A couple of months ago, Pete Wells published a survey of a dozen Korean restaurants in Queens. Most are well past the No. 7 train’s Eastern terminus. It takes a car, an L.I.R.R. train ride, or a long walk to reach them—in other words, a schlep. One day last month, we decided to give one of them a try: Mapo Korean BBQ.
It’s no wonder that Wells chose this place as one of his anointed dozen: the place has a sterling reputation. Robert Sietsema, who probably knows this cuisine better than anyone who is not Korean, chose Mapo for his first review on Eater.com, awarding three stars.
Among the grillable meats (which are the whole point of the restaurant), there are just four options. We chose the same dish that Wells ordered, the marinated kalbi, or short rib.
Although the meal is not cheap ($38.75 per person), it comes with plenty of extras. We with banchan (side dishes; above left). There are thirteen of them in the photo—and a few more came after that. If you run out, they bring more. A server brings a generous slab of beef to the table (above right).
They start to cook (above left), and after a while the server starts cutting the meat into smaller pieces (above right).
This continues (above left), and after a while you’ve got cubes of meat (above right) ready to wrap in folds of lettuce with various condiments. The beef itself is kind of a one-note dish, and the process of cutting it into so many pieces inevitably compromises some of its inherent flavor.
The server snipped away the charred edges before I could stop her: I might have liked to try them. Wells advised the reader to save the bone, but perhaps he confused this with another dish, or another restaurant: at our table, there was no bone to save.
There are a few hot side dishes, such as creamed corn (above left), and the meal ends with a soup of hot tofu (above right). Dessert, as I recall, was a yogurt or custard.
The dining room is a small space with an obviously loyal Korean following. They keep it quite cold in the winter, so you’ll welcome the warm glow of the charcoal barbecue rack. Servers do all the barbecuing for you, unlike some other Korean spots I’ve been to, where they deposit the ingredients at the table and let you fend for yourself.
Pete Wells’s review is prominently posted, and I’m sure business has picked up. The marinated kalbi, which was $34.95 when Sietsema had it in April 2014, was up to $38.75 in January 2015. It’s still not a bad price for all the food that you get, but you’ve got to be in the mood for an adventure.
Mapo Korean BBQ (149-24 41st Road at 149th Place, Murray Hill, Queens)
Food: Korean barbecue
Service: Surprisingly attentive
Ambiance: A small, chilly no-frills room; clearly popular with the locals