Seoul is up there on our favourite cities of all time list, partly because K-pop and karaoke are two of our guiltiest pleasures, but mainly because Korean food is so darn great. Bibimbap, kimchi, BBQ, bulgogi, galbi: we love it all! Which is why here at UJ HQ we’re constantly jetting off to South Korea every time a long weekend in Singapore comes along to further explore this soju-soaked city famed for it’s insanely fast WIFI and party-loving population. If it’s not on your travel to-do list for 2018, we recommend you change that, stat! Next time you visit be sure to check out some of our favorite places to grab a seriously good plate of food, from old school Korean faves to a new wave of restaurants serving modern takes on the classics (plus a few of our fave places to scoff a good ‘ol burger or pizza!). Happy eating!
Mix & Malt
Mix & Malt is a difficult place to pin down, frankly because it does so many things well. Is it a restaurant or bar? Depends on your vantage point. As you walk up the entrance, the first decision is where to sit. Chilled out patio seating to your right and comfy couches to your left give off a lounge vibe, especially in the evening when candlelight magnifies the mood. Once inside, you may be tempted to sit at the proper bar and let Wendel, the owner, wow you with his knowledge of one of the dozens of bottles of fine whiskey lining the walls. Or head up to the second floor and opt for a more proper sit down dining experience.
Your second tough decision will be deciding what to eat. You can rest easy though, knowing that just about any choice you make will leave you satisfied. For dinner, you absolutely cannot go wrong with the sous vide steak. Keeping it light? Best BLT I’ve ever eaten, seriously (sorry mom). It must have been the extra strips of bacon thrown on top. Make sure you ask for the Cajon fries, as some dishes come with inferior, standard fries. The chili mac and buffalo wings are also noteworthy munchies, and the buffalo shrimp sandwich was a pleasing, if not interesting take on a sandwich (though hard to eat with pieces of shrimp bursting out of the bread.)
Not that eating is the only thing you’ll do at Mix & Malt. The bartenders are such experts at crafting their long list of specialty cocktails, you might want to sit at the bar just you can watch them in action. One glance at the menu (all on iPad by the way) and you will likely be tempted to order one of their delicious mojitos, but we suggest you opt for the Moscow Mule and thank us later. We’ve tried Moscow Mules all over this city and Mix & Malt’s is hands down the best.
Not that eating and drinking are the only things you’ll do at Mix & Malt. They’ve got a proper poker table set up which is free to use, and you may even be able to get Wendel to join in, but watch your stack because I heard he’s a shark. There are always the latest movies playing on the big screen near the bar (with Korean subtitles usually) and a video game station too, if drunken PlayStation is more your thing. The games don’t end there, head to the second floor for old school arcade games and shuffle puck!
Bottom line: this is one of the premiere places in Seoul. Great food, great drinks, great service and great atmosphere. Tell them Urban Journey sent you.
What: American Dining, fine whiskey / cocktails
Where: Hyehwa Station Exit 4, Jongro-Gu, Changkyeong Kung-ro 29kil 3, Seoul 110-812
Hours: Monday – Saturday 11am – 2am, Sunday 7:30am – 2am
Price: Food and Cocktails from 10,000 won
Casablanca, run by Moroccan brothers Wahid and Karim Naciri, is hands down the best place in Seoul to get an authentic Moroccan sandwich. This little sandwich shop has been a staple of the HBC community for years, and isn’t going anywhere. Most places with a limited menu do what they do well, and Casablanca is no exception. They have about five sandwiches to choose from on the menu, plus a few other Moroccan style dishes that we’ve heard are also great. Personally, it’s hard to break away from their sandwiches because the bread, which is sourced from a nearby Syrian bakery, is so damn good (a rarity in Seoul). The bun is always fresh and has a bit of crispiness to it, which compliments the ingredients well. The portion size won’t leave you wanting either, and the sandwiches are priced reasonably (I think most people would happily pay a buck or two more). The only downside is they don’t open their doors until 3pm, so don’t try going there for lunch unless it’s the weekend. Like many buildings in the area, Casablanca has modest seating and is often busy, but is worth the wait even if you can’t get a table right away. Once you are seated and order, the sandwiches do come out rather quickly, and the guys behind the counter are always friendly and warm. Big ups to Casablanca for showing Korea how to do sandwiches right!
What we like: You can’t go wrong with the Moroccan chicken sandwich or the spicy lamb.
What: Moroccan Sandwiches
Where: Noksapyeong Station Exit 2, 33, Sinheung-ro Yongsan-gu Seoul 140-842
Hours: Tuesday – Friday 3pm – 10pm, Saturday – Sunday 1pm – 10pm
Price: Sandwiches from 7,000 won
Vatos Urban Tacos sprang from the minds (and bellies) of three Korean-Americans who wanted to offer a new type of dining experience in Korea. Kenny and Sid hail from Southern California, and Juweon planted his roots in Texas; all three spent the majority of their lives growing up on authentic Mexican food. At the same time, they were fed a steady diet of homemade Korean food lovingly prepared by their first generation mothers. This upbringing led to the creation of signature dishes like the Kimchi Carnitas Fries, Galbi Tacos, and Spicy Chicken Quesadillas.
Vatos is Mexican slang for “men” or “dudes”. The guys got their start via a Kickstarter campaign in 2011, and the rest was history. Vatos Urban Tacos has since garnered praise for providing exciting new tastes using the freshest ingredients. CNN Travel named Vatos the Hottest New Restaurant in Seoul. 10 Magazine chose the Kimchi Carnitas Fries as the Best Dish in Korea. Vatos has become a destination in Korea for both locals and visitors, food enthusiasts and professionals alike—attracting the likes of celebrated chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Eric Ripert. The restaurants have also played host to high-profile events, including functions for the embassy of Mexico in Korea and a luncheon in honor of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The three co-founders of Vatos formed Urban Group, Co. Ltd., and together they operate four Vatos locations in Seoul and one in Singapore. In May 2016, Urban Group unveiled the new event space, Urban Collective. The popular venue is equipped with an industrial kitchen and full-service bar that serves as a test kitchen for the Vatos team. Their flagship restaurant is in Itaewon, and they’ve also opened locations in Sinsa and Jamsil, with a “Vatos Express” in Apgujeong Galleria. Menu items are on the pricier side, but well worth it!
What we like: Kimchi Carnitas Fries and the Honey Tequila Chicken Wings. If straight up tacos are what you fancy, you can’t go wrong with the Chili Lime Shrimp Tacos (3 for 12,900 won). Wash it down with one of their excellent Margaritas with an upturned beer bottle inside.
What we recommend: Making a reservation! Vatos is one of the hippest restaurants in Itaewon and is packed on a nightly basis. Be prepared to wait if you are planning on a spontaneous pop in.
What: Urban Tacos
Where: Itaewon Station, Exit 1, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong, 81-8 2nd Floor
Social Media: @vatoskorea
Tel: 02-797-8226 (Itaewon store)
Hours: 11:30am – 11pm (open until 12am on Saturday)
Price: 9,900 – 16,900 per menu item
The Hongdae neighborhood in Seoul is known for certain things: clubbing, cute little shops, cheap drinks and even cheaper street food. It’s an area that’s young, hip, and exciting, but it has never been a destination for dining. Which is what makes The Beastro so unique. Widely considered the best American restaurant in Seoul, The Beastro is an award-winning New American bistro run by brother and sister team Matthew and Catherine Chung. The duo grew up traveling the world before settling in Seoul, where they opened The Beastro to celebrate the American food they grew up with and love.
What makes The Beastro special is that in a city where choosing a western restaurant means a compromise between being affordable or high quality, The Beastro manages to be both. Everything–from both the kitchen and the bar–is made in house from fresh ingredients. The kitchen is run by executive chef Matthew J Chung: 29 years old with over a decade of experience in working some of the best kitchens in the United States and Korea, classically trained through Le Cordon Bleu. Chef Chung also spent 3 years producing and starring in over 300 episodes of television for Arirang TV for shows such as Korea Today, Tales of Hansik, and Chef’s Foodcation. He works together with a team of chefs to create American food crafted with the same attention to detail as the fine dining kitchens he trained under.
The menu at The Beastro changes seasonally, with a number of signature dishes that remain on the menu year around. The cuisine is rich, hearty, and distinctly American; classic recipes and flavors with thoughtful modern flourishes that touch upon Chef Chung’s classical French background. Perhaps most famous for their 24 Hour Hanger Steak, a simple dish of steak, potatoes, and gravy. The hanger steak–a butcher’s cut commonly served in Parisian bistros–is sous vide for 24 hours, and then seared with a black pepper crust. The gravy is thick with richly caramelized onions and the potatoes are pan roasted in beef fat and butter until crunchy and golden brown. Other popular dishes include their rabbit meatball pappardelle, fried brie with orange tomato jam, and southern fried chicken platter–an electrifying take on the classic combination of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and hot sauce. The food is upscale yet approachable, but the prices reflect the casual, lively atmosphere.
The beverage program is also given the same hand crafted care by head bartender Taeeun Yoon, and reflect The Beastro’s philosophy of seasonal and flavor forward. The cocktail menu features a full host of classic speakeasy drinks, such as their Kentucky Mule which features house made ginger beer, fresh lime, and Kentucky bourbon. The menu also showcases a full lineup of signature cocktails–hand crafted drinks created in house and exclusively available at The Beastro. Just like the kitchen, all of the drinks are hand crafted with fresh ingredients and a focus on balanced flavors.
Ultimately, everything at The Beastro is a labor of love. Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner (and brunch on the weekends), this is a restaurant where every last detail is given the highest attention and humble American recipes are elevated with classical French technique.
What: American cuisine
Where: Hongdae (near the playground), 358-32 Seogyo-dong 2F, Mapo-gu, Seoul 121-838
Social media FB: @TheBeastroSeoul
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11:30am – 3pm, 5:30 – 10pm, Friday – Saturday 11:30am – 3pm, 5:30 – 10:30pm
There was a time not long ago when you would be hard pressed to find decent Mexican food in Seoul. These days, the market seems to be flooded and now the challenge is finding a spot that has the right balance of flavor, price and authenticity. It might still be a challenge to find a decent California burrito; that is until Cali Kitchen came along in 2015. Opened by native Californian Chuck Chun, he had a vision to raise the bar for Seoul restaurants in terms of quality, even if that meant sacrificing some profit. The ingredients at Cali Kitchen definitely live up to his vision. Sauces/toppings are all made in house, including their mayo, extra spicy salsa, and guacamole, which they don’t skimp on.
What we like: We can’t say enough about the chili, whether ordered alone or smothered on top a batch of French fries. If you’ve never had your fries inside a burrito, do yourself a favor and get the California burrito to see how those Cali folks do it. The burgers are also notable, which Chuck describes and a lovechild of In-n-Out and Shake Shack burgers.
Where: Noksapyeong Station (Kyungridan), 224-66 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
HOURS: Sun – Thurs Dinner Only (5pm-10pm)
Fri – Sat 12:00pm – 2:30pm, 5pm – 10pm
PRICE: Burgers 10,000 won, Burritos 11 – 16,000 won
Ok, let’s say you’re on a short trip to Seoul and you want to experience all that Korean cuisine has to offer. Recommendations from friends would likely send you scrambling all over the city, with so many options that you’d definitely suffer from FOMO. Enter Hansik Olbaan, a high-quality Korean buffet opened by none other than Korea’s food giant Shinsegae. While trusting a corporation with your introduction to Korean food might seem like a no-no, they’ve managed to combine an impressive selection with high-quality ingredients and a price tag that is surprisingly affordable.
Hansik is the Korean word for Korean food, and olbaan translates to “serving well-cooked food the right way”. Their commitment to quality ingredients has allowed them to commercialize Korean food without suffering the inevitable quality-dip that comes with streamlining. Pay a visit to Ashley’s or VIPS, other “popular” buffets in Korea, where leaving satisfied is literally a coin flip (UJ Tip: don’t pay a visit to Ashley’s or VIPS).
UJ Recommends: Go hungry, eat slowly and try a bit of everything! If it’s your first time eating Korean food, there will undoubtedly be dishes that look or smell weird and unappetizing. Open your mind, loosen your belt and live a little.
What: Korean Buffet
Where: Express Bus Terminal Station, Famille Station, Banpo-dong 118-5, Seocho-gu, Seoul
Hours: doors open 11am
Price: buffet 29,800
Social media: FB @olbaan
Chef Yim Jung-sik makes dishes so pretty they might make you blush. He opened Jung Sik in 2009 after building up some serious credentials, graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in NYC and apprenticing at Bouley and Aquavit, then with short stints at Zuberoa and Akelare in Spain. During his mandatory military service in Korea, his cooking was so good that his superior officer promoted him to his personal chef. It is rumored that his Crispy Duck could bring stability to the region (ok, we started that rumor).
Jung Sik’s culinary creations are described as “new Korean cuisine” and they became the first restaurant in Seoul to apply molecular gastronomy to Korean ingredients. Deservedly, Jung Sik received two Michelin stars and was ranked the 10th best restaurant in Asia for their efforts.
Jung Sik’s signature dish, the ‘Five Sense’ Pork Belly, is cooked sous-vide and combines flavors and textures to give you an experience that is sweet, sour, spicy, crispy and soft. The pork is slow-roasted for 13 hours at low heat and the skin is seared just before serving to keep it crisp. Served on a thick bed of puree potatoes and onions pickled in soy sauce, the entire entrée sits on top of a sweet soy sauce-marinated garlic leaf, a call to traditional Korean barbeque in which the meat and other ingredients are wrapped in lettuce. The pork is topped with pickled green chilies and just a bit of homemade blackberry ginger jam hides underneath the peppers to provide a sweet element that counterbalances the spiciness of the chilies.
You have your choice of tasting and choice menus, which range from 4 to 8 courses. The choice menu gives you different options but will ring all of your bells (appetizer, rice, sea, land and sweet). We recommend you fasten your seatbelt, order the tasting menu and let Jung-sik wow you with the range of flavors that he so aptly calls new Korean.
What: New Korean
Where: Apgujeong Rodeo Station exit 4, 11, Seolleung-ro 158-gil Gangnam-gu Seoul 135-954
Hours: daily 12pm – 2pm, 5:30pm – 9pm
Price: lunch from 50,000 / dinner from 90,000 won
Perceiving the need for simple and genuine Italian cuisine in the Seoul restaurant scene, a foursome of Italian guys thought the time was ripe to dispel the myth of Italian cuisine as fine dining. Thus, together with a party of foreigners, mostly from the US and Korea, they decided to reproduce the concept of Brera, a district of Milan, where Italian tradition has been constantly upgraded by and integrated with the latest international trends.
Brera has been ranked as a top 10 restaurant in Seoul and the number 1 Italian restaurant by Seoul Restaurant Expat Guide. They’ve reached such heights through their concept, aiming to provide a 360° contemporary Italian hospitality experience. They’ve divided their staff into sub-teams according to competence, and guarantee the best of Italian coffees, home grandmother style Italian food, European brunch, American whiskey bar, as well as fun, entertainment and education. Lofty goals, yet brilliantly executed.
The kitchen is the only one in Seoul run exclusively by Italian cooks, who prepare in-house fresh pastas, brick oven pizzas, cheeses, jams, cured meats, etc., delivering a truly unique Italian food experience. The in-house bar, called Whiskey Rebellion, is a speakeasy style bar that aims to change the whiskey drinking culture by serving crafted cocktails and alternative whiskey presentations to a market saturated by over-priced single malts.
What we like: The combination of atmosphere and legit food at a really affordable price. It’s almost hard to believe that they can offer so much value for your money, all while making you feel right at home, whether you are a regular or a first time visitor. This place is truly a diamond in the rough.
What: Italian Restaurant & Bistro
Where: Beotigogae Station (Line 6), exit 1, 295, Dongho-ro 17-gil Junggu Seoul 100-830
Hours: Tues – Sun 11am – 10pm (break time 2:30 – 4:30pm)
Price: dinner 15,000 – 25,000 won
Linus’ Bama Style BBQ
Another recent revelation to the Seoul food scene is the ability to find authentic Southern BBQ. Ask any expat five years ago and they’d tell you it was a mere pipe dream. But thanks to Linus Kim and his crew, the tastes of real ‘Bama BBQ can be had with a mere stroll down Itaewon’s back alleys. Despite its location, buried in Seoul’s concrete jungle, they’ve even managed to give the dining experience a tinge of backyard BBQ flavor as well. The mostly open-air seating resembles a back porch and is lined with picnic tables. Let’s be real, though, we’d eat here even if the interior lacked the charm of a fluorescent-lit McDonalds.
The taste of Linus’ BBQ all comes from the technique. He became a licensed BBQ judge as he toured BBQ competitions across America, where he learned some of the techniques that makes his smoked meat so special. Injecting moisture and slow cooking the meat over sweet apple wood with marinades that are a closely guarded secret. It’s this kind of passion and innovation that makes restaurants truly special, and Linus is no exception.
What we recommend: Get a BBQ plate and don’t pass on the pulled pork and brisket. Pile it high on their soft buns and be sure to add generous helpings of sides like coleslaw, baked beans and fried okra.
What: American style BBQ
Where: Noksapyeong Station (line 6), exit 3, 136-13, Itaewon-ro Seoul 140-863
Hours: Daily 11:30am–3pm, 5:30pm–10pm (10:30pm weekends)
Price: around 20,000 won
Longtime expats living in Korea can pretty much agree; it’s not easy to find a great sandwich in this country. Sugared white bread, shameful meat to veg ratio, poorly applied helpings of weird sauce, CORN…on a sandwich? The struggle is real. If this description sends chills up your spine, put down that half-assed Paris Baguette sandwich and head on over to Rye Post in Itaewon. Their mission is to “Make Sandwiches Great Again” (where have we heard that before? Let’s get some hats made up).
Rye Post is neatly tucked away in the middle of Itaewon’s shopping district, just under Dillingers. It has the comfortable feel of a modern American Bistro. The staff is friendly and attentive without being too in your face, and the waiters/waitresses speak good enough English to make sure your questions and requests are met without confusion. It may seem strange to note this, but it’s an underrated bonus in a country filled with shy and insecure speakers of English.
There’s an impressive selection of craft beers and ciders to compliment whichever sandwich adventure you decide to embark upon. And let’s be real, this place is all about the sandwiches.
What we like: The Philly Cheesesteak is a fan favorite, and it’s safe to say they have the best (if not only) authentic Rueben in Seoul. The Rueben is their most expensive sandwich at 14,000 won, but worth it if that’s your thing. Most of the other sandwiches hover around a 10,000 won price tag, and they’ve recently added a selection of legit burgers to their menu.
What: Gourmet Sandwiches
Where: Itaewon station exit 4, 72-34 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Social media: @ryepost
Contact: 02-792-9991, [email protected]
Hours: 11:30am – 10pm (break time 3pm – 5:30pm)
Price: Sandwiches 8,000 – 14,000 won
With the sudden flood of various Mexican joints popping up all over Seoul, it’s not always easy to distinguish a legit restaurant from one that is swinging and missing. Often times the menu looks authentic and then you find yourself left with a poorly conceived Ko-Mex monstrosity, asking ‘what are these ingredients and where is the cilantro?’ The sad but true fact is that many places cater to the Korean palette, and the Korean palette isn’t down with cilantro.
Thankfully, you won’t encounter any of these nightmares at Paco Loco. Their little shop on Kyungridan street isn’t winning any awards for interior design, but who has time to admire the décor when you’re stuffing your face with a delicious, well made burrito? Think of it more like a food truck from back home, just without wheels. The menu is simple and straightforward, consisting of burritos, tacos, and quesadillas, with several options for the meat filling, including spicy pork, chicken, shrimp and chorizo. But don’t stress too much about your choice, it’s all consistently good. They make their tortillas fresh every morning from scratch, and have the best damn hot sauce in Seoul to spice up your meal. Wash it down with a Mexican beer or soda and you’re good to go. Mexican food doesn’t have to be difficult. Thanks, Paco.
What we like: We think the shrimp tacos are bomb, and when opting for the burrito, the spicy pork or chorizo are your best bets. Whatever you do, don’t skip the hot sauce!
Address: Noksapyeong Station Exit 2
Noksapyeong-daero 246 Yongsan-gu Seoul
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 12pm – 10pm
Price: 8,000 won
Gusto taco used to be a tiny little taco stand near Hongik University, slinging delicious tacos and often selling out of ingredients mid-dinner rush, much to the chagrin of hungry patrons who arrived too late. Now, with their much more spacious branch near Sangsu station running at full force, your biggest dilemma will be deciding what to order.
You’ll undoubtedly be greeted the moment you enter the door by Aaron, Gusto Taco’s founder, who will make sure to show you the ropes and give you a list of fan favorites and recommendations if this is your first visit. Along with his wife Hye Jin, it’s pretty clear that they run a tight ship, which may be the reason Gusto Taco has been consistently ranked among the top 5 restaurants in Seoul for several years running.
What we recommend: They make a mean burrito bowl, and as Aaron will tell you, the pork tacos are their best seller. The menu also includes decent burgers, but with the number of quality burger joints popping up around Seoul, we think you are better off sticking with Mexican. Regardless of your choice, Gusto Taco is solid all around, from the food to the service. We give it an enthusiastic double fist bump!
Where: Sangsu Station Exit 1, Wausan-ro 32-gil 41 Mapo-gu Seoul 121-828
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 11:30am – 10pm
Price: 2 tacos from 7,700 won up
Social media: @gusto.taco
Gilbert’s Burger & Fries
We had thought about including the newly Christened Shake Shack in Gangnam based on pure hype alone, but who wants to wait an hour plus just to order a damn burger? Not us, not unless the burger is absolutely mind-blowing. While burger joints are a dime a dozen around Seoul’s trendier areas, there doesn’t seem to be any spots that have truly perfected the classic American hamburger. That said, there are some worthy restaurants worth choosing above the rest, and Gilbert’s should be included on this list.
Gilbert’s is tucked away on the hill between Kyungridan and Itaewon, with a sort of rustic interior complete with wooden tables and chairs, and an open kitchen connected to the dining area, teasing you with the grilled aroma of the cow you are about to eat while you wait. The service is solid, friendly and quick.
As mentioned, the burgers aren’t perfect but they are damn good. Most notably, the burgers resemble the menu photos…no window dressing or filters needed. The toppings are stacked neatly and high, and don’t fall apart into a mess after the a few bites.
The Mr. President burger is our fav, with stacks of ingredients (sharp cheddar, red onion, tomato, dill pickle, romaine lettuce, bacon, and an oh-so-good horseradish-mustard-mayo sauce) on top of a 5oz or 7oz beef patty. Their chili fries are downright gluttony, and they have really tasty shakes, if not a big pricey (monkey business and vanilla coconut take top honors here). If you are opting for sides and a shake with your meal, you might want to ease up and get the 5oz burger, unless you are in full-on Louis CK mode. “The meal isn’t over when I’m full; the meal is over when I hate myself”. Cheat day approved.
What: Burgers & Fries (duh)
Where: Between Noksapyeong and Itaewon Station, 2F, 55-2 Noksapyeong-Daero 40-gil, Yongsan-Gu, Seoul.
Hours: 11:30am – 9:30 pm
Price: Burgers from 10,500 won
Myeongdong Kyoja claims to be the founder of kalguksu in Korea. Kalguksu is a Korean noodle dish consisting of handmade, knife-cut wheat flour noodles served in a large bowl with broth and other ingredients. It is traditionally considered a seasonal food, consumed most often in summer.
Its flagship store in Myeongdong has been under operation for over 50 years, and has been making its dishes with the same traditional flavors and guarded Korean recipe since the beginning. Originally named Myeongdong Kalguksu, a number of imposter restaurants opened business around Seoul under the same name. This didn’t seem to bother the owner, who was of the opinion that the reputation of a delicious restaurant will drive people to it, regardless of cheap knockoffs. Over time, however, the name “Myeongdong Kalguksu” became synonymous with “cheap noodles” to locals, which forced them to change their name to Myeongdong Kyoja in 1978.
The restaurant is hugely popular with Chinese and Japanese tourists, who often stay in Myeongdong while traveling because of its popularity as the shopping mecca in Seoul. There are often lines during lunch, but if you have the chance to eat here it’s worth the wait to experience arguably the best noodle dishes in the country. The menu is small and on point. You can choose between three noodle dishes, including their classic kalguksu, bibimguksu (a mixture of sour and spicy noodles) or kongguksu (cold bean noodles). They also serve steamed mandu, Korean dumplings that may be just as famous as the noodles. Affordable and delicious, this is the place to try your hand at a longtime favorite dish of Koreans.
What: Korean noodles and dumplings
Where: 25-2 Myeongdong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul
Hours:10:30am – 9:30pm
Price: 8,000 won
Despite an overflow of Mexican spots opening up in and around Seoul, Don Charley still stands out as unique. After opening up a more spacious location on the main drag in Kyungridan, Don Charley still remains somewhat of a hidden gem. Perhaps it’s because of the unassuming sign and that it’s tucked away above Craftworks Taphouse, which admittedly steals most of the attention from those passing by. Perhaps it’s because just a few buildings down is the more visible and equally popular Paco Loco. However, these two Mexican joints are distinctly different; Paco Loco has a kind of food-truck vibe, a place where you would pop in solo for a quick burrito and get on with your busy day. Don Charley has more of a date spot vibe, with a playfully bright and colorful interior, with matching dishes that are begging to be shared with friends or lovers. While missing some classic menu items you would expect (like burritos), they focus on Mex-Mex dishes that are as unique as they are flavorful.
What we like: Their tortilla chips are to die for, resembling mutant Fritos with the way they curl but a hundred times more delicious and sprinkled with spices to give them a delicious kick. Order the gauc dip as an appetizer and try not to be greedy (trust us, you won’t want to share). We also love the carnitas and fish tacos, washed down with a shot of Patron in true UJ style!
Where: Noksapyeong Station Exit 2, 238-1 Noksapyeong-daero Yongsan-gu Seoul 225-10
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 12pm – 10pm (breaktime 3-5pm)
Price: 8,000 won and up
You can’t talk about food in Seoul and leave Gimbap off the list! Gimbap is definitely more of a lunch food, a staple for the hurry-up-and-go Seoulite who needs a fast yet solid meal to fuel them through the workday. “Gim” means seaweed and “bap” means rice, resulting in a delicious combination stuffed with vegetables and various other ingredients (usually tuna and mayo), rolled up and sliced to resemble a sushi roll. The seaweed lining binds everything together and makes for easy consumption on the go.
In Korea, gimbap is pretty much the same wherever you go, but if you want a guaranteed fresh and delicious roll, head to Seoho Gimbap on ‘Café Street’ in Bangbae-dong. It’s a hole-in-the-wall place that has been around since 1992 (the interior has been renovated). Hungry Seoulites still line up daily for this culinary staple. Don’t leave the country without trying gimbap at least once!
Where: Isu Station (line 4 / 7) Exit 4, 141-1, Bangbaejungang-ro, Seocho-gu Seoul 137-830
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 9am–9:30pm (break time 3–4pm on the weekend)
Price: Gimbap from 3,500
The Booth (Monster Pizza)
We’re not going to claim that Monster Pizza is the best pizza in Seoul, but they may take the crown amongst the few places that offer pizza by the slice. Sometimes in life (nearly every weekend for us), you’ve tipped back a few with your friends and your gut is rumbling for something fast, greasy and delicious. A pit stop to fuel you through the rest of the long night. Enter Monster Pizza, which has a few locations around the city, best of which is tucked in the alleys of Kyungridan and called The Booth. The interior is strange, if not charming. Odd graffiti lines the walls, which will help occupy your attention while you wait for your pizza (if you ordered a whole pizza, that is; slices comes out in an instant). The seats and tables are basically stacks of old boxes, encouraging you to eat and get on with your night. They do, however, have a nice selection of craft beer, so you don’t have to put your drinking on pause while get your ‘za on. Bottom line, it’s the best place for a drunken slice.
UJ tip: If you’re the kind of drunkard who likes to end their night with a 4am grease bomb, pop by the Monster Pizza location in the middle of Hongdae. Open late (really late), they also sell bottles of Blue Moon for 4,500 won, cheapest in the city.
What: Pizza by the slice
Where: Kyungridan, Noksapyeong Station Exit 2, 705 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: 12pm – 1am
Price: 3,500 per slice / 18,000 whole pizza
Dominic is a sleek place to have a quality lunch or romantic dinner in Itaewon, serving up a nice mix of modern American cuisine and classic cocktails. There is a long bar to enjoy an after-work drink and plenty of space to host a large group of people with relative privacy. Dark wooden floors and exposed walls give it flash of urban upscale chic. They also have a large basement that’s available to rent out for private parties and events.
Why We Love it: The place oozes effortless cool, and the portion sizes are enough to satisfy your inner fat-kid.
What We Recommend: The New York Strip Steak (42,000), which is seared perfectly on the grill and then served in a sizzling pan. Cream Spinach on Butter Bread (12,000), grilled butter brioche bread covered sautéed spinach in a cream cheese sauce and bacon.
UJ Tip: Dominic has a half priced happy hour every day from 6 – 8pm. Grab a cocktail or three; you deserve it.
What: American Steak Dining
Where: Hannam-dong (Itaewon station exit 3), 241, Itaewon-Ro, Yongsan-Gu, Seoul
Hours: Sun – Wed 11:30am – 11pm, Thurs – Sat 11:30am – 2am
Price: Entrees 28,000 – 60,000 won
Social media: @dominicseoul
Serving up a bevy of New Zealand and Aussie comfort food dishes, the boys at Mozzie (Maori + Aussie) won’t disappoint if you have a craving for meat pies, lamb shanks and the like. They’ve got a huge menu and similarly huge portions, so come hungry and preferably with friends, prepared to share. You will have a hard time choosing only one or two dishes from their range of options. The interior is dark, cozy and particularly impressive because of the 12-meter long bar that spans the length of the restaurant. Did we mention their beer tap hangs from the ceiling? A very cool touch.
As mentioned, the menu is large and in charge, so let’s give you a few places to start. Lamb Shank Redemption comes with two giant shanks smothered in rich gravy, with fried potatoes and a side salad. The Shepard’s Pie will definitely warm you up (and fill you up) on a cold winter’s night. The Crikey Chicken also comes highly recommended: a humungous chicken breast swimming in creamy gravy, stuffed with ham and cheese, and fried taters on the side. They’ve also got a stellar selection of burgers, but with so many burger options around the city, we think you should give our previous suggestions a try first. If you leave this place hungry, you’re doing something wrong. Mozzie is on the first floor of the ITW Hotel in Itaewon.
What: Aussie / New Zealand Cuisine
Where: taewon station (Line 6) Exit 3, 126-7 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-Gu, Seoul
Hours: Sunday– Thursday 5pm–11pm, Friday – Saturday 5pm–1am
Price: entrees 18,000 – 32,000 won
Mun Hwa Bistro
Walking down the creaky stairs to this hidden gem, your first reaction might be a well-deserved “WTF.” This place is, well, hard to place. Its name translates to “Culture Restaurant,” which might lead you to believe that you are in for an experience of classic Korean cuisine, perhaps in a traditional Korean setting, such as hanok-inspired décor or with short tables where you sit on the ground. Nah. This restaurant takes Korean food and twists it in the most delightful ways. The menu doesn’t really match the setting, though, and we’re ok with that. The dark wood and black painted walls set against a spinning disco ball can be a little off-putting, and with the mix of neo-soul and Korean hip hop bumping in the background, it’s easy to mistake the place as Korean hipster dive bar at first glance. Upon taking a seat, you’ll notice French inspired paintings lining the walls and old bottles of Absinthe turned into makeshift vases with flowers. There’s a sort of disorganized harmony that makes it work, in a fear and loathing sort of way. Regardless, the food keeps us coming back to try different dishes and see what other tricks the chefs have up their sleeves.
What we recommend: Our first choice here is the “Chikara Mesi” (ì¹˜ì¹´ëÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ¼ë©”ì‹œ) (8,000 won), a simple yet savory rice bowl topped with galbi and lettuce, with an egg yolk placed on top that really ties the dish together when mixed. They also do a nice a take on kimchi fried rice, but for a seriously interesting lunch we recommend trying the Carbonara Omrice, a fusion dish of Korean Omrice (basically an omlette with rice inside) mixed with crème sauce and bacon. It will make you wonder why this isn’t a common dish, here or anywhere else in the world.
Culture restaurant is located in the basement below Kaffee Klatsch, another selection from UJ’s top cafes in Seoul.
What: Korean fusion
Where: Sungshin Women’s University Front Gate, Sungbuk-gu, Dongseon-dong 2-ga 150, Seoul
Hours: Daily 11:30am – midnight (Break time 4pm – 5:30pm)
Price: dishes from 7,000 won
Motor City Pizza
Finding decent pizza in Seoul can be an adventure. Many places have altered their menu to suit the Korean palate, which can be fun the first time you experience sweet potato, corn and shrimp on your pizza. But sometimes you crave the pizza you grew up on, and I’m a Michigan boy so Motor City Pizza quickly found it’s way on my radar.
Motor City Pizza opened its doors in July, brought to you by the team behind Manimal Smokehouse. It’s located on Itaewon’s main strip below Lobster Bar. The industrial chic style interior is well suited to the atmosphere, considering they are trying to emulate the finer side of Detroit. Dare I compare Detroit style pizza to Chicago deep dish, but this might be the easiest comparison for reference. First off, the pizza is rectangular. Yes, rules were meant to be broken. The other standout here is the crust, which is almost seems fried, to give it a crunchy outside but soft inside texture. The toppings are also laid out in reverse order, with a dollop of sauce on the top.
There are 8 well-designed pizzas to choose from among other sides, a few non-pizza main dishes and other varieties of bar food. The price point is quite fair for the serving size (an 8-slice pizza could easily satisfy a couple, while a party of 3 should definitely opt for 2 whole pizzas). All things considered, you are most likely coming here for the pizza, and you most likely won’t leave disappointed. From the meat sweats-inducing Jackson 5 (bacon, pepperoni, cheese, ranch sauce) to the flavor explosion of Lamb & the Goat (aged goats cheese, basil pesto, roasted cherry tomatoes, lamb sausage, cheese, sour cream, house red sauce, red onion and cilantro), there is sure to be a pie intriguing to every palate.
What: Detroit style Pizzeria
Where: Itaewon Station, Exit 4, 2F, 140-1 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: 12pm -4pm & 5:30pm – 10:30pm (closed on Tuesday)
Price: 20-25,000 per pizza
Brooklyn The Burger Joint
We know this is a burger joint, but can we talk about milkshakes for a minute? At Brooklyn The Burger Joint you might need several minutes, because there are 44 delicious milkshakes to choose from. 44! Seven of them contain alcohol, so whether it’s a movie date nightcap or hair of the dog, you can satisfy your inner fatty and inner lush simultaneously. And hey, the burgers ain’t bad, either. We were impressed with the 5oz C.R.E.A.M. burger, which is topped with bacon, sharp cheddar, and horseradish mayo. They’ve also expanded their menu to include lamb and fish burgers. The Big Fish is worth trying if you want something resembling a Fillet-o-Fish without the presumed nastiness. Perhaps the best part of Brooklyn The Burger Joint is the décor, totally decked out in retro 50’s diner style, from the comfortable booths to the napkin dispensers. We can’t think of a better atmosphere to enjoy that milkshake. Also, the new Sinsa location is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, so you don’t have to resort to McNasties to get your midnight grub on. Save yourself the hour plus wait at Shake Shack and grab a booth at Brooklyn The Burger Joint.
What: Burgers & Milkshakes
Where: Sinsa Station exit 8 12, Dosan-daero 15-gil Gangnam-gu Seoul
Price: Burgers from 8,000 won
If you’ve ever tried authentic Texas barbeque, you could safely assume that finding a worthy replica in Seoul is damn near impossible. That was the case, until Manimal owner Jeff Kang imported a giant wood smoker straight from the lone star state. The staff gets there early in the morning to begin the smoking process, giving the pulled pork and brisket a 10-hour cook (slow enough for ya?), resulting in meat that practically melts in your mouth. We also have high praise for the marinated boneless chicken leg, which is possibly the juiciest you can find in these parts, with a sweet and sticky barbeque sauce that is damn near perfect. If you crave some extra flavor, pair it with the raspberry chipotle sauce. The sides are hit and miss and don’t come complimentary of the meat dishes, which left us a bit wanting. However, we quickly overlooked this fact after a few of their cocktails, which are bold and delicious concoctions to say the least. A slew of vodka-spiked lemonades gave us sweet and sour shivers in between bites of the brisket. If you are a bourbon drinker, then order a few “I Shot The Sheriffs” and marvel at their criminally good take on an Arnold Palmer. Overall, we have a hard time choosing between Manimal and Linus ‘Bama BBQ in terms of authenticity and flavor. They are both different, both delicious and unique. We might give the slight edge to Manimal only because the wait for a table at Linus can get crazy during dinner rush. Either way, we are thankful that getting legit Southern BBQ in Seoul is now possible.
What: American Style BBQ
Where: Noksapyeong Station Exit 1
Social media: @manimalkorea
Tel: 02-790-6788 HOURS: 12pm – 10:30pm (break time 4 – 5:30pm)
PRICE: 16,900 won
Ok, so maybe this is cheating because Sprout technically isn’t a restaurant. But we would feel like we’re cheating you if we didn’t tell you about Sprout (especially for all you vegans out there). Sprout is Seoul’s first vegan home delivery and pickup service, although the majority of their clientele (including us) aren’t vegan, or even vegetarian for that matter. Even though traditional Korean cuisine operates under the guise as healthy, many restaurants add sugar to their dishes or cook with canola oil and other cheap ingredients. The definition of healthy is undoubtedly different between Korea and Western standards, and the term “well being” is thrown around here so much it should be a crime. If you have dietary restrictions, it’s also difficult to add, replace or omit ingredients when ordering in a restaurant, especially if you don’t speak the language. Sprout has been a godsend for many expats in the community, whether the goal is to eat cleaner, lose weight or simply cook more meals at home without the time-consuming process of shopping for ingredients and preparing meals.
Anyways, enough beating around the bushel. If you think Sprout serves up nasty yoga food and shots of wheatgrass, you are sadly mistaken. How about red lentil coconut curry? Fajita bowls with cilantro lime and brown rice? Greek salad with baked tempeh? They’ve got you covered from breakfast to dinner and everything in between, including snacks and decadent desserts, which might be our favorite part of their service. Healthy Reese’s Pieces peanut butter pie, anyone? It’s nice to indulge in sweets that are made with real honey instead of processed sugar and corn syrup. You can get 5 or 7-day meal plans delivered, or even pick and choose your meals based on your needs. Visit their Facebook page and place an order by Saturday, which can be picked up at their Haebangcheon store on Sunday and Monday only between the hours of 6-8pm. They make extras so you can also just pop in during those hours and grab yourself some healthy options to munch on between all that galbi and chimaek. Bon appetite!
What: Vegan Food Home Delivery Service
Where: Haebangcheon Yongsan-dong 2-ga 1-54, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: Pickup orders / walk-ins Sunday – Monday 6pm – 8pm
Price: 5,000 – 8,000 won per dish
To us, on a basic level, salmon is our favorite kind of sushi and one of the most delicious fish in the sea. Salmonist, on the other hand, is anything but basic. Chef Chung will open your eyes to the infinite possibilities of salmon as the key ingredient in a variety of dishes.
Tucked away in a back alley basement in Itaewon, the moment you walk in, it feels like you may have stumbled into one of the better-kept secrets in the city. By the end of your meal, there is no doubt. The black walls and cool décor might give off a vibe somewhere between upscale and hip, but after meeting Chef Chung you’ll find his warmth and passion for food set the tone for a relaxing meal with unique flavors you didn’t realize could be obtained with such simplicity. UJ Recommends: Well, we can’t take credit for this because this recommendation came straight from Chef Chung. Make sure you try the Salmon Sashimi, which is wrapped in seaweed and marinated for two full days to give it unbelievable flavor.
Where: Itaewon Station exit 4 Itaewon-dong 74-34, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Social media: FB @salmonist.restaurant
Tuk Tuk Noodle Thai
Our UJ Ambassador of Seoul is a huge fan of Thai food, and with 5 trips (and counting) to various areas of Thailand, knows what authentic Thai food tastes like. Much like other foreign cuisines whose flavors get mercilessly Koreanized to suit the local palate (pours one out for Mexican and Vietnamese food), the majority of Thai restaurants in Korea will leave you wanting. We couldn’t, in good conscience, recommend any of the popular Thai joints in Seoul that look great on the surface but have lost their coconuts when it comes to the food. So instead we will reverse course and recommend the little joint tucked away in Hongdae that looks flat out awful from the outside.
Don’t be fooled; Tuk Tuk Noodle Thai is legit and serves up the most authentic Thai food in Seoul. Much like us, the Korean owner has been to the Promised Land several times and imported three chefs from Northern Thailand to deliver the much-celebrated tastes of the region (well known for its food, even by Thai standards). On your first visit, you’ll walk in thinking it’s a hole-in-the-wall and walk out thinking you’ve found a hidden gem, but the truth is Tuk Tuk is extremely popular with both locals and the expat community, and with good reason. What we recommend: While their standard Thai dishes like curry and Pad Thai are fantastic, we suggest doing a deep dive into their extensive menu and being adventurous. For an authentic Northern Thailand soup that packs a real punch try the Tom Saep Ennuea, or for a fresh and crunchy dish of stir-fried greens and rice, try the Pak Bung Fai Deing. Pair either with a fresh Papaya Salad and give your taste buds a well-deserved vacation.
What: Thai noodles
Where: Hongik University Station exit 3 37 Yeonhui-ro Mapo-gu Seoul 121-865
Tel: 070-4407-5130 HOURS: Daily 12–10:30pm (Break 3:30–5pm) Closed Mondays PRICE: 12,000 -15,000 won
Devil’s Door Brewery
As you might have read in some of our nightlife entries, craft beer has come a long way in Korea in just a few short years. A decade ago, craft beer was nonexistent here and even 5 years ago there were very limited choices. Thankfully, times have changed and Korea has embraced the idea that crafting a specialty beer can indeed be an art form. In late 2014, Devil’s Door opened their American Style Gastropub with the goal of becoming a mecca for trendy beers and ales. A decade ago that would certainly have been the case, but now with craft beer literally everywhere, mecca might be an overstatement. Let’s focus on the strengths though, of which there are many.
In a city where space is at a premium, Devil’s Door feels quite spacious and they’ve really captured the essence of an American Gastropub. High ceilings let in a ton of natural light to the industrial interior, accentuated with brick-lined walls and wooden tables. The kicker is the glass wall that reveals their impressive in-store brew lab, a wonderful touch that very few places in Seoul can boast about. In addition to quality beer, the food menu is quite extensive and very good by bar food standards. Devil’s Door was opened by Korea food giant Shinsegae and their chefs come straight from Shinsegae’s Food R&D Center. What we like: It’s all about the ambience. Day and night are distinctly different but really give off authentic vibes of a proper brew house. Beer-wise, we prefer their IPA but that’s obviously up to personal taste. We also love the fact that they have a program that allows customers to brew their own beer!
What: American Gastropub
Where: Seoul Express Bus Terminal 118-2. 118-2 Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul
Tel: 02-6282-4466 HOURS: Sunday-Thursday 11:30am-midnight. Friday – Saturday 11:30am-1am PRICE: Beers from 7,500 won, mains from 8,000 won
For all the dishes in Korean cuisine that feature vegetables, it’s not easy being a vegetarian in Korea (vegans, forget about dining out). Osegyehyang offers a little help, serving up Korean and Chinese cuisine that is strictly vegetarian, and quite yummy! The seating is all ondol, traditional Korean-style heated floors where you sit on the ground with a low table. Just a heads up if you have lower body issues; it can be an uncomfortable experience if you aren’t used to it.
As we mentioned before, being vegetarian in Korea aint easy! What we like: Their menu isn’t extensive, but comes with a ton of really delicious side dishes, in true Korean style. We really liked their vegetarian Jjajangmyeon (Chinese noodle dish with bean paste sauce), sesame noodle soup, and the summer favorite for Koreans, Naengmyeon (cold spicy buckwheat noodle soup).
Where: Insadong (Anguk Station exit 6) 14-5 Insadong 12-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Hours: 11:30am – 9pm (break from 3:30-4:30 on weekdays)
Price: 7,000 – 9,000 per dish
Ciuri Ciuri (meaning “flower flower” in Sicilian) is a gorgeous little Italian eatery perched in a cozy 2nd floor space near Hongdae that’s oozing color and attitude. Enrico and Fiore, the husband and wife team at the healm, import many of their ingredients from Sicily to keep the authenticity in their dishes. They even flew in the interior decorations that line the cobalt blue walls from Sicily, which adds to the charm. They create a very warm atmosphere and are quite good hosts, likely to come chat with you at some point during your meal (tell them UJ sent you).
If you are a gnocchi fan like us, Ciuri Ciuri won’t leave you wanting. It’s prepared to perfection and the serving sizes here are always generous. In Korea’s sea of subpar Italian restaurants, Ciuri Ciuri is way ahead of the field. UJ Recommends: Don’t leave Ciuri Ciuri without trying their signature, Arancine. These bite-sized toasted saffron rice balls are stuffed with various fillings and sprinkled with aged parmigiano reggiano. There are five variations (all derived from a family recipe) with the Ragu being the most standard by Sicilian fare, but our favorite was the Spinaci.
What: Western Sicilian Cuisine
Where: Sangsu Station exit 1 3-13 Dongmak-ro 15-gil 2F, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Contact: 02-749-9996 HOURS: Tues – Sun 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 10pm
Price: dinner 20,000 -35,000 won
Social media: @ciuriciuriseoul
More than once we’ve been out and about in Itaewon’s back alleys and noticed a neon pink sign reading Misstakeroom. Is that extra ‘s’ a mistake? Could eating here be a mistake? Turns out we were mistaken. They could rename this place “Raclette Room” and we would ask fewer questions. Raclette, by the way, is our new favorite thing…maybe ever. Raclette is a semi-hard cheese from Switzerland, which is usually formed into a large wheel and then heated. Then, in a moment of anticipation and excitement as evidenced by thousands of Instagram videos, the melted cheese is scraped off the wheel and on top of your potatoes, burger, or other entrée. As an added bonus, they also have a pretty cool painting on the wall of Leo Dicaprio wearing a general’s uniform. Slow down guys, you had us at melted cheese.
UJ tip: Don’t request to have the cheese scraped directly into your mouth. What we like: Anything topped with raclette. The burger is a solid choice, but maybe our favorite dishes are the chicken and shrimp, with the meat strung up high on a skewer and hung vertically. Of course, the pan below is complete with potatoes and veggies that get the full raclette treatment. We dare you to not experience FOMO after seeing this dish come out to a neighboring table.
Where: Itaewon Station Exit 4 (back alley near Wolfhound) Itaewon-dong 72-17, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Price: 17,000 – 25,000 won
If you’ve ever been to Osaka or Tokyo and have eaten authentic Japanese ramen, it was probably an out-of-body experience, perhaps even a life-altering event. Many expats who live in Korea have come back from a trip to Japan and began scouring Seoul for a bowl of Japanese ramen that is merely comparable to that sexy soup they experienced in the land of the rising sun. Well, we hate to break it to you, but there is just no comparison. Fortunately, we’ve done the legwork and have a few options that will keep you from having full on withdrawals.
Kooeedolaku, located nearby Korea University, just might have the best bowl of Japanese ramen in Korea. The pork is boiled to perfection, the broth has that perfect miso taste without being too salty, and most importantly, the eggs are always exactly as they should be (soft and just a little bit runny). As an added bonus, side dishes, rice and drinks (including soda) are self serve and FREE. Save yourself that ticket back to Japan and eat here. Crisis averted.
UJ Alternative: There’s another place on the outskirts of Itaewon that is worth mentioning. The sign is in Japanese (no English or Korean sign means we don’t know the name) and it’s open 24-hours, making it one of the most popular late night spots on the weekends with most other restaurants being closed. From Itaewon station exit 3, walk straight for about two blocks, crossing the hooker hill intersection and continuing past the Itaewon Fire Station. You’ll likely see a queue and notice giant bowls of ramen through the plate glass window. The ramen is always good, but better when drunk.
What: Japanese Ramen
Address: Anam Station exit 3
85-3 Anam-dong 5-ga, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul
Hours: 11am – 10pm
Price: 6-7,000 won per bowl
Sometimes a place just knows what it is, does what it does, and it works. And sometimes that place is off the beaten path so it doesn’t get the rep it deserves. Pipe is one of those places. Pizza and beer. Beer and pizza. Tucked away in a basement amidst Itaewon’s back alleys, Pipe’s main clientele seems to be mostly young Koreans. The buzz has clearly not spread to the English speaking community.
Dark interior and loud music help perpetuate the ‘young’ vibe, but that’s not really important here. Their standard pizza is legit, and they serve Blue Moon for huge bonus points. The real star here is potato pizza. If you’ve been in Korea long enough, you hear the words potato pizza and probably think of a ring of sweet potato circling the crust of a standard pizza, with or without corn (note to Korea: stop sprinkling corn on everything). Pipe’s potato pizza however, blows away this notion in both originality and deliciousness. It must be tasted to be believed, because describing it with mere words sounds like it came out of a stoner’s cookbook. A large (and I mean large) serving of French fries is piled on top of the pizza and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. I know, I know. It sounds crazy. But trust us, if this country were 420 friendly, this would be the most popular thing since sliced bread (sprinkled with corn). A must try!
Just so you know, Pipe does not do take out orders so be prepared to dine in. To find the place, head down the alley behind Geckos, walk past Wolfhound and hang a left at the crossroads. Pipe will be on your left in the basement.
What: Pizza and beer
Address: Itaewon Station Exit 4
(Take the back alley past Wolfhound and hang a left. You’ll see the sign for Pipe, which is in the basement)
Price: Pizza from 8,000 won
The hungry bees of Seoul are really buzzing about this place, with some calling it the “next Mix & Malt.” That’s pretty high praise for a place that just opened this August, so we had to find out for ourselves. As it turns out, the guys at La Marmite (French for “the pot”) really know what they’re doing. Like most of the great restaurants in Seoul, their passion is focused on bringing a specific and unique flavor to the table rather than motivations that are merely centered on profits. The result is perhaps the best French food in Seoul; clearly in a class above its price point. The atmosphere is comfortable and quaint, and the staff is eager to share their knowledge, whether it’s wine recommendations or explaining the techniques and intricacies of their superb entrées. They also do brunch on the weekends that is totally worthy of a spot on UJ’s brunch list. However, with so many wonderful options on their dinner menu, we had to feature them here. Some dishes (like the Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb) are seasonal, so it might be a good idea to go often. The Pan-peppered Duck Breast is among our favorites, but really it’s a matter of personal preference. We have yet to find a ‘meh’ dish on the menu yet.
What we recommend: With its popularity on a steady upswing, it’s probably a good idea to make a reservation. If you are there for brunch, you’ve got some tough decisions to make. Scandinavian Eggs Benedict? Yes, please. Toasty Goat Cheese Sandwich? A thousand times yes. Oh wait, they also do Fried Chicken and Pancakes? It’s best to come to brunch in a group so that you can try everything.
What: French Bistro
Where: Haebangchon (Noksapyeong Station exit 2)
5-767 Yongsan-dong 2-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: 6pm – 11:30pm (also open 10am – 2:30pm weekends) Closed Tuesdays
Price: Mains 20 – 30,000 won, Course menu 30 – 50,000 won
Facebook: FB @LaMarmiteSeoul
Mies Container (West)
All the single ladies! Let’s start our ladies night with a trip to Mies Container.
The Italian-inspired mash up dishes are pretty good, but it’s not the food that has made Mies Container such a big hit. The shipping container inspired interior is also pretty cool, and the numbered hard hat they give you after ordering is a nice touch. But that’s not the reason ladies love Mies, either. The waiters will give everyone at the table a friendly high-five when the food is served, and you might be tempted to slip him your digits in the process, because all of the waiters at Mies Container are certifiable Korean hunks. It’s basically Korean Hooters for women. Fellas, you are certainly welcome here too but we wouldn’t recommend this as a date spot, as you will probably be left feeling insecure at your dates wandering eyes.
What we like: It’s a fun and friendly atmosphere for the ladies. The food is good but nothing to write home about. Like most places that cater to young women, the portions are big and the prices aren’t.
UJ Tip: Make a dinner reservation because there is almost always a line to get in, sometimes upwards of an hour wait.
What: Korean Hooters for women
Address: Gangnam Station Exit 9/10
9, Seocho-daero 73-gil Seocho-gu Seoul 137-856
Hours: 11am – 2am
Price: Mains around 10 – 20,000 won
Little Papa Pho
These days, everyone seems to be talking about +84 as their favorite new Vietnamese restaurant, but we feel that homage should also be paid to the people’s champion, holders of the “best Pho in Seoul” belt since 2013. Little Papa Pho is a small but really cute space, seating about 20 people so it’s best to come in before the dinner rush. The pho is standard prices for Seoul (between 7,500 – 9,000 won), but the broth easily beats out the other places because of their commitment to the proper ingredients. They don’t skip on any of the spices needed to give it that authentic flavor. While +84 has fantastic Bun Cha and Bahn Mi, if you are a pho enthusiast, Little Papa is the place to be. Just look for the rickshaw out front.
UJ Recommends: For a fantastic side order to compliment your pho, skip the spring rolls and order up the Chicken Mushroom Rolls with roasted garlic. They are the bomb.
UJ tip: Make sure to order your pho with cilantro if you want it. It’s a no-no for the Korean palate and won’t come out unless you ask.
Where: Hapjeong Station exit 6
413-15 Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Hours: lunch and dinner
Price: affordable (pho from 7,500 won)
Al Matto first opened up in Haebangchon to mixed reviews, mostly do to an unfocused menu and resulting lack of identity, serving great pizza but also dabbling in brunch. The small space originally resembled that of a gastro pub, but they’ve since remodeled and have really found their footing as the premiere spot for Italian dining in Haebangchon. The space has definitely been upgraded and now gives off a classy European vibe. While their brunch menu is actually decent, the authentic Italian domed oven proudly displayed in the open kitchen (and every pizza that comes out of it) is the real star at Al Matto. From the classic Capricciosa to the unconventional Alberto (with bacon, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and crispy French fries as toppings), every pizza is baked at ultra high heat and comes out with a thin crispy crust that is just about perfect by Italian standards. Our garlic-loving friends also swear by their pasta, which comes out in portions big enough to share. Reservations are possible but they don’t take them on Saturday night or Sunday morning.
UJ Recommends: If you aren’t sharing your meal with a friend or a date, go with the Calzone. It’s the biggest and best in Korea, hands down.
What: Italian / Pizzeria
Address: Haebangchon (Noksapyeong Station exit 2)
38-11 Yongsan-dong 2-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 11am – 2am, Friday – Saturday 11am – 4am, Sunday 11am – 11pm, Closed Monday
Price: moderate (15,000 – 20,000 for pizza/pasta dishes)
You may be familiar with Oreno, a restaurant that hails from Japan and has a post in Hong Kong as well. The Seoul branch focuses more specifically on French cuisine (with hints of Italian as well) cooked up by a team of chefs with Michelin-star level experience and a focus on high-quality ingredients. One of the reasons they can offer this combination of quality food at an affordable price is because they’ve ditched the chairs. The majority of the restaurant is a “standing bistro” and gives patrons a two-hour time limit for their meal. We suppose this allows them to pack in a few extra tables and keeps the customer turnover speedy. There is a small seated section where you have to pay an extra 3,000 won per head, which is probably a good deal if you arrive in stilettos. Surprisingly affordable and well-presented dishes from Lobster to Roasted Duck Breast to Foie Gras Saute will barely even put a dent your wallet.
UJ Recommends: It might be hard to pass up delicious options like Marinated Norweigan Salmon or Shrimp Ajillo, both available at under 10,000 won. However, we recommend trying The Bismark, a truffle pizza topped with wobbly yolk that is to die for. It cleverly flies under the radar of some of the restaurant’s fancier dishes.
UJ Tip: Come here on a weekday if possible. We’ve seen long lines here on the weekends, and with good reason. You may not find a better bang-for-your-buck dining experience in the area.
What: Standing Bistro
Where: Itaewon Station exit 2
8 Itaewon-ro 27ga-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: 4pm – 11pm
Price: affordable (8,000 – 19,000 won per dish)
Social media:: FB @orenokorea
Walking up the main street in HBC, when you reach the bend in the road you’ll notice a small, unassuming restaurant called McCoys. It’s the kind of place that gives off a hit-or-miss impression at first glance. Small, cute exterior, never packed…is it the location? Are the two-dozen restaurants down the hill stealing everyone away? Perhaps you’ve visited too many restaurants in Korea that pass the eye test but the food is an atrocity. Well, we’re here to tell you that McCoy’s is not one of those restaurants. The co-owner is a decorated chef and serves some up fantastic dishes and very reasonable prices. Most of the fruits and vegetables are locally sourced, so the menu might be slightly different according to the season. Maybe that’s what makes the salads here so special. Really, we won’t rave about a salad unless it is legit. Choosing the combination of salad and dressing (maple lemon or herb ranch?) proved to be a bit stressful, but we can live with our decision. When the Grilled Salmon and Honey Comb Salad with Grapefruit came out, all conversation ceased and there was a new center of attention in the room. The addition of capers, ricotta cheese, basil pesto, veggies and sour cream almost sound like too much, but it was really a treat for the eyes and the taste buds. Don’t be mistaken though; McCoy’s isn’t strictly a salad bar. From spatchcock chicken to sweet potato gnocchi to decadent desserts, they really cover the full spectrum of flavors well.
What we like: Coming here on a date! Without trying too hard, the décor is really cute and intimate. Take the guesswork out of ordering and get the Grilled Awesome Platter that serves two, and let Chef Denis work his magic. You’ll be surprised that you can eat this well for under 50,000 won.
What: Fusion Bistro
Address: Haebangchon (Noksapyeong Station exit 2)
1 Sinheung-ro 12gil, Yongsan gu, Seoul
It’s damn near impossible to single out the best Korean BBQ in Seoul. With thousands of restaurants scattered around the city, you can stroll down your local food street and have a good meal at just about any of them. If the place is busy, it’s probably good. We chose Mapo Galmaegi to take the guesswork out of the equation and guarantee your first Korean Barbeque experience in Korea is spot on. There are locations all over Seoul so you can probably find one no matter where you are staying. The atmosphere is lively, the price is affordable and the side dishes are plentiful. If you aren’t sure what to order, just go with their signature Galmaegisal, a delicious and tender marinated pork skirt. To get the full Korean experience, make sure to order a side of rice called “gongi bap” and wash down all those flavors with some Korean alcohol like soju or makgoli.
What we like: We at UJ love us some Korean BBQ, but what sets Mapo Galmaegi apart from the other local BBQ joints is their famous egg ring! Surrounding the BBQ pan is a trough that they fill with kimchi and then pour egg over, which cooks right along side the meat. It’s the perfect compliment to the meal and probably the biggest reason we keep coming back here.
What: Korean Barbeque
Address: Various Locations
437-19, Gongdeok-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Price: meats around 8,000 won per serving
Social media: FB @newmapo92
Some of our favorite spots in Korea are little holes-in-the-wall that couldn’t care less about décor and ambiance. They get by on reputation alone, with food that is delicious and affordable. Mura in Hongdae is no exception. The restaurant is SMALL, maybe only seating a dozen people maximum, meaning there is usually a wait to get in. Totally worth it in our opinion. The harder decision will be deciding what to pick from the menu, as there are 6 or 7 dishes that consistently catch our eye. If you take the angled alley between 711 and Club FF, Mura is located on the corner at the end of that alley.
UJ Recommends: Their cold noodles and Donkatsu are really good, but our favorite dish is the Chicken Teriyaki Bowl. Pretty much everything on the menu is legit, so have a look and trust your gut.
What: Japanese Fusion
Address: Hongdae (Sangsu Station exit)
411-15 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Tel: 11:30am – 9pm (break time from 4-5pm)
Price: dishes from 7,000 won
There is a lot of debate over the best Indian restaurants in Seoul. Many will recommend Everest in Dongdaemun but our visit just wasn’t worthy of the list (maybe we went there on an off day). Personal tastes aside, Chakkra in Hannam definitely stacks up against the best Indian joints around the city. The curries are bursting with flavor, the Samosas are baked to perfection and the garlic naan is crispy and fluffy. Forgive us, but there is just no excuse for subpar naan. It can make or break the meal. If you need some non-Korean spice in your life, pay a visit to Chakkra. Or better yet! If you live in the Itaewon area, they actually deliver (a rarity as far as Indian food is concerned).
What we like: Naan for days, delivered straight to our door.
Where: Hannam Station Exit 1
Seoul Yongsan-gu, Hannam-dong 28-9
Price: Curry 15,000 won
The new Vietnamese kid on the block has been the all of the buzz of the expat community as of late, and with good reason. Tucked away in one of the side streets of Insadong, it’s not the easiest place to find but the secret is definitely out. It opened its doors earlier this year and initially most of the clientele was Vietnamese (a reassuring sign). However, rave reviews quickly spread across a popular food forum in the Seoul expat community, and now people from all over the city are flocking to this tiny restaurant. The menu is small and affordable, and just about every dish is authentic, exactly what you would expect if you’ve ever travelled to Vietnam. While everything they serve is good, we highly recommend the Bun Cha, a sweet and sour pork soup that is absolutely bursting with flavor. For lovers of Pho, it’s not the best we’ve ever had but is still on point. The broth is good and the ingredients are fresher than a lot of bowls you’ll find in the city. Seoul’s sandwich revolution has also seen a rise in places that serve Banh Mi, and we’re happy to report that +84’s is among the best. The bread is crispy, the sauce spicy and the cilantro isn’t missing like other spots. Because of the seating limitations, we recommend avoiding the weekend dinner rush and popping in on a weekday if possible. To find +84, come out exit 6 of Anguk Station and take the first side street on the left off the main drag in Insadong.
What we recommend: Bun Cha for days…it’s the best thing on their menu.
Where: Insadong, Anguk Station exit 6
6 Insadong 16-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Social media: FB @plus84cafe
Chinese food in Korea is widespread but generally unauthentic. Standard dishes include jjajangmyeon (noodles with black bean paste), tangsuyuk (sweet and sour pork) and jjamppong (hot noodles in chili oil soup) with fried dumplings. Sometimes, these comfort foods are welcome but it is all pretty streamlined takeout food no matter the restaurant. The fact that owner and head chef Wang Yook-sung took these Korean-Chinese staples off the menu is only one of the reasons that JinJin stands out. They use high quality ingredients in all of their dishes but prices remain very reasonable. The décor is pretty standard but once you taste the food you will understand why this place is such a hot ticket around Mangwon.
UJ Tip: You will need a reservation to dine here, and it’s a good idea to call well in advance. It is possible to make special requests during the time of reservation if you have something particular in mind.
What we like: The stir-fried snow crab is really something special. If you aren’t sure what to order, go with one of the full-course meals and let them wow you. We really loved finishing our meal with the fried menbosha between chewy shrimp bread.
What: Chinese cuisine
Where: Mangwon Station exit 1
123 Jandari-ro Mapo-gu Seoul 121-896
Hours: 5pm – 12pm (closed Mondays)
Price:15,000 – 25,000 won
We can’t talk about food in Seoul without mentioned “Chimaek,” the Korean phrase for fried chicken and beer, a trend that has taken over the country. Dozens of chains are scattered throughout the city, offering the standard double-fried chicken and flavored options like soy sauce, snowing (cheese sprinkled), and the most popular by Korean standards, yangnyeom (a thick sweet and spicy sauce). Pair it with a half-liter of cold beer, and there you have one of Korea’s favorite comfort foods for both young and old. While you can check in to just about any of the city’s mainstream chicken and beer joints and walk away satisfied, we’ve decided to highlight Brew 3.15, housed in the charming neighborhood of Insadong. One of the reasons we love this place is the craft beer on tap, which is just so much better than standard Korean beer like Cass and Hite (widely known to expats as “Ass” and “Shite”). You can still get Cass at Brew 3.15, as I’m sure they didn’t want to alienate their Korean clientele. For ten bucks they’ve got a beer sampler, which comes out in cute little beakers and features four samples from the Hand and Malt Brewing Company. Of course, you can now get craft beer anywhere in the city so let’s talk about the chicken! It’s prepared with more of a Southern approach compared to Korean-style fried chicken, breaded more lightly and allowing the tenderness of the chicken to shine through. Coleslaw and dipping sauces are served on the side, and overall it’s a nice Western spin on Chimaek. They’ve also got a lineup of traditional pub fare including Currywurst and “Tatchos”, which is apparently what you get if loaded nachos and tater tots had a food baby.
What we like: Their signature dish, Brew 3.15 Fried Chicken is the way to go, along with the craft beer sampler. The portions are big and we wanted to steal the beer beakers, but out of respect we merely snapped some nice photos.
UJ Tip: If Insadong is too far for you and you want to enjoy the more standard Korean Chimaek, our favorite choice is HO Chicken, which can be found nearby just about every Korean university. Not to be confused with PIMP Chicken, which is, just ridiculous.
What: Fried Chicken and Beer
Address: Insadong, Anguk Station Exit 4
40, Samil-daero 32-ga-gil Jongno-gu Seoul 110-340
Hours: 11:30am – 2pm, 4pm – 1am (closed Sunday)
Price: Mains 8,000 – 16,000, Beer from 4,000 won
When a group decides to go out for Korean food, planning is often foregone. Hit the streets, wander around for a bit and let the sights and smells lead you in the right direction. Once the type of dish is decided, it’s time to choose a restaurant. Often times, the choice is made by which restaurant is the busiest; if it’s packed, then it must be good. The logic isn’t bulletproof, but it usually works. Chawoongga, on the other hand, is the kind of Korean restaurant that you decide to visit in advance. It’s housed in a traditional Hanok and has a beautiful outdoor courtyard that you will definitely want to dine at if the weather is agreeable. The inside is just as cozy and they serve a fairly wide range of traditional Korean dishes including bipimbap, bulgogi, and all your favorite Korean soups and stews. With most Korean meals being very community oriented, it’s hard to visit Korean restaurants solo, because often times the minimum serving is for two people (and frankly you will get weird looks eating a pan full of Takgalbi by yourself). Chawoongga remedies this by offering single portion meals that come from straight from the recipe book of Grandma Cha herself, the owner’s mom. It’s an affordable, authentic, and cozy way to experience real Korean food.
What we like: The atmosphere created in this century-old house takes this place over the top. The fact that it sits in the middle of the hip neighborhood of Hongdae makes it feel like even more of a special find. Give our regards to Mrs. Cha.
What: Korean cuisine
Address: Hapjeong Station Exit 3
20-12, Jandari-ro Mapo-gu Seoul 121-893
Hours: 12pm – 10pm
Price: 10,000 – 20,000 won
Trevia Pizza di Roma
Ask a dozen people who has the best pizza in Seoul, you are likely to get a dozen different answers. Solid choices are popping up all over the city, and they all seems to have their own style, making comparisons a matter of personal taste. We’re just happy that Koreanized pizza topped with corn is no longer a necessary evil. Trevia definitely belongs on our list, as they’ve been slinging quality pizza for several years now and show no signs of slowing down. They also have pastas, salads and paninis on the menu and make their own bread for the pizza and paninis. The crust is crisp and the ingredients are fresh. You can actually even buy the pizza by the slice if you flying solo and need your fix. Everything on the menu is quite affordable, including the beer and wine. No wonder it’s consistently busy.
UJ Likes: The Quattro Fromaggio (fresh mozza, gorgonzola, gouda, brie) might be our favorite, with the Fresh Mozzarella Margherita a close second. It’s just so pretty. They make a decent salad here too, but bottom line, the pizza is so good that we aren’t really messing with the rest of the menu.
UJ Recommends: Going with friends and ordering up several different pizzas so that you can share. A large, hungry man could probably eat two of their pizzas by himself, as they aren’t particularly big. All the better for sharing. Trevia can get quite busy during lunch and dinner rush, so if possible we recommend the late lunch – early dinner hours where you can relax and enjoy your meal without getting dirty looks from the line outside.
What: Italian style pizzeria
Where: Kyungridan (Noksapyeong Station exit 2)
557 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: 11:30am – 11pm
Price: affordable (slices from around 6,000 won)
Here at Urban Journey we don’t believe in secrets, so it’s time for us to have a serious talk about Dandy Pink. It’s hidden in the streets of HBC and might be one of Seoul’s best under-the-radar spots. The husband and wife team describe their space as a “grub lounge” and designed the interior themselves, combining cool hints of industrial novelty sheik with a relaxed yet romantic vibe of a low-key tapas bar. Their menu is always evolving; hosting events called “seasonal soirees” where they mix up the menu with locally sourced seasonal ingredients. It’s a great place to relax with a few friends and eat, drink, and be merry.
UJ Recommends: Anything with their house-prepared bacon, which is often rubbed with exotic ingredients for extra interesting flavor (as if bacon needed any help). You can’t go wrong with their skewers, which come out looking and tasting fantastic, and pair well with both the house wine or the Magpie beer (our favorite Seoul Brewery by the way) that runs on tap.
What: Grub Lounge
Where: Kyungridan (Noksapyeong Station exit 3)
Itaewon 2-dong 292-4, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Social media: FB @grub.dandypink
Contact: [email protected]
Hours: 6pm – midnight (open until 1am Friday – Saturday)
Healthy eating is not usually the first thing on the mind of your average Seoul-ite, which makes Root all the more special. There are more and more healthy salad spots opening around the city (such as the uber-popular Mad Farmers and other favorites like What A Salad and PLANT), but we think Root might just be leading the pack. It’s located in Hannam-dong on the 2nd floor of a building overlooking Itaewon Street (not completely hidden but a bit tucked away). A few people we talked to begged us not to write about Root, wanting to keep it their little secret. Sorry guys, but we want to spread the word about this place and think the nice lady who owns Roots deserves all the praise. From the vegan sushi to cold-pressed juices, there are plenty of delicious options for the hungry, deprived vegan or vegetarian. And while they do serve a variety of power bowl salads with meat and salmon, the staff is happy to swap out ingredients to suit your dietary restrictions. They also do healthier takes on Korean favorites, like gimbap and Bibimbap Salad. Root is a little bit on the pricey side compared to the competition, but we think it’s well worth it.
UJ Recommends: Their color-themed salads highlight different flavors, and the brown bowl is our favorite vegan-friendly option on the menu (with chickpeas, mushroom and tofu). They also do a delightful avocado spread on toast topped with various veggies, a must try!
What: Salads & more (Vegetarian / Vegan options)
Address: Hangangjin Station
2F 741-19 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: 11am – 9pm (closed 1st and 3rd Monday each month)
Price: 10,000 – 17,000 won