Korean Food at Cafe Duke

If you read this blog every day, I’m sure you get the general idea of my taste.  I’m not really into those delis that litter midtown with their “choice”.  Choice to me is 
“Do I get my combo with the pork fried rice, or lo mein?”.  I consider most sandwiches kind of boring, and I never imagined I could eat a salad for lunch.  That is, until I met the Variety Cafe… and I let my guard down.  I allowed myself to fall in love with this Variety Cafe place, and their wonderful salad bar for fat people… only to have my heart ripped in half by their disregard for serving said salad without rodent droppings.

“I’ll never eat at a deli/salad bar place again” I said to myself (I use slashes when I talk- that’s pronounced “deli slash salad bar”), that is, until I found Cafe Duke.  From the outside it looks like your typical Manhattan lunch place.  The name, the decor, the salad bar, buffet by the pound, rotisserie bar, sandwiches and paninis, wraps and of course the sushi bar.  But, hidden in the back left hand corner is the real gem of the place… The Korean Food station!

That’s right, Bi Bim Bap, Bulgogi and Korean soup, being served in the back of a Midtown deli.  Bastards!  I can feel myself falling in love all over again…

The food porn, and +/- after the jump…
I don’t know if you noticed, but there is no cheap Korean food in Midtown.  So what do you do when you’re in the mood for some Bi Bim Bap or Bulgogi?  Well, now you have Cafe Duke.  $7.95 is not the cheapest price in the world, but it will have to do- since there is no other option.  I went with the Bulgogi (Korean Style marinated beef over rice), which I now see was a little bit of a mistake, since the meat they serve over the Beef Bi Bim Bap is the Bulgogi- so if you order the Bi Bim Bap you get all the extra vegeatables and the egg, but still get the meat (granted it’s less meat- but if you like variety, Bi Bim Bap is the way to go).  They give you a pretty decent size portion, with rice and kimchee (fermented cabbage- which tastes exactly as it sounds).

I’m a big fan of kimchee, but the one they serve is a little disappointing… so don’t expect too much from that, but the bulgogi was pretty good- especially considering it’s from a fast food deli.  The Bi Bim Bap is obviously the fresh version (no option of having it served in a hot pot).  It’s served in a plastic container that normally houses a salad or sandwich- but it looked good enough.  They also had these Soft Tofu soups that seemed to be pretty popular.

The best part is, you don’t have to convince your boring co-workers to go to some “weird” cheap Korean place.  So while they’re munching away on their $6.95 salad bar, you can be enjoying your Korean lunch that you didn’t have to go all the way to 32nd street to get!

SIDE NOTE:  If you are reading this, and YOU ARE the boring co-worker, Cafe Duke is a great replacement for Variety Cafe (and even a little bit nicer).  The salad bar is pretty comparable ($6.95 for 6 toppings), and they have a fresh deli area (where they can make any kind of sandwich you want, with freshly cut meats), a “Cosi”-like bar where they make sandwiches on wood brick oven baked flat bread, a fresh sushi bar, a Rotisserie bar, soups, and wraps.  They also have an Udon bar (the tempura shrimp Udon looked pretty good).

Everything is slightly more expensive then it should be (by maybe a dollar) but the place is really nice, clean and comfortable- plus there’s a nice seating area with a flat screen TV, although it gets filled up pretty quickly- so get there early, or be willing to wait.

THE +

  • There’s something for everyone.  Korean food for you, boring deli food for your co-workers
  • Did I mention there’s Korean food?
  • Cleaner then most Deli’s in the city, with a nice seating area that has two flat screen T.V.’s

THE –

  • I know, I know… there’s better Korean food to be had just 20 blocks south in Koreatown- but not everybody can make it down there for lunch (For those who can, I will be reviewing Arang- a Korean buffet, next week)
  • Everything is about a buck or two more then it should be, in order to be considered cheap
  • The kimchee was not that good
  • It’s a frickin’ deli in Midtown, and mediocre Korean food doesn’t change that

Cafe Duke, 140 W. 51st. (btw. 6+7th Ave.), 212-445-0010

18 Responses to Korean Food at Cafe Duke

  1. Billy Bob says:

    Any idea if Variety Care is affiliated with Food World on 46th b/w 5th and Madison? There pricing structure is strikingly similar, including the salad for $6.45 up to 6 toppings. Food World may be a place to review.

  2. TribecaGril says:

    Can you validate the rumor about Starbucks offering free iced coffees at every location in the new york-metro area from 1-3pm today?

    I can already see the sweaty lines.

  3. starbucks says:

    re :starbucks.

    found the flyer linked here:

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  4. korean gal says:

    when you go to ktown, try Woorijip–fast food korean takeout
    and Kunjip–authentic korean food straight from mama’s hands.

    oddly, i’ve never heard of Arang and i’m a ktown gal

  5. FoodieChan says:

    I agree that Cafe Duke is one of the few deli, “by the pound salad bar,” sandwich joints that is actually good. My boyfriend recently discovered bi bim bap and hasn’t stopped raving about it since (“It’s got beef, it’s got veggies, it’s even got an egg!”). The salad bar has a great Americanized Chinese section (something I usually despise). They even have grilled cuttlefish, which is pretty good.

    It is overpriced, and sometimes it’s hard to justify a $7 bowl of ramen (though they do have one with cheese!). I say stick to the Korean goodies and the salad bar. I do want to try the desserts one day, too.

  6. bored korean in midtown says:

    The Global Kitchen on 52nd b/t 5 and 6 has bibimpop that is good, and mediocre bulgogi. Both are about 7 or 8 dollars.

  7. […] Cafe Duke (41st btw. 6+B’way).  The original location of the “deli” I love on 51st btw. 6+7th.  It’s not as nice, and they don’t have the bulgogi, but the made to order Pad Thai looks pretty good, and their pre-made sushi to go looked fresh.  Plus they’ve got the requisite salad bar, pre made sandwiches, and a buffet by the pound. […]

  8. […] Nothing is more fulfilling then finding a hidden food jem in Midtown.  It can come in all forms too.  There’s the place that is well known, but literally hidden- like the Burger Joint, hidden behind a curtain at the Parker Meridien Hotel.  Then there’s the place that looks like a boring deli, but has a hidden specialty- like the Korean food at Cafe Duke.  And of course there is discovering that good food cart, which in Midtown is literally like finding a needle size hot dog, in a haystack size pile of gigantic sausages. […]

  9. […] For most people who work in Midtown, lunch is dictated by laziness.  More then two blocks away?  Forget it!  Plus, if you go with co-workers you all have to agree on a place.  So, you probably eat at the same place multiple times a week, occasionally branching out so you don’t get too sick of eating the same sandwich or salad every day.  For me, it’s a little different.  I write this blog… so I try to go to new places every single week.  Well, Wednesday I visited an old favorite.  When I first wrote about Cafe Duke I spotlighted the Bulgogi.  Today… meet the Bi Bim Bap. […]

  10. Rob says:

    Tried it. Meh. The charge too much for drinks, too. Fairly clean though.

  11. […] I write about carts because there are so many of them, and it’s hard to know which ones are good and bad.  Plus, a lot of people are scared of them… and would rather read about my suffering after eating at a bad cart- then experience it for themselves.  I don’t usually write about the deli/salad bar places, because there is one on every block of Midtown- and they bore me.  I will, however write about one if they are doing something different or interesting… like the Korean Food at Cafe Duke, or the Soups @ Dishes.  […]

  12. […] I don’t eat at these places too often, but there are two that I’ve eaten at and would recommend.  On the West side, I’m still a fan of Cafe Duke (51st btw. 6+7th).  It turns out a lot of these buffets use the fake shrimp… so I’m not too mad (and at least their version tastes delicious).  On the East side, Azure (picture to the left) is better than most (3rd ave. & 51st).  Both have a nice balance between quantity, quality and price.  And of course, I have to mention Ho Yip the chinese buffet by the lb that is $3.75 if you go after 2:15pm! […]

  13. […] I don’t eat at these places too often, but there are two that I’ve eaten at and would recommend.  On the West side, I’m still a fan of Cafe Duke (51st btw. 6+7th).  It turns out a lot of these buffets use the fake shrimp… so I’m not too mad (and at least their version tastes delicious).  On the East side, Azure (picture to the left) is better than most (3rd ave. & 51st).  Both have a nice balance between quantity, quality and price.  And of course, I have to mention Ho Yip the chinese buffet by the lb that is $3.75 if you go after 2:15pm! […]

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