The Vegetarian Option: Kofoo
Kofoo, near Madison Square Garden, is a tiny Korean spot with maybe a half-dozen chairs. You can eat there, hunched over the short counter, but Kofoo is really set up for takeaway, so you can enjoy the food in your office or the comfort of your own home. I'm not in the neighborhood very often, but when I am I try to stop by for a quick bite, and I've never had a bad meal.
For a warm, hearty meal on a cold winter day I recommend the Duk Man Doo Gook ($8, pictured above), a huge container of soup. The vegetarian broth is overloaded with crisp veggies, including those you don't often see in soup, like cucumber. It's also packed with chewy rice cakes and vegetable dumplings (more on the dumplings below). Then it's all topped with shreds of omelet and seaweed, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, for even more flavor and texture. The only problem with the soup is if you save some for later the rice cakes get gummy and the dumplings get soggy and fall apart. Better that you eat it all in one go.
The vegetable pancakes ($2.75 for 3) are good for a quick snack. The eggy patties are shot through with shreds of scallions and carrot. To maintain the silk-smooth texture of the pancakes the veggies are cooked first, so all they add is sweetness and a little sharpness.
The wild mushroom Kimbob ($5.25) doesn't actually feature any wild mushrooms, but that's okay with me. Instead you'll find shiitake mushrooms wrapped in rice along with raw carrot and cucumber, egg, and (my favorite part) pickled radish. Then it's all wrapped in seaweed and cut into 12 pieces. Here the key to the dish is balance: between the sweetness of the vegetables and the acidity of the pickle; between the chewiness of the shiitakes and the crunch of the carrots and the softness of the rice. It comes with packets of soy sauce, like sushi, but in my opinion the Kimbob doesn't need it.
There's a reason I saved the fried vegetable dumplings ($3.25 for 4) for last—they are my favorite thing on Kofoo's menu. If nothing else, I make sure to get an order of these on every visit, and I'm perfectly happy to consume them at the room temperature at which they are served. There's no danger of the dumplings getting soggy here: they're deep fried until golden brown and incredibly crisp on the outside. On the inside there's a savory mix of shredded veggies, noodles, and little bits of meat-like vegetable protein. It's probably best that they only come four to an order, because I could eat these by the dozen.
There are a lot of vegetarian options on Kofoo's menu, something I don't often find in Korean restaurants. Walking by the tiny storefront you might dismiss it as just another generic lunch spot, but it's got a lot to offer.
334 8th Ave, New York 10001 (map)
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.