From glowing meat-on-the-grill barbecue feasts to boiling-hot spicy seafood stews, the Korean culinary scene in New York City is diverse and lively. However, for office workers looking for a quick bite within a limited timespan, barbecue’s drawn-out hours and stews’ unruly liquid nature make them out of the question. Sure, Korean fried chicken is quick and convenient, but another option for time-crunched individuals hungry for a taste of a Korean lunch may be dosirak (or doshirak as some call it), a home-made Korean-style lunchbox with a variety of vegetables and meat.

Located on the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 31st Street, three avenues away from the flourishing Koreatown, Handsome Rice is a restaurant tiny enough that people could easily pass by if not for its clean and cozy decor. With pink storefront, shiny white walls and crisp wooden overhead board listing the menu in flashcard-like panels, the restaurant grabs most pedestrians’ attention through its large window. Perhaps some of them may think this is a coffee shop before they step through the door and see the open kitchen. Dozens of restaurant guides and cookbooks, some of them written by the owner and chef Hansong Kim, are decked out on a miniature bookshelf, on which sits a mini-plaque that says “Handsome Rice cooked by handsome.” It was not until later that I learned "handsome" was Kim's nickname as the word resembles the pronounciation of his first name.

Photo courtesy of Handsome Rice

A Certified Executive Chef and Approved Certified Evaluator, Kim has won many culinary competitions in South Korea and appeared on several TV programs as a guest chef before coming to the United States. You will find him heating beef boneless short ribs with a blow torch, chatting with the neighbor sitting on the stairs, or hustling up and down the street in his black apron and denim shirt, always with a smile on his face.

Here, takeout might be the preferred option as there are only three stools and a narrow table attached to the window. I wanted to dine in on a visit around 1 PM, but the young man sitting next to me was so awkwardly close that I could slam his elbow if I turned my hip, all while one-third of my body was leaning against the door. The restaurant does not seem to have peak hours, as visitors come in during different times of the day. The kitchen usually prepares dishes in under five minutes. When Kim is not there, there are at least two people handling the kitchen.   

Photo courtesy of Handsome Rice

Each lunch box comes with meat resting on a bed of glutinous purple rice. Chunks of impeccably tongue-singeing sweet potatoes accompany the protein, while smacks of palate-scouring pickled cabbage are nestled beside the glossy kale and beets. The most classic meat option is the $12.95 bulgogi, sweet soy sauce marinated rib eye woven with strings of green pepper. The sturdiness of the meat mellows the sweetness, making the dish subtle though not underwhelming. However, the fruity sauce invigorates in the nubs of galbi, or Omaha steak beef short rib, naturally aged at least 21 days and marinated in homemade galbi sauce for 24 hours. The velvety rib, its strong flavor assuaged by the soft rice, makes galbi dosirak worth the $14.95 price tag.

Photo courtesy of Handsome Rice

Chicken avocado dosirak, calibrated at $10.95, may appeal more towards eaters who are unfamiliar with Korean cuisine. The chicken is cooked and grilled with a sous-vide machine, a gadget known for its precision. Speckled with herbs and frilled with roasted avocado, the chicken is light and tender, making chewing effortless. The $11.95 Jeyuk dosirak is my personal favorite. The Gochujiang (Korean spicy sauce) marinated spicy pork embellished with bits of scallions is nowhere as intimidating as it sounds, its tinged spice masked under a layer of sweetness. 

Dosirak shows that Korean cuisine consists of more than elaborate schemes of fiery barbeque. The boon of hearty lunch boxes is a nice break for people in disarray. Handsome Rice is indicative of the reality that Korean cuisine is quite diverse, and this diversity is reflected in New York City’s cultural dining scene. 

*The article was written before the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City. Handsome Rice offers pickup and delivery options as of May 2020.