Korean Food at Cafe Duke

If you read this blog every day, I’m sure you get the general idea of my taste.  I’m not really into those delis that litter midtown with their “choice”.  Choice to me is
“Do I get my combo with the pork fried rice, or lo mein?”.  I consider most sandwiches kind of boring, and I never imagined I could eat a salad for lunch.  That is, until I met the Variety Cafe… and I let my guard down.  I allowed myself to fall in love with this Variety Cafe place, and their wonderful salad bar for fat people… only to have my heart ripped in half by their disregard for serving said salad without rodent droppings.

“I’ll never eat at a deli/salad bar place again” I said to myself (I use slashes when I talk- that’s pronounced “deli slash salad bar”), that is, until I found Cafe Duke.  From the outside it looks like your typical Manhattan lunch place.  The name, the decor, the salad bar, buffet by the pound, rotisserie bar, sandwiches and paninis, wraps and of course the sushi bar.  But, hidden in the back left hand corner is the real gem of the place… The Korean Food station!

That’s right, Bi Bim Bap, Bulgogi and Korean soup, being served in the back of a Midtown deli.  Bastards!  I can feel myself falling in love all over again…

The food porn, and +/- after the jump…
I don’t know if you noticed, but there is no cheap Korean food in Midtown.  So what do you do when you’re in the mood for some Bi Bim Bap or Bulgogi?  Well, now you have Cafe Duke.  $7.95 is not the cheapest price in the world, but it will have to do- since there is no other option.  I went with the Bulgogi (Korean Style marinated beef over rice), which I now see was a little bit of a mistake, since the meat they serve over the Beef Bi Bim Bap is the Bulgogi- so if you order the Bi Bim Bap you get all the extra vegeatables and the egg, but still get the meat (granted it’s less meat- but if you like variety, Bi Bim Bap is the way to go).  They give you a pretty decent size portion, with rice and kimchee (fermented cabbage- which tastes exactly as it sounds).

I’m a big fan of kimchee, but the one they serve is a little disappointing… so don’t expect too much from that, but the bulgogi was pretty good- especially considering it’s from a fast food deli.  The Bi Bim Bap is obviously the fresh version (no option of having it served in a hot pot).  It’s served in a plastic container that normally houses a salad or sandwich- but it looked good enough.  They also had these Soft Tofu soups that seemed to be pretty popular.

The best part is, you don’t have to convince your boring co-workers to go to some “weird” cheap Korean place.  So while they’re munching away on their $6.95 salad bar, you can be enjoying your Korean lunch that you didn’t have to go all the way to 32nd street to get!

SIDE NOTE:  If you are reading this, and YOU ARE the boring co-worker, Cafe Duke is a great replacement for Variety Cafe (and even a little bit nicer).  The salad bar is pretty comparable ($6.95 for 6 toppings), and they have a fresh deli area (where they can make any kind of sandwich you want, with freshly cut meats), a “Cosi”-like bar where they make sandwiches on wood brick oven baked flat bread, a fresh sushi bar, a Rotisserie bar, soups, and wraps.  They also have an Udon bar (the tempura shrimp Udon looked pretty good).

Everything is slightly more expensive then it should be (by maybe a dollar) but the place is really nice, clean and comfortable- plus there’s a nice seating area with a flat screen TV, although it gets filled up pretty quickly- so get there early, or be willing to wait.


  • There’s something for everyone.  Korean food for you, boring deli food for your co-workers
  • Did I mention there’s Korean food?
  • Cleaner then most Deli’s in the city, with a nice seating area that has two flat screen T.V.’s


  • I know, I know… there’s better Korean food to be had just 20 blocks south in Koreatown- but not everybody can make it down there for lunch (For those who can, I will be reviewing Arang- a Korean buffet, next week)
  • Everything is about a buck or two more then it should be, in order to be considered cheap
  • The kimchee was not that good
  • It’s a frickin’ deli in Midtown, and mediocre Korean food doesn’t change that

Cafe Duke, 140 W. 51st. (btw. 6+7th Ave.), 212-445-0010


  • Any idea if Variety Care is affiliated with Food World on 46th b/w 5th and Madison? There pricing structure is strikingly similar, including the salad for $6.45 up to 6 toppings. Food World may be a place to review.

  • Can you validate the rumor about Starbucks offering free iced coffees at every location in the new york-metro area from 1-3pm today?

    I can already see the sweaty lines.

  • re :starbucks.

    found the flyer linked here:


  • when you go to ktown, try Woorijip–fast food korean takeout
    and Kunjip–authentic korean food straight from mama’s hands.

    oddly, i’ve never heard of Arang and i’m a ktown gal

  • I agree that Cafe Duke is one of the few deli, “by the pound salad bar,” sandwich joints that is actually good. My boyfriend recently discovered bi bim bap and hasn’t stopped raving about it since (“It’s got beef, it’s got veggies, it’s even got an egg!”). The salad bar has a great Americanized Chinese section (something I usually despise). They even have grilled cuttlefish, which is pretty good.

    It is overpriced, and sometimes it’s hard to justify a $7 bowl of ramen (though they do have one with cheese!). I say stick to the Korean goodies and the salad bar. I do want to try the desserts one day, too.

  • The Global Kitchen on 52nd b/t 5 and 6 has bibimpop that is good, and mediocre bulgogi. Both are about 7 or 8 dollars.

  • Tried it. Meh. The charge too much for drinks, too. Fairly clean though.

  • This is a really good option for soondobuu. They make it spicy and it’s fairly fresh. The kimichi is awful though, they shouldnt even bother.

    The bulgogi shouldnt be sold, i know the white’s like it…but come on people…

  • A few places offer the traditional bulgoki made with beef. But there is a deli on the west side of 2nd Ave, somewhere b/w 42nd and 44th Sts. that sells spicy Korean pork under the name “Mongolian pork.” The meat is made to order. The (huge) platter is under 8 dollars and comes with rice, salad, kimchee, and either a free fountain soda or chips. I eat here at least once a week.

  • how does cafe duke’s korean food compare to the bibimbap and korean tofu at del monico’s on 41st and Lex?

  • I just checked out The Duke today, went for the Bi Bim Bap. My co-worker loves the veggie ramen soups. Maybe it is a change for the summer, the bap was served as cold a salad (lettuce, veggies and choice of meat) with the rice (hot) and kim chee in seperate containers. Very filling and delicious. I agree with your rating of the kim chee.

  • Today I went to Cafe Duke for the first time and ordered the Bulgogi. As soon as I said what I wanted, they handed it to me, piping hot, in a sturdy container (that could be reused if washed out!). The kimchi for me was actually really decent. I asked for a second container of it and they gave it to me without any hassle. The bulgogi was good. Maybe it’s not like an authentic bulgogi, but it tasted good. I will go back to Cafe Duke for their Korean food daily specials. Thanks, Midtown Lunch!!!

  • Love the bibimbap, can’t wait for the winter to have the udon. The bibimbap FAR surpasses that at Pro Bagel, which I tried yesterday.

  • First I want to let you know that I’m Korean..
    Actually I’m so happy when you guys like our food..
    It’s such a touching to me…
    I really appreciate it …
    and I love Americans…^^

  • Got fooled by the fake shrimp.

    Called them to complain and the lady that picks up the phone had an attitude.
    She said that
    1. I had to ask – Ask who, there is no one you can ask around the food buffet.
    2. Nothing is labeled
    3. They make the fake shrimp same shape and size as real shrimps

    Would not offer me a refund after I spend $ 10 on cheap fish instead of what looked like shrimps…

    They are so busy have like 10K people there during lunch, there is no need to cheat customers… Will not go back unless given real shrimps of refund.

  • What a terrible place full of workers with attitude. Couldn’t they find better quality of those workers think everybody can’t understand their language. while I was waiting for my duke melt sandwich the guy working at the melt sandwich place was cursing a french woman because she was speaking English with a heavy accent.this place needs to be cleaned out from those street guys whom I do believe they are illegal workers

  • Tried the bulgogi today. Booooring. I had to beg a coworker I didn’t even know to give me some hot sauce it was so bland. For $10, not worth the money. Will not return here. Pro Korean is my new Korean fix. Cafe Duke sucks.

  • Spicy chicken is the way to go

  • dirty place smells like grease. workers need to be replaced with more civilized people especially those third world rude cashiers. want to hear my word…. go to a real american place even if it cost more

  • I love Cafe Duke! It’s the only buffet in Manhattan that actually looks appetizing because it’s constantly replaced with fresh food. The Udon noodles are my favorite – but get them with Shumai. The vegetable dumplings just fall apart in the hot soup.

Leave a Reply

You must log in or register to post a comment.