You can easily walk past some of the best ramen and Korean food I’ve ever had in Chelsea Market if you aren’t paying close attention. Chef Esther Choi who used to work at the Food Network and La Esquina has created a Korean paradise with only 20 seats ( a few counter seats facing the kitchen and a few counter facing the street). The back seats are more private and less interactive, and it makes for a more quiet and dedicated meal with a dining partner. The menu is written in colored chalk in the back making it a little artsy and adding a creative touch to such a small space where there is not much to work with. Whatever you do, start with the $6 Ho’ Cake which is are two “crispy buns with heavenly pork belly filling.” I wouldn’t call it crispy, but I wouldn’t call it doughy either. It’s more like a toasted, buttery, panini stuffed with tender chunks of pork and paired with a spicy red sauce that has a zing to it. We also tried the Japchae Dumplings which are filled with pickled shiitake, glass noodle, garlic chive, tofu and garlic chive relish. The pillowy pockets are quite tasty and perfect for a vegetarian. However, if you must go with only one appetizer, bow down to the Rainbow Hot Rice with rainbow masago, kimchi hot sauce, fried egg and nori. Delivered to you in a skillet, immediately mix this baby up with the egg and you’ve got a concoction of a lifetime. While knowing that our warm bowls of ramen were on the way, we still polished off this spicy treasure. The textures are outrageous with creamy, crunch, spice and roe.
Thus far, I was impressed by everything and we’d only tried appetizers. The Korean Soju drink on the rocks is also a treat. While not too high in alcohol (only 12%), but it goes nicely with all of the flavors and isn’t too strong. It’s a tad sweet and you can also get a tea cocktail with their homemade teas which you will make disappear in seconds.
Now for the review you’ve been waiting for on the ramen. You have your choice of brothy vs. saucy, and it’s quite extensive with flavors such as: Kimchi with bacon broth, Vegan Miso, Spicy Tofu, etc. I absolutely loved the Chicken Broth with roasted chicken thigh, cucumber kimchi and garlic chive salad. No, it doesn’t taste like chicken soup, but it has the same feeling that your mom’s chicken soup gives you. You’ll be calling for this when you’re feeling sick or it’s freezing outside. It’s light, comforting, slurp-able and doesn’t itch the back of your throat like some of those enriched pork broths ( sorry Ippudo but you do). I later learned that part of the reason is because Esther doesn’t use MSG in her cooking like some other ramen joints sprinkled around this city. The Mokbar Classic which is made with pork broth, braised pork and triple seasonal vegetables is obviously not as light as the chicken, but it’s still wholesome and a tad richer. Both meats are tender as hell, and the noodle to broth ratio is on point.
Mokbar is the kind of restaurant where you want to surrender to the chef and just have her throw the rest of the menu at you because you know there is no way you won’t be obsessed with the rest of it. We absolutely loved everything, and even though we were so full we didn’t want to give it up. I enjoyed the experience so much and was already trying to plan my next visit before I walked out the door. It’s a great place to go to “get away” and escape even though it’s in Chelsea Market. Since it’s counter seating it’d be best to go with just one other person. Grab a seat, a glass of soju, a bowl of ramen and you, my friend, will feel set for life.