Woorijip Gets a Makeover, Still the Best Cheap Korean on 32nd
With all the delis in the heart of Midtown adding Korean food to their repertoire, it makes it a little harder to motivate myself all the way to Koreatown at lunchtime. That being said, as much as I enjoy some bulgogi from Cafe Duke, or Bi Bim Bap from Ambrosia, neither can hold a candle to Woorijip, the king of cheap Korean eats, situated on 32nd btw. B’way+5th, the bloodline of New York City’s Koreatown.
If you’ve never been to Woorijip (which has been mentioned here many times, but never officially written up), it is essentially a Korean version of Cafe Zaiya- which itself is a Japanese version of Cafe Metro. Loads of pre-packaged hot and cold Korean food plus a by the lb buffet of hot and cold Korean treats, for those who can’t settle on one or two of the pre-packaged goodies. Recently Woorijip underwent a little makeover, so I decided to head down to 32nd street and check it out.
What I got, the “improvements” to the set up and a +/- after the jump…
Just like Cafe Zaiya, I can’t imagine a set up I enjoy more than Woorijip. Loads and loads of options, from kimbap (Korean sushi) to bulgogi (marinated stir fried beef), Korean pancakes, soups, rice cake dishes and bi bim bap, and almost everything under $5- meaning if you chose correctly, you can easily mix and match 2 or 3 things, and still end up with a lunch that is under $10. What’s more fun than that?
It helps to know the layout of Woorijip, because at lunchtime it can be pretty hectic- and that first visit is sure to intimidate. When you first walk in, you’ll see one of the two seating areas on your right. Continue forward and you’ll be at the crossroads of two very narrow aisles. The aisle on the right, runs along side the hot and cold, pay by the lb. buffet. Take a styrofoam tray if you intend on eating the food there, take a styrofoam container with a lid if you plan on taking the food to go.
The cost of the buffet is $6.50 per lb, and is a testament to how amazing Woorijip is. Paying what my food weighs is not a good proposition for me, and I am in a constant struggle to stay away from places with these kind of buffets. They always lure me in, with their delicious promises of variety- and how similar they seem to an all you can eat buffet. But they’re not the same. By the lb. buffets are the devil, and I always end up spending to much, or being so worried about the weigh in, I end up not taking enough food. The excellence of Woorjip, trumps my fear of by the lb. buffets.
The aisle to the left runs between the checkout registers and the newly installed glass doored case which houses all the hot foods (they used to sit out on metal shelves, getting cold). Normally there is a line in this aisle waiting for the registers, so it’s a pretty tight squeeze to get through. I would recommend quickly moving through this space, and glancing at the food in the hot case. See something you like? Remember it, and wait until your about to pay to grab it out of the case (while you are waiting in line). Think of it as the gum counter at the grocery store. You’ll have plenty of time to browse while you’re waiting to check out.
After you make your way through the logjam, there is a large open aired cold fridge that houses their enormous selection of kimbap (korean sushi), soups, bi bim bap and pickled veggies, as well as a nice selection of pre-packaged foods that can be taken to go and heated up when you get back to your office. Many of them are available hot in the case next to the register, if you plan on eating them there. If not, there are two microwaves (one in the front, one in the back) for you to heat up your food after you pay for it.
Now, a slight pause while I gush over gimbap (or kimbap as it is usually referred to here in NYC), one of my new favorite foods. The easiest way to describe it is by just calling it Korean “sushi”, except there is no raw fish. Instead of raw fish, the Koreans will stuff their rolls with traditional Korean veggies (normally served as banchan), like spinach, pickled radish, and kimchee. They also do versions with egg, beef, squid, sausage and tuna fish. It is very similar to Japanese futomkai.
If given the choice between good sushi, and good kimbap, I will take good sushi every time. There is something amazing about fresh and delicious raw fish. But given the choice between cheap Midtown sushi, and Woorijip kimbap- the kimbap wins easily. Take out places in Midtown are forced to use crappy fish so they can charge less than $10 for their rolls. Kimbap doesn’t have that problem. Pickled Korean vegetables are much cheaper than raw fish, but still super tasty, so they don’t have to skimp to give you something delicious. And the servings are huge for just $4-$4.50. Much bigger than your average sushi roll. Finally, and most importantly, with no raw fish, there’s no need to store the kimbap in a super cold fridge after it’s made. Result: rice that isn’t hard and disgusting!
Finally, peppered through the store are a few other options worth looking at. Between the registers and the cold fridge there are usually rice cake “desserts” (I put that in quotes, because if you are not accustomed to Korean “sweets”, you may be disappointed), and pre-packaged Korean fried pancakes. Across from there is another hot case with rice and more soups. Next to that case is another soup (most of the time with fish balls). The whole place is like an Asian Willy Wonka’s.
Ideally you want to go to Woorijip with a lot of people. You can avoid the buffet (which charges you a premium for items that are avialable pre-packaged throughout the store), and just get a bunch of things to share. But not everyone has a group of office mates willing to head to Koreatown for lunch. For the solo lunch’er, I have a method that allows you to enjoy everything they have to offer, and still keep your meal at under $10. First, I like to grab one thing for under $5. Usually it is the kimchee or beef kimbap, but you can grab anything. Then, you go to the by the lb. buffet and take one bite of each thing that looks good. This step takes a lot of restraint. Sure, you may feel lame walking up to the register with a plate that looks like this:
But in the end, it works. The kimbap (for $4.00-$4.50) fills you up, the plate (this particular one cost me $2.76) is there to give you variety. Done right, you end up stuffed and satisfied for under $8. It’s a foolproof scheme!
Not into it? Hey- do your own thing. That’s the beauty of a place like Woorijip. So many cheap options, the permutations are endless.
- Super cheap Korean food, in a fast take out setting
- There are two fairly size-able seating areas (one in front, one in back)
- They’ve added a hot case, which keeps the hot options hot
- They have a really large selection of delicious kimbap
- For people who like variety, it’s easy to get a bunch of different things and still keep your meal under $10
- The quality of the food is not as good as a place where it’s made fresh
- During lunch, it’s packed- and layout makes it very difficult to navigate PLUS it is sometimes hard to get a seat
- The by the lb. buffet can get very expensive if you’re not careful (that’s how they getcha!)
- They have a noodle bar in the back, but it was closed both days I was there in the past week.
- The makeover added more space for food, and now the hot food is kept hot, but there are still serious space issues in the front
Woorjip, 12 W. 32nd St. (btw. 5+6th), 212-244-1115
See more Woorijip food porn, here.