Which Momofuku Restaurants Are Worth the Hype?

If you’re a foodie like me, chances are you’ve either heard or seen the word “Momofuku,” whether in person or on social media. Momofuku is a group of restaurants owned by Chef/Founder David Chang. Most of his restaurants are located in NYC (yay), but he also owns restaurants in Sydney, Toronto, and most recently, Washington D.C.

In the past month, I’ve tried most of the (affordable - sorry, Momofuku Ko) Momofuku restaurants. The ones I went to are all conveniently located in the East Village, just a 10-15 minute walk from the Founders/Third North/Palladium/UHall residence halls. Here are my reviews of all four.

Fuku (Momofuku's Chicken Sandwich restaurant).

163 first avenue, btwn 10th + 11th street

I'll start out my saying that this was the best chicken sandwich I've ever tasted in my entire life. Not that I've eaten a large number of them in the past, but I thought Chik-Fil-A's spicy chicken sandwich was pretty freaking good. But Fuku simultaneously blew my mind and my tastebuds.

First off, the amount of chicken versus the bun was just incredible. They give you an extremely generous amount of chicken that also happens to have perfectly crispy fried skin with a solid amount of spice (if you like spicy food, you'll love this). The buns were soft and moist but not too much so, the pickles were an appropriate level of sour, and when paired with David Chang's masterpiece of a creation - the ssam sauce - the experience of eating a Fuku chicken sandwich is just euphoric. The ssam sauce could have its own separate article, but to give you a summary: it tastes like Sriracha, Hoisin, and Gochujang (Korean pepper paste) had a hot, spicy night of passion and Ssam is their delicious love child.

The meat was cooked to perfection, and you know the process is legit because you get to see it happen right in front of you as you eat. The place is pretty small and thus often has a line, but it's worth the wait. My only problem with the restaurant was that it didn't take cash, which was pretty annoying (at least to a college student). But since it was hard for me to find any flaw with the actual food, I was overall quite pleased with my experience.

Fun fact: There's also a secret off-the-menu item, called the Koreano, which is just the regular chicken but with a plentiful amount of daikon radish slaw. I unfortunately wasn't aware of this during my first visit, but I will definitely be trying it the next time I'm there.

My euphoric chicken sandwich

Momofuku Noodle Bar

171 first avenue, btwn 10th + 11th street

Momofuku Noodle Bar was the very first Momofuku restaurant that David Chang opened, and I (like most everyone) love ramen noodles, so I was really excited to try it out.

The first thing I ate was their daily menu item: fried egg buns with smoked pork loin, hollandaise, and chives. It was like an Asian version of eggs benedict, and tasted absolutely heavenly. I felt like I could have had 5 more of those buns and still be left wanting more. It’s incredible either by itself or with the Ssam sauce (which is at every Momofuku restaurant). For my main entree, I got their classic Momofuku ramen, with pork belly, pork shoulder, and poached egg (no such thing as too much pork - at least not at Momofuku). The noodles were perfectly cooked, the soup was the right level of salty, and the pork had just enough fat. If you’re a newbie to Japanese-style ramen, Momofuku ramen would be a great introduction.

The second time I went, I got the fried egg buns again (because you just can’t go to Noodle Bar and not get them), but decided to try the chilled spicy noodles instead of ramen. I’ll be honest, the reason I came back so soon was all thanks to Chrissy Teigen Instagramming said noddles. After seeing that on my feed, I knew I had to try it for myself. The chilled spicy noodles consist of sichuan sausage, spinach, cashews. It was unique for two reasons: 1) it tasted healthier and fresher than most noodle-based dishes, and 2) its spiciness was ridiculous. Normally, I’d say I’m pretty good with spicy food and I enjoy it, so when the waiter warned me that the dish was really spicy, I said that I could handle it. Turns out, I was wrong. When I was finished with about a third of the bowl, my lips felt like they were on fire and I could not continue. Despite the pain, I will say that it was still pretty yummy. But if you’re not extremely confident with your spicy food eating abilities, Momofuku Noodle Bar’s chilled spicy noodles might make you cry.

All the food I tried here was pretty great, and although the buns are a bit pricey, overall, Momofuku Noodle Bar is reasonably priced and worth the wait (like at most Momofuku restaurants, it is often packed).

My delicious ramen from visit #1.

Momofuku Ssam Bar

207 second avenue at 13th street

When I sat down at Momofuku Ssam Bar and looked at the menu, I felt like it was the closest thing to your usual, decently fancy restaurant. It didn’t appear to specialize in anything, but many of the dishes listed on their menu included ingredients I did not recognize. I ate the following three things: Momofuku’s signature pork buns, honeycrisp apple kimchi, and spicy pork sausage & rice cakes.

Momofuku’s signature pork buns were by far the best part of the meal. Momofuku’s bun dishes never disappoint, and there’s a reason why it’s their signature dish. It’s just so delicious. After trying the fried egg buns at Noodle Bar, I had pretty high expectations for the pork buns at Ssam Bar - and they were met. The buns were moist, the pork was so thick and fatty, and the hoisin sauce and thinly sliced cucumbers complemented the meat and bun perfectly.

Next I tried something called honeycrisp apple kimchi, which included maple labne, jowl bacon, and arugula. I actually ordered this because I love kimchi and based on the name of the dish, I expected that to be the main component of it. Turns out, it’s actually all just honeycrisp apple slices, covered in kimchi seasoning. It wasn’t bad, and was a nicely refreshing complement to the greasier main entree I had, but next time I’ll know to ask my host for details as to what exactly the dish is so that I don’t get something unexpected.

The main entree I chose was the spicy pork sausage & rice cakes, with broccoli and sichuan peppercorn. This dish was really heavy, and had lots of strong flavors. The rice cakes were the best part - they were fried, so that every piece was crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. You wouldn’t expect pork sausage (or meat of any kind for that matter) and rice cakes to go well together, but it actually wasn’t bad. It was a bit too greasy for my taste and so I wasn’t able to finish eating it, but I was glad because I got to taste lots of new and unknown flavors and textures in this dish.

Overall, I’d say my experience at Ssam Bar was fine. It wasn’t amazing or anything special, but I would be willing to come back and try their other dishes. The only particular downsides to the Ssam Bar is that it’s a bit more on the pricier side than the other Momofuku restaurants in this article, and that the menu item names and ingredients can be a bit confusing at times (so be sure to ask your host/hostess any questions you have)!

Ssam pork buns. Photo credit: @Infatuation

Momofuku Milk Bar

13th St and 2nd Ave

Let’s start with some basic background info: Milk Bar is the sister bakery of Momofuku restaurant group, founded by Christina Tosi. Some of their most popular menu items include Cereal Milk soft serve, Birthday Cake Truffles, and Crack Pie. I broke my thoughts and experience of Milk Bar into some pros and cons.

Pros: Reputation (Milk Bar is one of the better known Momofuku restaurants), popularity (there is always a line leading out the door and down the block), Instagrammable-ness (I’m pretty sure their cereal milk flavored soft serve with cornflake topping wins the award for most Instagrammed Momofuku item).

Cons: The actual food. Sorry not sorry. I visited Milk Bar with some pretty low expectations (due to many of my friends telling me that it was disappointing), and they were still barely met. Their Cereal Milk soft serve tastes exactly like their official description of it, “like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of cornflakes,” but not in a good way. It was saltier than ice cream should be, the corn flake topping was dry, and it just wasn’t very appetizing. As for their Crack Pie, let’s just say that I finally understand what “too sweet” tastes like. I’m not one to count calories, ever, but even after just one bite of the pie, I felt like I could actually feel the calories in my mouth. I’d rather not know the amount of sugar and butter that goes into making it. Overall, my experience at Milk Bar wasn’t that great, and I will probably not be returning anytime soon.

Cereal Milk soft serve and crack pie.

My Final Ranking (after considering various factors, such as food, price, atmosphere, etc.):

  1. Noodle Bar

  2. Fuku

  3. Ssam Bar

  4. Milk Bar

Note: the menu items I wrote about in this review (mainly for Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar) are just a small portion of their much more extensive menus.

The official Momofuku website: http://momofuku.com/