Rejecting the something-for-everyone approach of many Korean restaurants, Hanjoo (“Han Joo” on the sign out front) in Queens focuses on what it does best: samgyupsal (pork belly) barbecued on a crystal grill. Chowhound Lau approves. “I love specialist restaurants,” he says, “because you know exactly what you’re going for and you know they are going to make it well.”
A prime example is Hanjoo’s thick-cut fresh pork belly (kal saeng), one of several samgyupsal choices on the menu. Lau says it’s deeply flavorful, one of the top versions in town. Add doenjang (bean paste), roasted soy flour, or sesame oil with salt and pepper, if you like, and wrap the seasoned meat in lettuce with garlic, scallions, marinated onion, or other add-ons. Lau loves how the grill is tipped so that pork drippings enrich a heap of kimchi placed downstream—a flavor bonus that’s also impressed ‘hounds at Hanjoo’s newish Manhattan outpost. (He’s less sold on the value of the signature crystal grill, which is said to concentrate heat and speed cooking, though he allows that it looks cool.) Another pork belly option is kal nok cha samgyupsal, marinated with a dusting of green tea—pretty tasty, Lau says, but a tad saltier than the thick-cut version and not quite as good.
Hanjoo is a longtime anchor of what most ‘hounds consider New York City’s real Koreatown, stretching miles east from downtown Flushing along Northern Boulevard. So it has competition—including next-door neighbor Hahm Ji Bach, another samgyupsal specialist. Peter Cuce prefers the latter, in part for the delicious beef broth that comes with meals and the sweet pumpkin-rice beverage served at the end. Lau gives Hahm Ji Bach the edge in nonbarbecue dishes but says the two restaurants are neck and neck in pork belly.
41-06 149th Place (near 41st Avenue), Flushing, Queens
Hahm Ji Bach [Flushing]
41-08 149th Place (near 41st Avenue), Flushing, Queens
Photo by LauHound