Pleasant Korean Surprises at Liberty Cafe

Administrative Professional’s Day is around the corner, and while my current admin is a breeze to shop for (riesling and/or roses), I once worked with a gal who loved chocolates. Not the fancy pants fare from Mast Brothers or Jacques Torres, but the salt-of-the-earth boxes of mixed chocolates from Sees. She would take a bite into a random chocolate and, to borrow the adage from Forest Gump, take delight in the surprise inside. And who doesn’t like surprises, such as Liberty Cafe near Bryant Park.

Liberty Cafe’s outward appearance screams mediocrity and its Yelp reviews indicate much worse. But thanks to a tip from Dan M, we found out that Liberty Cafe harbors a pleasant surprise – a Korean lunch counter in the back that serves bibimbap, udon, ramen, bulgogi bowls, dumplings, smoothies, and more – all for ML friendly prices.

The beef bibimbap ($10.95) was as it should be – austere, yet filling, fresh, and a dazzle of flavors and textures. It’s a sizable bowl of rice served with mixed vegetables, tofu, and beef, all glossed with sesame oil, drizzled with fiery gochujang, and topped with an impeccably runny fried egg. To wash it all down, they include a free bowl of hot myulchi gukmul (anchovy broth) laced with strips of gim (roasted seaweed).

Although co-existing in the same storefront, the Korean lunch counter seems to be independent of Liberty Cafe. For example, the display of drinks is owned by the front of the store, so you’ll need to purchase drinks separately from your Korean lunch. However the two operations share a small dining area in the back.

Although the curtailed menu resembles something that you might find at the 41st & Broadway Cafe Duke or Pro Hot Korean, I’m going to give these guys several more tries. I was impressed with the portion size and they got all of the little touches right – the runny egg, the flavorful (and free) soup, the seasoning on the vegetables. And I love finding these hidden gems in midtown. Perhaps we need to update Mr. Gump’s famous quote – “life is like a New York City bodega… you never know what you’re going to get inside.”

Liberty Cafe, 37 W 43rd St (between 5th & 6th Ave.) 212-819-9212


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