A taste of Korean cuisine arrived in Manhattan with the grand opening of Seoul USA earlier in October. While Seoul USA is new in town, it is not new to the art of hospitality.
When I visited, I was immediately greeted by two very friendly servers who seemed only slightly put off by me entering a sit-down establishment alone at 11:15 a.m.
The atmosphere was warm and comforting, with walls and booths decked out in a primary color scheme and cheerful Korean pop playing in the background. It was obvious Seoul USA is health and safety conscious, as all employees were wearing face masks.
The service was prompt and cheerful. Happily, I never had to do the dreaded glance-around for my waiter. The restaurant was not busy by any stretch of the imagination — most likely because of the time of day I visited. Even so, it was a positive atmosphere that both waitstaff and fellow customers seemed happy to be a part of.
As groups filtered in and began to occupy tables, their familiar chatter with the restaurant’s employees indicated Seoul USA is already a Manhattan staple for many.
Prices are beyond fair for the amount of food one receives, especially for the lunch menu. I paid $9 for a sizeable portion of the chicken ramen. No item on the menu exceeded $15, making it a perfect place for college kids to escape dining hall food or impress their significant others on a budget.
While the flavor of the ramen did not overwhelm me, it might have been because I ordered the mild version rather than the hot. The dish included cheese, egg, onion, carrots and cabbage. This was my first experience with Korean food, and I was pleasantly intrigued by how unique the spices and textures were compared to other international cuisines. An almost sweetness in the dish was complemented perfectly by kochukaru — chili pepper flakes. Sesame oil and soy sauce were stars of the sensory show in this dish.
Texturally, the dish was a masterpiece. The vegetables were cooked perfectly, ensuring they were tender without being limp. The ramen’s base was a creamy broth that could have benefited from a bit of a kick, but its warmth and smooth consistency were enough to make the words “chicken ramen for the soul” come to mind. Despite lacking in spice, the dish was hearty and comforting, making it perfect for a chilly November day.
Fans of Korean cuisine have no shortage of options at Seoul USA, with an extensive menu to choose from. Appetizers like pan-fried lotus root and tofu kimchi are a taste of authenticity you cannot find on just any street corner in a Midwest town. The restaurant provides a large selection of non-meat and non-dairy options, a tongue-in-cheek subscript on their menu stating “Vegetable Delicious: We know what ‘vegan’ means.” Dessert is just as diverse, with options like vegan matcha ice cream and fried bananas.
Seoul USA — located at 1126 Laramie St. — is a perfect wallet-friendly spot for anyone seeking to explore new cuisine in a comforting atmosphere.
More information on store hours and menu items is available on the Seoul USA Facebook page.