Yubu, which opened about a month ago on a busy stretch of East 7th Street, is a tiny place with room for little more than an ordering counter and maybe two customers inside. And that's fine, because there's really only one thing on the menu: yubuchobap, or fried bean curd pockets stuffed with sushi-style vinegared rice. Ah but "yubu," as it's abbreviated here, proves to be the perfect vehicle for all manner of rich and hearty toppings, a base providing plenty of heft and flavor that still allows the primary ingredient to shine.
During a recent visit, co-owner Jason Kim told Gothamist, "There's not a lot of quick-bite, quick-serve Korean restaurants in the city, and I thought tofu pockets would be the perfect way to let people try different types of Korean food without having to spend $20 to $30 for a whole dish."
There are a dozen yubuchobap on chef and co-owner Max Bang's menu, each priced at $3.50 or less and, based on how much I enjoyed my six-pack the other day, you can order with confidence no matter where your cravings lead you. The Beef Bulgogi, for example, struck the perfect balance among its savory and slightly-sweet seasonings and sauces, and the meat was both nicely charred and tender enough to bite right through. Same goes for the Pork Jaeyook, which had the added pleasure of including fiery chilis and a bit of kimchi into the mix.
More heat (and heartiness) can be found in the vegan Spicy Mushroom version, and you can enjoy your funky fungi in a Bulgogi take as well. There are a bunch of fish options, including an excellent Spicy Tuna yubu, prepared like tuna salad with lots of mayo, a Crabmeat one, a chunky Salmon, and a Myungran Mayo yubu made with flying fish roe that I'm kind of bummed I didn't try because it sounds really good.
In the drinks department, Yubu makes several varieties of sparkling juices, including Yuja Ade, infused with honey and citron, and Maesil Ade, made with Asian green plum. I went the sweeter route with my beverage selection, sucking down a delicious Dalgona Milk Coffee which came topped with enough housemade, honeycomb sponge candy to function as dessert. You can get this made with tea as well.
"It was risky to open during the pandemic," said Kim. "But at the same time, because of all the rental spaces that become available, it gave us a shot at a spot like this in the East Village, which was probably something that we couldn't have even considered before. The neighborhood is great, really friendly, and supportive. The woman who lives next door to the shop drags her friends over to give us a try. I love it here."
There's a pair of tables parked out on the sidewalk for those dining "in," but nearby Tompkins Square Park provides plenty of additional seating.
Yubu is located at 86 East 7th Street, just west of First Avenue, and is currently open on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (646-891-0116; yubu.nyc)