Namoodol at H-Mart in Flushing Serves up a Quality Korean Lunch
As one of the city's Asian food meccas, Flushing has no shortage of good food courts. But one of the best receives little attention from Yelp or small food blogs, likely for one simple reason: it's a 25-minute walk from the 7 train on Flushing's Union Street in a Korean supermarket chain called H-Mart. Unless you have a car (it's five minutes from the Whitestone bridge that way), Namoodol, the H-Mart's lunch counter, is a trek, but the Korean barbecue and free tea alone are well worth the trip.
Namoodol is frequented mostly by neighborhood locals and supermarket employees on their lunch breaks. I was first brought there by two friends who were first driven there—from Westchester—by their older brother while in high school. Ever since, getting Korean at H-Mart has been a regular and cherished tradition.
Namoodol (or roughly translated, "Wood Stone") offers 24 items, ranging from standard Korean fare like bibimbap, kimchi stew, and bulgogi, to more adventurous options like grilled eel, with a wide variety of rice and noodle dishes in between. The prices range from $6 to $18 (that eel isn't cheap), but most of it's in the neighborhood of $8-10.
As arguably the most accessible Korean dish (and the second thing listed on the menu), the Bibimbap ($8) is a natural choice. Usually bibimbap features vegetables served over rice with gochujang, often with meat and an egg on top, with the intention of mixing all of them together before eating. However, the main bowl here includes only lettuce, carrot, bean sprouts, seaweed, and some other vegetables with a mass of eggs, fried over hard. The white rice is served on the side, along with kimchi, spicy cucumber, and garlic bean sprout soup (all of the items we tried featured some combination of these condiments and sides.) While it doesn't quite constitute bibimbap, which literally translates to mixed rice (a runny yolk would've been nice too), it works reasonably well as a salad, especially if you pour on plenty of gochujang, which here is wonderfully sweet and spicy.
Next on the docket is the Grilled Mackerel ($10), which in all honesty, I was drawn to mostly because I saw two elderly Korean men at a nearby table splitting an order. While it's very salty, fishy, and a bit bony, it it's also ridiculously meaty and juicy, with a nice, thin, crisp skin. If the flavor is too intense for your liking, a bit of white rice will temper the salt sufficiently.
When I ordered Jangtu Kuksoo ($8), I received a big, hearty bowl of soup with scallops, tofu, rice noodles, seaweed, vegetables, and some measure of confusion. The soup pictured on the signage had some beef on it, and the description read "general noodles with beef broth," with the word "beef" blacked out. That beef soup also cost $2 less. But on the bright side, the scallop and tofu soup is quite enjoyable and very, very big. While the tofu and scallops soften from sitting in broth, the flavor of the scallops permeate everything nicely, and the broth takes on the clean character of a seafood-heavy shio ramen. Attempts to figure out the identity of this soup were unsuccessful, and if I could tell you definitively how to order it, I would.
As good as the mackerel and mystery seafood soup are, Namoodol's main draw is the barbecued meat. The Beef Dosilock ($10) comes with lots of bulgogi, a simple salad with gochujang, kimchi, and rice, and is a perfectly rounded Korean lunch. The bulgogi is juicy and plentiful, although a lot of the flavor comes from the sweet Korean barbecue sauce instead of the meat.
For beefier barbecue, get the LA Kalbi ($14), barbecued beef short ribs in the same lunch box. The kalbi is sweet, meaty, juicy, and it comes right off the bone. Prefer pork? The Seasoned Black Pork ($12) is worth trying. Mixing your rice with the meat juices is strongly advised across the board.
While there's no shortage of very good homestyle Korean lunch options at Namoodol, the grilled meats undoubtedly shine the brightest. But ultimately, whether you're in the mood for barbecue, a vat of seafood soup, or even a bibimbap-esque salad, Namoodol will cheaply, efficiently, and happily satisfy your Korean craving.
About the author: Ben Jay is a Serious Eats contributor, photographer, carnivore, beer and whisky drinker, and music nerd. He'd like to thank Jordan Steinberg and Talor Magic Jones, whose all-cereal restaurant idea will surely earn him all of the Michelin stars. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.