Seoul food: kimchi overload is a blessing.
Trying to figure out where to eat in Seoul might be an overwhelming dilemma. After there, there seems to be a surplus of delicious eateries to choose from. Over centuries, Korean cuisine has evolved through sordid political and social reforms. These changes is apparent in the birth of temple cuisine, as well as the transitions between various traditional royal court cuisines. Today, Seoul is one of the most exciting places for worldwide foodies to wallop what new chefs have brought to the table, literally and figuratively speaking. Kimchi overload is a blessing, just as much as a fabulous chicken galbi fitting for after hours. Here are some of our personal favorites recommended by locals and frequent travelers.
Jungsik – new Korean cuisine
This modern Korean restaurant is so popular that its team decided to open another location in New York. Headed by chef Yim Jung-sik, Jungsik is a Michelin-star restaurant spotlighting Korean traditional dishes (banchan, gimbap, bibimbap) with a global and modern twist. Chef Yim was trained in New York’s Aquavit and Bouley, as well as Spain’s Zuberoa and Akelarre. On the first floor of the restaurant, diners can enjoy the à la carte menu with a beautiful selection of wine at the conceptual Jungsik Bar.
Tip! Get the lunch menu of 4-5 courses for less than USD $50.
Mingles 밍글스 – it’s all about the “jang” (sauce)
Chef Mingoo Kang brings his chops from Nobu Miami and creates an innovative tasting menu that changes every week. Expect Korean fermented soy sauce and vinegars (or, “jang“) as celebrated heroes throughout your Michelin-approved meal, they hum proudly in dishes such as: charred beef tenderloin with truffle jang sauce. Chef Kang not only travels around the country to discover new and exciting ingredients, he also lives by the motto, “mingling contrast elements into harmony,” which makes Mingles one of the most thrilling places to eat in Seoul.
Tip! Reservation needed.
Yido Mansion – upscale Korean BBQ
A trip to Korea isn’t complete without a stop at a traditional barbecue restaurant, but not just any ordinary pick. Yido Mansion’s owner Kim Won-il wanted to create a different kind of eatery where guests can interact and taste premium, expensive-cut meats like: deungshim (grilled Sirloin,) and aged antibiotic-free organic pork belly. Situated next to National Assembly, Yido Mansion has neither a website nor a Facebook business page. But its own marketing comes from word of mouth since the restaurant oozes a high-quality vibe as much as its meat cooked to perfection by the staff.
Tip! Grill the white kimchi side dish in the meat fat, then eat it with grilled pork belly in one glorious bite.
Balwoo Gongyang – traditional temple food
Managed by a Buddhist nun from the temple across the street, Balwoo Gongyang has earned one Michelin star by giving “temple cuisine” a total makeover. What’s often perceived as boring and flavorless due to the lack of meat and aromatics (garlic, onions, chives…etc.), Balwoo Gongyang’s vegan dishes are rich in taste thanks to red chili and soy bean pastes made at the temple. The restaurant is located on the top floor of Templestay Information Center.
Tip! For dinner, bring your own bottle since the restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol but offers corkage service.
Woo Lae Oak 우래옥 – best naengmyun, bulgogi (buckwheat noodles, marinated beef)
Neighborhoods: Gangnam and Gangbuk (original location)
Known to serve the best quality of beef, Woo Lae Oak has stood the test of time. It serves fantastic pyongyang naengmyeon (North Korean style’s cold buckwheat noodles) and bulgogi (marinated beef.) Both define Korean’s equivalent of soul food, filled with nostalgia from childhood for many locals. Especially for the older generation of Northerners, here is a sentimental reminder of the home they left behind during the war. This family-owned restaurant has been around since 1946. Woo Lae Oak 又来屋 means “House of Many Returns,” and you’ll sure to come back time and time again.
Tip! You can choose to have naengmyeon either in beef broth or in soy sauce.
Yongsusan – traditional royal cuisine
Yongsusan means Dragon Water Mountain – a fitting name for a restaurant serving Korean royal court cuisine. Much of the approach as we know it today derives from Joseon Dynasty from 1392 – 1910. It typically comes with twelve dishes served in bangjja (bronzeware.) Royal cuisine comes with three important elements in excellence: ingredients, culinary techniques, and a chef’s devotion. At Yongsusan, however, the menu is from Gaesong, the former capital during the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392.) Often considered as the Golden Age of Korean cuisine, Gaesong dishes are fresh and clean. Make sure to order Eundaegu: a steamed black cod soup.
Tip! Order the traditional Korean course “Hanjeonsik” so you can try a little of everything.
Myeongdong Kyoja 명동교자 – best kalguksu (noodle soup)
After a day of shopping in Myeongdong, take a break at Myeongdong Kyoja for handmade knife-cut kalguksu (noodle soup) served in meat broth and vegetables. Myeongdong Kyoja has been in Seoul for more than four decades, and serves up fabulous mandu (dumplings,) bibim guksu (spicy noodles,) and kongguksu (noodles in cold soybean soup). There are two locations in the same area, both offering equal amounts of deliciousness at extremely affordable prices.
Tip! Order the kimchi, it’s one of the best in the city packed with garlic and hot pepper, stored for more than three years and sprinkled with sea salt.
Mr. Ahn’s Craft Makgeolli – Korean bistro
This craft brewery and gastropub is where Mr. Ahn made and sold makgeolli containing zero artificial ingredients. Makgeolli is Korea’s mildest type of alcohol that embodies a sweet taste with very low alcohol content. Nowadays, it has become a trendy choice of drink, as many pubs are creating modern dishes to pair with makgeolli. Try the sweet pumpkin brew called, “Moon Shining on a Thousand Rivers.” Food wise, sous-vide chicken on the menu is a great option for those who love a good fried chicken skin.
Tip! Try a bunch of traditional Korean liquors, including: soju, takju (unrefined rice wine,) cheongju (refined rice wine.)
Yoogane – chicken galbi
Yoogane is one of the best chicken galbi restaurants in Korea with more than 130 branches. Galbi is a large pan of spicy stir fried chicken with cheese, vegetables, and rice. Adored by locals, Yoogane is always filled with young folks looking satisfied after a tasty, tipsy and cheap meal. For 6,000 Won (USD $5,) you should try the marinated chicken galbi fried rice doused in gochujang (spicy red pepper paste) with scallions, onions, meat and rice.
Tip! Wait for the server who normally stirs the pan from time to time, preventing the dish from sticking to the pan.
meal˚ – curry bread
Meal° or Meal-do is one of the most popular bakeries in Seoul, known for its cube breads and loaves. For those who love savory, their Japanese curry cube breads are the best sellers. The ones with custard and cream satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth. Their plain bread is made with fat-free milk or rich cream, replacing water. After experiences in both Japan and France, chef Jeon Ik-bum concentrates on daily temperature and humidity to create one of the hottest addresses in town.
Tip! Selections of bread are completely sold out by 4pm, so head there around noon to get a piece of their famous curry cubes.