FOR MANY NEW YORKERS, MIDTOWN MIGHT AS WELL BE CONSIDERED CODE FOR SIBERIA. But beginning at 32nd street between Broadway and Madison Ave lies a spate of blocks known as Koreatown, which doubles as an hi-fi oasis from the ubiquitous Starbucks and Duane Reades. Unlike Chinatown or Little Italy, which could be considered their own cosmos, “Ktown” is an actual slice of Seoul with skyscrapers boasting multiple floors devoted to pillars of South Korean pop culture. Sure there are multiple karaoke bars, fried chicken vendors and bubble tea shops galore, but a handful of less mainstream venues have been luring patrons of a different ilk. Below, we’ve uncovered a handful of innovative vegan restaurants, markets and first-rate spas tucked away between those ubiquitous BBQ joints…though we won’t blame you venture into those either.
Cho Dang Gol
Devoted to rural South Korean cuisine, this eatery attracts in-the-know patrons for the restaurant’s house-made tofu. Our favorite? The simmering wild sesame and tofu jungol stew–a perfect mid-winter treat.
For those seeking a gourmet experience at their next vegetarian meal, Hangawi is the ultimate destination. Dimly lit, patrons are asked to remove their shoes before descening into one of the sunken tables served by wait staff dressed in traditional South Korean garb. The elaborate menu features stone bowl rice dishes, gluten-free savory pancakes and a multitude of organic vegetable-laden dishes that will sway even to most die-hard carnivore.
Hangawi’s sister restaurant, Franchia could be considered the casual, more lively counterpart offering vegan tapas, sushi and desserts. Don’t miss the porridge of the week or the wheat-free leek pancakes!
Perched on the top floor of a midtown skyscraper, Gaonnuri offers haute Korean cuisine for discerning diners looking for something beyond the at-table barbecues. Try the tasting menu featuring seasonal fare or the aromatic vegetarian dishes like the pine mushroom salad over saffron rice and the handmade sweet potato noodles.
In-the-know models and ingenues like Miranda Kerr and Bijoux Phillips frequent this 24-hour midtown gem for rigorous body scrubs and massages. Come after 5P.M. for a creative–intimate–date.
Aura Wellness Spa
One of the more luxe spas in the area, this three-floor self-care Mecca offers a myriad of sauna and steam rooms as well as private treatment rooms for facials, full body massages and reflexology.
Bikram Yoga Herald Square
The biggest woe of most Bikram classes are the studios. Often carpeted, muggy and riddled with mildew, they’re not exactly alluring. This midtown studio bucks the trend with a waterproof, hypoallergenic floor, oxygenated studio, complimentary mats and towels and Malien & Goetz toiletries.
Han Ah Reum
Ex-pats flock to this Korean supermarket for their endless array of local groceries and prepared foods. In the market for crisp Asian pears, succulent Korean yellow melon or thinly sliced Shabu Shabu? They have you covered. Don’t miss the prepared dishes at the register, which include jap chae (glass yam noodles sauteed with vegetables) and kim bop (Seoul’s answer to vegetarian sushi).
Admittedly, this bakery-cum-coffeeshop is not exactly a health joint but they do serve artfully prepared alternatives to the run-of-the-mill croissant or cupcake shop. Try the red bean rice cakes or gluten-free green tea sweet potato cake for a (nearly) guilt-free indulgence!