So, I’m not gonna lie…I wanted to come to Pocha 32 strictly because I saw that they had this giant punch-like drink served in a watermelon. It looked cool. I had to have it. I kept referring to it as the “place with the watermelon drink” and that was all it was to me. Then, when I finally made plans to eat here for dinner with some friends and started looking at all their other food options, I realized that there were plenty of other yummy stuff to be had.
Pocha 32 is located on the second floor of a building in the middle of Koreatown. If you’re going for dinner on the weekend, you probably want to head there a little earlier than you want to eat or at least be prepared to wait because it gets packed. Luckily, they take down your number so you can wander around in the mean time.
The place has some funny decorative touches. There is green netting hanging from both the ceilings and down the walls–the ceiling netting has soju bottle caps all in it while the wall has chopstick paper wrappings and napkins that past customers have written and drawn on.
When you sit down, you get a little plate with some veggies to nibble on. I already knew exactly what items I wanted to order, and luckily, my group let me completely take over. I mean I had been staring at those Yelp images the whole day…Also good because basically everything on the menu is sharing size, and it’s much more fun to have a little bit of a lot of things here.
We of course ordered “the watermelon drink,” which is actually watermelon soju. If you haven’t heard of soju before, it’s a Japanese/Korean alcohol traditionally made from rice, wheat, or barley. It’s somewhat comparable to sake but is distilled rather than brewed, is clear in color, and has a higher alcohol content among other differences. And it comes in a watermelon here!! If you’re going to order this, you really need to share because with my group of four, we were able to have two cups each. I mean I guess some people can tackle that all by themselves, but that might be a little dangerous. It tasted like watermelon juice and was very refreshing. I believe you can also order other flavors of it like strawberry and kiwi, but come on, you have to admit that getting it served in a giant watermelon like that is pretty cool.
We then all split the vegetable pancake, budae jjigae, squid stuffed with spicy pork, and kimchi fried rice. I know a vegetable pancake doesn’t sound that exciting, but they really know how to make it here! It was thick, with huge slices of summer squash in it, and crispy on the outside while chewy on the inside.
Budae jjigae is new to me, but it came highly recommended via Yelp. It’s actually a thick soup that was created after the Korean War when food was scarce and people made use of surplus food from the army bases, like hot dogs and spam, and incorporated them into their traditional soup which has red chili pasta and kimchi. At the time I was eating it, I had no idea about the origin of the soup, so I was just thinking, “Cool! This has lots of random stuff in it!” Nowwwww it makes sense. One of my friends could not get over it. He was all like, “Look I’m eating bow-tie pasta and then there’s a hot dog and then some tofu and then whatever this is!” But you know what else? It was also his favorite dish of the night. The broth is just the right amount of spicy and quite delicious. Also, whenever you order the soup, they bring a burner out so it stays bubbling hot as you make your way through the huge portion.
While I did think the pancake and soup were really good, the dish that blew me out of the water was the squid soondae. What’s that you ask? Well it’s squid stuffed with spicy pork. Whaaaat. This was definitely the one that got me drooling when I saw pictures online. I’m generally used to eating squid in smaller pieces, either fried or grilled. This was a massive whole piece of squid and STUFFED. Amazing. When you order it, a worker comes over and actually cuts the tentacles off and slices the squid at your table so you’re able to see it stuffed and whole before you dig into the more manageable cut pieces. The squid had the right amount of chewiness and went great with the spicy pork meat inside. First time I’ve ever seen this dish on a menu, and I’m obsessed. Another thing worth mentioning is what I noticed as I was walking back from the bathroom. Every single table–and I’m being serious here…EVERY SINGLE ONE–had an order of that stuffed squid. If there ever was a dish you needed to get at a restaurant…
The final item we ordered was the kimchi fried rice, just to have something completely different from the other things we had already ordered. To our surprise, the rice came folded up inside egg, looking like a giant omelette with a little salad on the side. This whole meal was full of surprises!
It can be a tight squeeze when you order a bunch of food to share as the tables are just these small, aluminum circular ones, but it’s part of the fun. Pocha 32 is totally laidback, loud, and great for just hanging out with your friends. Eating dinner here made me realize that there’s so much more to Korean food than I previously knew. It’s not all kimchi, bulgogi, and bibimbap y’all!
Watermelon soju, vegetable pancake, budae jjigae, squid soondae, kimchi fried rice
15 W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001