to American customers.

The Tofu House, another 24-hour restaurant, has TV screens playing its menu and an old Channel 7 spot on a loop.

K-Town is also home to a food court with frozen yogurt and cafeteria-style dining. It's the perfect spot to grab a bite, study, or hang with friends.

At night, all the neon lights in K-Town shine.

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