Expert recommendations for the best places to eat in four price ranges: budget ($), moderate ($$), expensive ($$$), and luxury ($$$$)
“One of the most authentic kimchi jiggaes [kimchi stews] in town.”—Kim Sung-Yoon, food critic, Chosun Ilbo newspaper. Tiny, hole-in-the-wall place down a city-center alley, serving piping hot kimchi jiggae. No English; all you have to do is point. Tangju-dong 43; tel. 82 2 739 7737.
“Modern interpretation of the most traditional dish [bibimbap], tastefully done.”—Kim Sung-Yoon. For a variety of bibimbaps, Korea’s famous mixed rice hash dish, this stylish downtown eatery is it. Drinks include vanilla soy milk and sweet pumpkin latte. Expect a line at lunch. 163 Shinmunro 1-ga; tel. 82 2 730 7423. www.sobahn.co.kr
“Successful product of East-meets-West fusion cuisine.”—Kim Sung-Yoon. A Korean War-era GI stew—franks, kimchi, chili, and processed cheese—is the specialty of this back-alley, no-frills joint. Despite (or perhaps because of) entertainingly rude waitresses, anyone from local cops to movie stars and ambassadors may be spotted on a given evening. 743-7 Hannam 2-dong; tel. 82 2 795 1317.
Three Alley Pub
For meat and potatoes washed down with quality suds, this expatriate watering hole is the place. Classic pub food, plus Seoul’s widest selection of tap beers, and a convivial clientele. Located in Three Alleys, Seoul’s top street for foreign dining, behind Itaewon’s Hamilton Hotel. 116-15 Itaewon-dong; tel. 82 2 749 3336. leagues.wikia.com/wiki/Three_Alley_Pub
“Informal, rural French cuisine.”—Hong Sung-Chul, publisher, Cookand magazine. Tiny and cozy, but immensely popular, French-run brasserie-bistro, across the street from Three Alleys. The blackboard menu changes daily, there is a decent selection of affordable wine and always at least one French diner. 119-28 Itaewon-dong; tel. 82 2 795 2565.
“Like eating fresh tuna on a trawler.”—Kang Ji-young, CEO, Top Table. Run by an ex-trawler skipper, diners at this tuna sashimi restaurant sit on stools around a boat-shaped bar, while the chef-owner in the center slaps chunks of fish onto “platters” of (edible) seaweed. One price for all-you-can-eat. Across Hannam Bridge, behind the long line of buildings on the left. Tel. 82 2 549 8356.
Run by New York-trained Japanese chef Susumu Yaganagi and his Korean wife, this is a cooking school and restaurant rolled into one. Set in a converted hanok [traditional Korean house] in Bukcheon, Seoul’s last remaining historic housing zone. Eclectic, Western menu of the day, plus affordable wines. 79-2 Gahoi-dong; tel. 82 2 744 6420. http://www.facebook.com/okitchen
Yuhwang Ori Jinhyuk Gui
“Creative, healthy way of preparing duck.”—Hong Sung-Chul. Elegant decor and fine, stuffed duck cooked in a coating of clay make this attractive restaurant equally popular for family and business events. 1465-9 Seocho-gu (opposite Seoul Arts Center); tel. 82 2 597 0765.
“Great tandoori, great atmosphere.”—Kang Ji-young. Set in the basement of the Art Sonje gallery close to Gyeongbok Palace, quiet and attractive restaurant with private rooms overlooking a sunken garden. Offers creamy, mildly spiced northern Indian curries and tandoori. Art Sonje Gallery, 370 Sinpyeong-dong; tel. 82 2 736 4627. www.artsonje.org/asc/eng/e_dal.asp
“If all vegetarian food were this good, I’d convert.”—Kim Sung-Yoon. To sample the cuisine of the priesthood, this famous restaurant is it. Buddhist food uses natural, vegetarian ingredients gathered in the mountains. Be warned: During the dance performances in the evenings, customers are sometimes dragged up for a spin. 14 Gwanhun-dong (in Insadong); tel. 82 2 735 0312. www.sanchon.com
“Favorite for full-course Korean meals; best to order in advance.”—Hong Sung-Chul. Classic restaurant offering a Korean fixed menu, plus fruit gins, Western wines, and rice beer. Located in a converted hanok in Insadong, the pedestrian-friendly art and crafts district. 8-7 Insadong; tel. 82 2 732 1919.
“Thought blue cheese was pungent? Try this!”—Kim Sung-Yoon. Locally focused fixed menu selections; the fiery cuisine of the southwest. The chot—a paste of squid intestine fermented for years—is an awesome explosion of flavor, perhaps unsuited to newcomers to Korean cuisine. 37-1 Unni-dong; tel. 82 2 763 4234.
“Some of the best Italian in Seoul.”—Kim Sung-Yoon. The most upscale restaurant in Itaewon, Seoul’s foreign quarter. Underground emporium with terrace-style dining room offering high-end Italian cuisine from Sicilian-Canadian chef Santino Sortino. Also a wine cellar for private parties, deli counter, and Milanese-style cocktail bar. Sortino’s, a cheaper trattoria under the same management, is across the street. 124-12 Itaewon-dong; tel. 82 2 553 9000.
“If I won the lottery, I’d eat here every day.”—Kim Sung-Yoon. Superb Korean-style barbeque restaurant serves deungshim (steak), galbi (ribs), bulgogi (“fire meat”), yukhoe (raw beef marinated in pear juice and garlic), beef sashimi and rib soup. Named one of the “10 Best Restaurants in Asia” by the Wall Street Journal Asia. 205-8 Songpa-gu; tel. 82 2 415 5522.
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