An all-you-can-eat DIY tteokbokki parlor — arguably the only one in NYC to focus on the spicy Korean rice cakes — has swung open its doors at 146-13 Northern Boulevard, between 146th and 147th streets in Flushing, Queens. Witch Topokki debuts with an extravaganza of unlimited Korean comfort foods like ramen, fried chicken, and fishcakes. As the name suggests, it goes hard on rice cakes — rarely the star of New York’s Korean restaurants — with at least ten creative iterations of the chewy starch. The restaurant will open a second location three miles away in Bayside in late January before it expands to Manhattan and across the country.
“K-food, K-music, K-shows have become so popular,” says Sang-Jin Park, chef-owner of Witch Topokki and veteran Queens restaurateur. “I thought about, when it comes to K-food, what would appeal to people who aren’t Korean? There’s already galbi, bibimbap. But what’s new is tteokbokki.” In Korea, tteokbokki is a popular street food that restaurants like the massive Dookki Tteokbokki chain and Manyo have turned into buffet-style favorites across Asia. That’s not to say the dish doesn’t exist all over New York City, but putting it in the forefront is something Park is excited about.
At his new restaurant in Flushing, tteokbokki is a create-your-own affair of endless ingredients and side dishes from the buffet bar ($22.95 for lunch; $25.95 for dinner). Enter the light and airy space and head to one of 19 tables, each outfitted with sleek electric burners built flush onto the surface of the table. The tteokbokki gets cooked at the table in a base of clear, savory fish broth.
Once seated, diners head to the back of the restaurant to choose among seasonings and rice cakes they’ll bring back to the table for cooking. The seasoning station is where diners choose from any of eight proprietary spice blends that Park concocted himself and brings over from Korea. The classic gochugaru-based sauce is a bestseller since it opened in late December, says manager Jerry Kim, but the restaurant has innovative options like jjajangmyun (black bean), curry, and carbonara.
The next stop is the toppings bar along the back wall, and the ten chewy rice cakes (tteok) Park imports from Korea are the main attraction, the base for the toppings. In addition to the typical thick, white cylinders commonly found in tteokbokki in Korean restaurants in New York, there are tapered rods of tteok, dyed with purple yam and an orange-hued counterpart stuffed with sweet pumpkin. The fillings of each release thick soft, sweet mush against the chewy walls of rice cake. Vegetables like cabbage and mushrooms lie among complementary options along with seven versions of fish cakes and fish balls, including one filled with cheesy corn.
Beyond rice cakes, there’s a hot bar with fried chicken and kimbab mari (fried vermicelli-stuffed seaweed rolls); a corner for skewered fish cake in broth; and a ramen wall with about 20 different ramen packages for those who want to forego Witch’s spice blends and use the ramen flavor packets instead.
Formerly a chef at Momoyama, a modern Japanese restaurant inside the luxury Lotte Hotel in Seoul, Park immigrated to New York in 2002 to pursue a less grueling lifestyle for his family. Park has a track record of filling in the gaps in Korean cuisine in Flushing, opening gamjatang (spicy pork bone soup)-focused Geo Seo Gi in 2006 (which he sold in 2019) and tuna-centric Dongwon sushi restaurant in 2016.
He’s now betting on AYCE tteokbokki with Witch’s proprietary seasonings — what Park calls the “magic powders”— to take off.
Witch Topokki is open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Caroline Shin is a Queens-raised food journalist and founder of the Cooking with Granny YouTube and workshop series spotlighting immigrant grandmothers. Follow her on Instagram @CookingWGranny.