29-32 Union St, Flushing, NY
The purpose of this series, dear traveler, is to open your eyes to a culinary experience you might not find if you trusted only the tourist guidebooks. It’s true, some of the restaurants you’ve heard about from guides and television shows really are that good – Second Avenue Deli, for example. Also, anyone reading this blog is probably a fan of some of the folks who inspired me to write it – Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, David Chang, Eddie Huang – and those guys have done New York a solid by calling attention to underrated joints you wouldn’t otherwise hear about (it was David Chang – in an early season of No Reservations – who hipped me to Sik Gaek, for instance).
Still, New York is…well…vast. And that’s a good thing. You don’t have to rely solely on any one person’s recommendation, and restaurants are turning over at a rapid pace. All the more reason we at SGFC (not, in retrospect, the sexiest acronym) are on the case. Which brings us to Gahwa, which fits the profile for Best Restaurants to a T.
It’s low-key: you’d probably walk right by it without thinking twice (if you were lucky enough to be within ten miles of it, which is unlikely.)
It’s been around for years, doing what it does without pomp or fanfare.
It’s mostly unknown to everyone but neighborhood regulars. (And if you’re worried a review in this blog will ruin it, don’t.)
Gahwa, you see, is steps from a Korean grocery store, in Flushing’s version of a mini-mall, in a ludicrously remote corner of queens. (If you’re from Manhattan, that is.) It’s not the type of place you’d stumble upon as you wandered the streets after a show, and that’s why you likely won’t find a hipster within a thousand yards.
What you will likely find is a sea of Korean faces, a Korean soap or music video on the flat screen at the far end of the room, and Heisenberg’s-lab-sized vats of white bone broth (Seolleongtang) atop a stone furnace in the kitchen on your way to the John.
While both of the Korean restaurants I review in this blog serve a bit of everything, look closely and you’ll discover the specialty. At Sik Gaek it’s fresh seafood. And at Gahwa it’s the beef bone soup (Seolleongtang), which is difficult to describe, but is a potent, milky reduction of pounds of beef mojo, rice noodles, rice, and thinly sliced beef. (You add salt and scallions to-taste from the dispensers on the table.)
The first time visitor ignores my advice at his own peril: order your Seolleongtang with tripe. No, tripe is not gross. It’s amazing. And it costs extra. People who have been eating it for centuries are willing to pay extra for it, smart guy. So shut up and eat your tripe.
While you’re waiting, satiate yourself with homemade kimchi and a soy-flour pancake or two.
None of which should be construed to minimize in the least any of the other items on the menu. Naengmyeon. (Yes, in case you’re interested, “myun” is the same word as “mian” in Chinese and “men” in Japanese, as in “ra men”.) Slippery, savory, spicy, supreme.
Several varietals of bulgogi. Spicy pork with kimchi, edging out the competition just slightly for Best Meat Party in Your Mouth.
Korean water boiled meat dumplings (mandoo), hand made.
Thin sliced roast beef with beef tongue and scallions.
Gahwa is located in a recess of Queens a Manhattanite might charitably refer to as “the sticks”, and that’s going to keep it going strong and unspoiled – we hope – for a good long time.