The mighty Nowon brings kimchi burgers and buldak pizza to Bushwick

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Jae Lee is no stranger to feeding people in a party zone. In 2019, as part of a popup series called Him (it means “strength” in Korean), Lee set up shop in the kitchen of the now-defunct East Village Speed Tribes biker bar Black Emperor, slinging an improbable but crazy delicious array of Korean-flavored American classics like kimchi burgers and honey butter tater tots.

It proved to be a winning formula, and later that year Lee opened his own restaurant down on Sixth Street off Avenue A, in the heart of the neighborhood’s nightlife scene, called Nowon, named after the town he grew up in outside of Seoul. The pandemic upended everything shortly thereafter of course but, thankfully, Nowon survived, then thrived, and last week Lee opened a second Nowon in Bushwick, right by the Jefferson L stop.

“I lived with my brother in Bushwick for a few years, and I love the neighborhood,” Lee tells Brooklyn Magazine. “The street art, the art crowd, the nightlife, the interesting people, the energy. The culture here is pretty unique, even for New York City.”

The new Nowon is cool-looking and fun, with a small bar and lounge-y area up front and seating for about 60 in the main dining room. There’s a disco ball and DJ booth, and Lee promises that there’ll be karaoke late nights here in the near future. It’s going to be a party.

But just because the joint is jumping doesn’t mean that Lee has taken his focus off the food. In fact, the biggest news for Brooklyn is that he’s added a whole new section to the Nowon menu, starring five different wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizzas, each topped with traditional Korean ingredients.

“I grew up eating Korean pizza,” Lee says. “But our pizza in Korea is like Pizza Hut, and it has sweet potato puree or bulgogi on top. Then I moved here and in college I discovered New York pizza, and I was like oh my god.”

To help build his pizza program, Lee signed on acclaimed pizzaiola Felix Toro, whose Happy Bull popups have settled in on Tuesday nights at Fifth Hammer Brewing in Long Island City. Toro makes a first-rate crust for Nowon’s six-slice beauties — it’s chewy and a little floppy, but you can still eat it with your hands if you do a quick fold — and nicely balances Lee’s big-flavored toppings for an all-around exceptional pie.

The “Bushwick Buldak” pizza is especially great, covered in its namesake roasted hot bird, which Lee likens to Buffalo chicken, as well as gummy rice cakes, a slightly sweet and seriously thick gochu red sauce, and big blobs of mozzarella.

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Bushwick buldak pie, $24 (Scott Lynch)

We also wolfed Lee’s “Clams Soigné” creation, covered in minced cherrystones, bacon bits, kimchi, and mounds of actual Ossetra caviar. This may have been too much of a good thing to be honest, but sometimes it feels good to wallow in decadence for a minute.

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Decadence: Clam Soigné pie with Osetra caviar, $48 (Scott Lynch)

And don’t fret, fellow OG Nowon fans, Lee has a bunch of Nowon classics on the menu too, including his legendary kimchi-laden cheeseburger, available as a double smashburger or, in limited numbers each night, as a dry-aged steakburger. I called the former “one of NYC’s greatest burgers” when I first ate it at Black Emperor back in 2019, and it totally holds up today. Just a beautiful, fiery, sloppy masterpiece.

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Legendary cheeseburger, $21 (Scott Lynch)

Other very good things to eat here include the Korean fried chicken-thigh sandwich, the chopped cheese rice cakes and those rad tater tots I mentioned above — both of which eat like stoner food manna — and Lee’s new “chilled and charred” broccolini Caesar salad, smothered in black sesame dressing and co-starring candied anchovies.

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‘Chopped cheese’ rice cakes, $18 (Scott Lynch)

There’s booze of course — $12 beers, $14 glasses of wine, $18 cocktails — but Lee himself quit drinking about two and a half a years ago, so he’s added lots of non-alcoholic options to the mix here in Bushwick as well. I tried a zero-proof cocktail called “Orange Theory,” made with honey, chili oil, turmeric, and citrus, and it was delightful.

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Chilled and charred broccolini ‘Caesar,’ $15, and an ‘orange theory’ mocktail (Scott Lynch)

“We have regulars already here in Brooklyn,” says Lee. “One guy’s been here three times in the five days we’ve been open. We are not a hype, we are not a trend, we’re a staple. We want to be a staple neighborhood spot, and we’re very happy to be here.”

Nowon Bushwick is located at 436 Jefferson Street, in the former Faro spot just north of Wyckoff Avenue, and is currently open on Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 11 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight. Lunch, brunch, and late-night hours are coming.    

The post The mighty Nowon brings kimchi burgers and buldak pizza to Bushwick appeared first on Brooklyn Magazine.

By: Scott Lynch
Title: The mighty Nowon brings kimchi burgers and buldak pizza to Bushwick
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Published Date: Fri, 04 Aug 2023 16:06:20 +0000

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