Itaewon Is Easy To Miss But Hard to Forget


Itaewon is a small resturant but serves big flavors. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Ed Lucano, Contributing Writer

Koreatown is a Midtown gem. Nestled just one block behind the Empire State Building, it is a vibrant section of West 32nd Street whose bars, restaurants and small businesses energetically demonstrate what the social customs and intricacies of Korean culture have to offer the United States. Day or night, family or friends, food or drink — the possibilities are endless in K-Town. Even though this area is a popular destination, its small size and single-block layout prevents floods of tourists from overcrowding it like Times Square.

Since it is only a 10-minute subway ride or a 15-minute walk away, Koreatown is very easy for Fordham students taking the Metro-North to Grand Central to get to. Between its strong cultural presence, lack of tacky tourist traps and a manageable commute, Koreatown is a triple threat.

Right in the middle of this amazing neighborhood is one of my favorite spots in the city: Itaewon. This second-floor gastropub is located on 28 W. 32nd Street right under a karaoke bar and next door to a pool hall nightclub, so it is the perfect starting point for a fun night in Manhattan. Although I have been here to eat at least ten times since I started going to Fordham, I have never found the building entrance on my first try. It has gotten kind of funny at this point, but every time I get dinner with my friends down there I do two or three laps around the block before I finally track down the door. I guess it has become a tradition for me at this point. Just so that it does not become one for anyone else, I will say this: if you are walking eastbound down the street and pass the Citibank, you have gone too far.

Before going on any further, I should note that they do not let anyone under 21 into the restaurant. They do not ask you to verify your age every single time, but as long as you have your ID ready to show, you will be completely fine.

No matter how many times it will take you to pin this place down, the ambiance alone is completely worth the journey. With each step up the stairs, the restaurant’s music becomes louder and its colorful lights become brighter. Once you finally arrive and check-in with the host, you will find yourself in a literal hole-in-the-wall. Itaewon’s long, narrow layout is juxtaposed by how charmingly small the whole restaurant really is. Enclosed in exposed brick is an eclectic collection of Christmas lights, starry LEDs and somber candles that will make your dining experience unlike any other you have ever had — it is like being inside of an auburn kaleidoscope. In other words, it is an amazing spot to go out on a date.

With such an exciting atmosphere, it is only fitting that Itaewon’s menu is delicious enough to complement it. Popular dishes such as mandu dumplings, buchimgae pancakes and japchae noodles are examples of Korean staples that are made to be delicious and relatively inexpensive. Most of these meals are portioned to share between two or three people, so eating here in groups of any size is a fun way to bring people together. As for beverages, there is a variety of Korean inspired and imported beers and cocktails that will put a very minimal dent in your wallet in moderation. In short, the food and drink selection here is extensive and fairly-priced enough to allow you to keep your bill within the price range you desire. 

Keeping in line with my tendency to get lost on the way to Itaewon, I also always get the same meal whenever I go. The first time I ever ate there was during finals week when friends and I decided to take a break from studying and have a fun day out in the city. Our first course consisted  of a tasty combination of French fries, Korean draft beer and a rice-based Korean distilled spirit called soju. Next, we were served the main course of “Cheese Chicken Fried,” which is a group serving of fried chicken, stir-fried vegetables, a decadent chili sauce and a generous top layer of melted cheese holding everything together in a cast iron pan.

Sure, I’ve had some different side dishes and drinks each time I have returned to Itaewon over the last two years, but I always tend to order some combination of my original meal. In some ways, it has become a recurring part of my college experience that I love to share with others. Once coronavirus is expelled from the United States and life goes back to normal, I will be right back in Koreatown having trouble finding the entrance yet again.