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We’ve all been there. Someone asks what your favorite restaurant is or what albums you’re currently loving, and your brain completely freezes. You can’t think of anything, even though you’re pretty much obsessed with everything. My pathetic self usually has to refer to our app to refresh my memory of what new restaurants are in current rotation. However, when it comes to the classics, I’ve got pre-prepared answers: Freemans (don’t care if its fallen off, it’s sentimental for me and the artichoke dip is still untouchable), Blue Hill Stone Barns (duh), and Momofuku Ssäm. And if I have to just pick one? Momofuku Ssäm. There is no meal I enjoy more in NYC than Ssam’s steamed buns into spicy pork sausage and rice cakes.
It’s true that Momofuku Ssäm isn’t for everyone. If you don’t eat pork or spicy food, then you should stop reading now. If being packed in like sardines on tiny stools, eating Americanized versions of probably overpriced Korean street food doesn’t sound appealing to you, then just skip it and spare the rest of the world another one star Yelp review. But if you love things that taste delicious, then you’re in the right place. I live around the corner and have probably eaten here 25 times in the last five years, and each and every time I leave satisfied and excited to come back. That’s the mark of a great restaurant, and this place has stood the test of time.
So for this updated review, we’ll close with the same ending that was in our initial review of Ssäm, published May 15th, 2009. “New Yorkers aren’t stupid. We wouldn’t voluntarily wait 45 minutes to an hour at David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants if the food wasn’t f*cking awesome. Believe the hype.”
Believe the hype indeed. Or at least believe us.
Stang still likes to back Ippudo as the best steamed buns in NYC. For me, it’s all about Momofuku’s pork buns. They melt in your mouth and leave you thinking about them all day, like that special girl or guy you just met and can’t wait to see again. And they’ve got a variety of bun offerings now, like smoked salmon with horseradish and eggs for brunch, buffalo buns, duck buns, brisket buns, and fried chicken buns. Order all of them. Just make sure not to skip the original.
Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes
Their signature dish that never leaves the menu, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Rice cakes have become a popular trend on new Asian menus recently, and it’s all thanks to this one. Small gnocchi-sized rice cakes are thrown into a bowl with spicy ground pork, Chinese broccoli, and crispy shallots. Magic is happening inside this bowl. Hot, spicy magic.
Fried Duck Dumplings
A relatively recent addition to the lunch menu, there are days we’ll go sit at the bar for lunch and just order these crispy balls of fried goodness.
You know us, we love to go H.A.M. on some meats. This is a simple plate of high quality ham served with a side of “redeye gravy.” To the lay person, that’s f*cking coffee mayo. Slather some of that on some cured meat and tell me you’re not ready to take on the day.
O.G. Momofuku Ssäm
Before Ssäm became what it is today, it started as a sort of Korean-style burrito bar (that’s what a ssäm is). Those were taken off the menu years ago, but have recently reemerged on the lunch menu. And thank god because these things are incredible. They’ve got a few different varieties of ssäm going on now, like rotisserie duck and soft shelled crab, but our favorite is the O.G. Momofuku Ssäm with pork shoulder, black beans, hoisin and kimchi wrapped up in bibb lettuce and a chive pancake. Get it.
For dinner, we always order at least one raw bar item. There is usually an interesting scallop presentation or a nice, light and spicy fluke. Oysters aren’t a bad idea either.
Whole Boneless Porgy Ssäm
A full fish, served with ginger-scallion, bean sprouts, herbs, and lettuce wraps. Make your own spicy fish sandwich, you won’t be disappointed.
Country Rib Chop
There’s often a big rib of beef on the menu, which you should both pay attention to and order. The current chop is served with cauliflower, pear, and sunchoke.
Large Format Meals
Bo Ssäm was the first and is still the most well known – a huge (often 10lbs or more) pork shoulder that’s served with all kinds of fixings that you throw into a lettuce wrap with some rice and meat, and then top with a raw oyster. It’s perfect for a special occasions, or just a random Thursday night with ten of your closest friends. They’ve now taken that theme and applied it to a dry-aged ribeye dinner, and a whole rotisserie duck lunch as well. Basically, any large format meal Momofuku goes in on is something you want to f*ck with.
Momofuku Milk Bar is across the street. Go get some cereal milk soft serve.