Seoul, Korea: The Food Tour
A trip to Seoul is all about the amazing food. Strong flavors, lots of spices, it’s hard to ask for more.
I’m no professional Seoul guide or anything, but on my two trips to the city, I’ve realized that following Japanese travel guides and blogs about Seoul is a lot better than English ones.
It makes sense - Seoul hasn’t been a major tourist destination for Westerners for all that long, but Japanese tourists have been exploring their neighbor for quite some time. There’s even a Japanese word-of-mouth site with reviews for everything from restaurants to shopping to clinics. [J]
Most of the food spots that I’ve been to and have loved have been from Japanese sources, a group known to have high expectations. These are some of the restaurants and cafes that I recommend:
dong myeonok house
Legit Korean kalbi. You know it has to be when the only other non-Koreans there were American students… with their Korean host family.
Dong Myeonok House is located up a hill in the seemingly upscale residential area of Seongbuk. There’s no major businesses or subway stations around it, so we took a taxi and went for lunch.
We ordered a small order of kalbi and 6-pieces of colorful mandu. The kalbi was melt-off-the-bone tender, tasty with a little hint of sweet, and I couldn’t get enough of the mandu. Thanks to my friend Daniel for the rec, I definitely recommend this place as well.
Fried chicken and beer are a thing in Korea, and they do it so well. BHC became my go-to restaurant in Korea, and I’ve managed to go there 3 times during my trips and layovers.
There’s so much flavor in each bite, especially their spicy ones. Some locations like Myeongdong’s let people eat on the outside tables and drink, others are indoors-only, and there’s an option to takeout. Either way, delicious and highly recommended.
YAETMAT SEOUL BULGOLGI
It’s hard to beat self-serve, all-you-can-eat sides and some tasty bulgolgi cooking in front of you. That’s why Yaetmat Seoul Bulgolgi was so good.
Located a couple blocks from Gwangheungchang metro station (광흥창역) on Line 6, Yaetmat Seoul Bulgolgi is a casual restaurant that only had locals - so you know it’s legit.
You sit on stools around a BBQ table and the staff comes by and makes sure everything is cooked properly. There’s a bar of assorted kim chee, greens, onions, garlic and more that’s free for the taking. A very casual, authentic experience and of course, tasty.
JINOKHWA HALMAE WONJO DAKHANMARI
This restaurant only serves one dish: Dakhanmari - Chicken hot pot. They put a pot on your table’s burner with your chicken and vegetables and it starts to cook. It’s your job to mix your dipping sauce and order extras like tteokbokki if you want.
While it’s so simple, it’s so good. There was a large crowd waiting to be seated outside, but with 3 floors of tables, the wait wasn’t that long at all. You could go to the neighboring restaurants serving the same thing, but you can’t lose with this place.
Bibimbap is one of Korea’s famous dishes, and Yeongcheon Younghoe in the upscale Cheongdam area of Gangnam was highly rated and apparently visited by celebrities.
We went for lunch and despite the restaurant being on the larger side, it was full with some waiting. The bimbap had a delicious mix of raw beef and greens - tender and fresh - mixed with rice.
A lot of the bibimbap I’ve seen at food stalls didn’t have beef, so this was a nice chance to have some that did.
Really good oxtail soup still boiling in the pot. The seolleongtang oxtail soup st this chain was really good, and there’s unlimited kimchee at the table for your taking.
Service is quick and efficient. We went around noon for lunch and there was a line - it’s quite popular and has been featured in a Korean drama - but the line moved really quickly and was totally worth it.
DAECHI JEONG-YUG SIGDAN
When a butcher shop runs its own Korean BBQ joint, it’s going to be delicious. This is the case with Daechi.
A 15-20 minute walk from COEX shopping mall, Daechi specializes in top grade Korean beef. The beef that they serve are Hanwoo beef and rated 1++ - the highest in the Beef Marbling Standard in Korea. We ordered beef to barbeque as well as yukke, slices of raw beef mixed with raw egg. So good.
Daechi is a bit hard to find - there’s an entrance near the meat shop and it’s down some stairs (last picture, to the right). If you’re around the COEX area, it’s worth checking out.
Area: Seolleung, Gangnam
Dakhanmari is probably one of the simplest Korean dishes yet it’s just so good. It’s basically a chicken in a boiling hot pot where you dip into a spicy sauce.
Compared to the more famous Jinokhwa, Dakkal Wonjonib is a smaller, more local restaurant serving the dish. They’re both fantastic, the biggest differences would be that Jinokhwa gives more dipping sauce while Dakkal Wonjonib’s broth has more chicken and garlic flavor in it.
It’s in the Seoul Station area so relatively convenient, making for a nice local option to get some good Korean chicken hot pot.
Raw beef mixed with raw egg, dipped in sesame oil and salt. So delicious.
We stopped by Uke Zamezip for some fresh yukke while on the way to Gwangjang Market for some street food. It was well worth it. The casual vibe - enjoying yukke over conversation and cheers of soju and beer, was a nice segue to sitting at the food stalls in the nearby Market.
Possibly the hippest cafe chain in the city with locations that are converted old buildings. Their spot in Seongsu, the “Brooklyn of Seoul,” is in a gutted 1970s building that served as a former factory.
Cafe Onion Seongsu manages to balance old and new perfectly, and in doing this, makes for an extremely photogenic hang out. There are multiple seating areas, nooks and a rooftop as well. Their coffees and artisanal, homemade pastries and baked goods are tasty.
Great place to stop by when exploring the area and to take pictures.
CHA TEUL TEAHOUSE
A relaxing cafe set in a traditional Korean hanok house on top a hill in the Bukchon Hanok Village area.
Cha Teul, which means “tea-drinking garden,” is an indoor tea house built around its Korean garden. You take off your shoes before you enter, sit on the floor and enjoy some tea over relaxing views. Making the experience even better, service was very friendly.
We had patibingsu (Korean shaved ice with red beans and mochi rice cakes on top), Ssangwha tea (made of Korean medical herbs brewed for 14-15 hours), and lotus tea.
Perfect place to have a sit down and relax in the afternoon.
GALLERY SAI - BY CREATIVE ART GROUP SAI
A coffee shop in a traditional Korean house. We randomly stumbled upon Gallery SAI coming down from the Bukchon Hanok village and were pleasantly surprised.
It’s in a converted old house that blends in with much of the area. You take your shoes off and find a table, some of which are on the floor or in a room, and have tea or coffee. A little more costly than a typical coffee shop, but well worth it for the experience.