This is your ultimate Seoul food guide. Reader (and friend) Żaklina had this question:
Do you have recommendations or a 10-day restaurant tour guide for Seoul?
My parents are coming to visit for 2 weeks, and I’m looking to take them to restaurants in Seoul. Any suggestions with maps?
The Ultimate Seoul Food Guide
The difficulty of writing about restaurants in Seoul is that the culinary scene changes so rapidly. Restaurants suddenly close down and become coffee shops overnight. Not exaggerating. Now, if you’re willing to do the footwork, I’ll lay down a great tour to get a taste of the classic, traditional, quirky, and new. You’ll need comfortable walking shoes and an ample appetite.
Day 1 – The Touristy North
You gotta hit the main spots in your first couple of days. Gwanghwamun, one of the palaces, your first of many trips to Insa-dong. My rules in this area are to look for places off the main road, packed with office workers. Avoid places that look like franchises. Also avoid Korean restaurants with Japanese written up front. Those are tourist traps.
광화문집 Up near the palaces is one of the last holes-in-the-wall in Seoul that is legendary for its kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew). It’s a tight squeeze, but luckily ordering is easy. They basically only serve two things–kimchi jjigae and gyeran mari (rolled omelette). The jjigae is notable for its sourness and spice, which balances well with the smooth omelette. It’s a good way to wake you up. Explore Gwangjang Market and try some bindaeddeok. That’s always fun. For dinner you can head down a bit.
삼해집 I just tried this place out recently. I’ve been on the hunt for restaurants with some history. In the alley maze south of Jongno 3-ga Station is a joint that has been serving bossam (juicy pork wraps) with oysters for over 35 years. You also get a bowl of gamjatang (pork spine soup) with your order. On weekend evenings, there’s a line out the door for this place. And it’s good!
Day 2 – Noryangjin and Mapo
Come on! This has to be the best attraction in Seoul. One of the world’s largest fish markets. And it really doesn’t have that fish market smell. They keep it clean. You can try different critters fresh from the vendors. I say it’s like going to an aquarium where you can eat the exhibits. Just point to whatever you want. The vendor will prep it for you and likely will direct you to a restaurant a few meters away that will cook it. Check out our new Guide to Noryangjin Fish Market.
마포 정대포 If anyone is coming to Seoul for one night, I take them here. Mapo, for me, is barbecue heaven. It’s blocks and blocks of grill houses. There’s this one area behind the Best Western that I call Galmaeggi Gil (Galmaeggi Street). It’s all places that specialize in what best be described as pork skirt steak. It’s the meat from around the diaphragm. Seriously, it’s lean and full of flavor. Mapo Jeong Daepo takes this a step further. They place a domed pan on top of natural wood charcoal. There are gutters on the sides of the pan originally intended to catch the rendered pork fat. Into these gutters they pour scrambled eggs and layer aged kimchi on top. This has become so popular that the other restaurants in the area have copied it. NOTE: This is included in our Ultimate Korean BBQ Experience. CLICK HERE for info.
Real North Korean food humbly served outside a family’s home. There are only five items on the menu: JjimDalk (Steamed Chicken), Mandu (Dumplings), Naengmyeon (Chilled Noodles), beer, and soju. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema called his meal there one of his most memorable in 2013.
연타발 If you’re truly adventurous then try this high end restaurant that specializes in grilled intestines. NO REALLY! It’s one of the best meals you’ll have. They also have some high quality Han-oo beef.
바루공양 A tour of Korean cuisine isn’t complete without Buddhist temple food. It’s best to reserve a lunch here and go for the second or third largest set menu. The meal will take at least a full hour, so relax and enjoy. The food is inspirational. After lunch, take a stroll around Jogyesa Temple and head on down to Insa-dong for some shopping.
인사동 찻집 Of course you’re going to go shopping in Insa-dong. To relax from the hustle of the streets, my favorite spot is the Insa-dong Teahouse. It’s across from the dragon’s beard candy hawkers with the sign 인사동 찻집. Go in the back to the little courtyard. Try some exotic teas and infusions. My favorite is the pine needle tea. Enjoy this with some honey cookies and grilled rice cakes.
Day 5 – Get Outside of Seoul
Seoul is a buzzing metropolis. But to truly know Korea is to go to the countryside. If you can’t get out to the countryside, take a subway to the suburbs–to the other sides of the mountains. Restaurants near mountains and farm communities are the best.
산마을 보리밥 Every chef and foodie I have taken here has said it’s one of the best–and in many cases the best–Korean food they had on their trip. It’s another one of those journeys. This place is tucked at the base of Gwanak Mountain and originally catered to hikers. Make sure to get the chicken barbecue, the pajeon, and the namesake boribap with their housemade liquor.
Jangmo Jip 장모집
You may have noticed that a lot of places end in “Jip.” That means “House.” This is out near Pangyo, southeast of Seoul, in the middle of NOWHERE! It’s still my wife’s favorite place. She dreams of it. There really isn’t a menu there. They just give you Ganjang Geijang (Soy Pickled Crab) and whatever side dishes are in season. It’s an abundance of food at a great price. It is true Korea. You will not see any tourists here. The service is friendly and welcoming. The challenge is getting there. Buses do make it out there. Taxi is another option.
This speakeasy was started by Texan expats passionate about great cocktails and great food. Their style borrows a lot from Korean culinary culture and their Texan roots. They make the best Old Fashioned in Seoul, and you gotta try their Fried Chicken Burritos.
Day 7 – Chicken Day
토속촌 A favorite of former president Roh Mu-hyun, Tosokchon is another place that specializes in only one thing. The best places do that. Enter this classic hanok style complex, sit down and just use your fingers to tell the server how many bowls you need. Gorgeous bubbling bowls with whole chickens bathing in them show up with a rich silky broth. I’m not a big fan of samgyetang, but I make an exception for this one.
Take a stroll through the markets and the streets north of here and to the right. Very charming.
안동 찜닭 This is a chain restaurant, but the Myeong-dong location is considered the most reliable–if you can’t make it down to Andong itself. This is a good taste of regional Korean cuisine with this unique chicken stewed in a dark spicy garlicky sauce. For the full effect, order some Andong soju with your meal.
I also suggest grabbing some famous Korean fried chicken for the evening. I love my Two-Two Chicken. But really, any place that smells good on the outside will be great on the inside.
Chicken & Beer
Korea has more chicken hofs (pubs) than McDonald’s has locations around the world. Chicken Republic. There are loads of them. My rule of thumb in finding a good chicken pub:
If it’s full of pretty young women taking selfies, it’s likely not good chicken.
If it’s full of grizzled middle-aged men who look like life has kicked them in the teeth, GREAT CHICKEN! Favorite chains: Two-Two Chicken, Chicken Baengi, BBQ, Kyochon, Bbo-Bbo. Really, if it smells like grease and Chinese five spice outside–or like a cinnamon doughnut–it’s a classic chicken pub.
Chains I avoid: Frypan, Ne-Ne
I would be amiss if I didn’t do any self promotion. We also conduct a popular Chicken & Beer tour at Korea Food Tours Seoul. More info and booking here.
정식당 Back south of the river for this landmark for new Korean cuisine. The lunch menu is (last I checked) W40,000 per person. It’s a set menu, so just sit down and enjoy the ride. The fun part of eating here is guessing which traditional dish inspired each course.
This is the other big high end modern Korean restaurant. This has gotten great reviews from the pickiest snobbiest of eaters I know.
Day 9 – Hongdae
A lot in this post is in Hongdae. Yet the neighborhood itself requires more attention. Its’ the Soho of Seoul. The anti-Gangnam. It’s an experimental hotbed of restaurants.
닭날다 One truly unique one is in the back streets. Flying Chicken. It’s done up like a World War II bunker. You’d think that it’s full of kitschy internet-bought replicas.
The bric-à-brac is the real deal. Real WWII museum artifacts. Some of the stuff was lent out to the production of “Saving Private Ryan.” Their specialty is boneless thighs in spicy sauce with soft rice cakes and sweet potatoes all smothered in cheese, served on a sizzling plate. Also get the Rice Egg and the beer in a canteen cup. Yes, those cups are real WWII canteen cups.
Experimental Street Food Alley
That’s not the official name. I doubt there is an official name. It’s a narrow alley. On one side is a bunch of grilled intestine restaurants. On the other side is a bunch of perpetually changing stalls selling classic street food and a lot of WTF street food. I worry that the area is getting encroached upon by gentrification. It may not be around much longer.
Day 10 – Toast to Memories
Walkerhill (W Seoul and Sheraton)
On the last day, it’s good to try some places you missed on the list or return to your favorites. If you have some money to spend, head to Walkerhill and indulge at the W Hotel’s Kitchen or the omakase sushi at Namu. Upscale barbecue at the Sheraton Walkerhill’s Myongwolgwan is also worth the trip.
Pierre Gagnaire a Seoul
And if you really have the money and want to end the trip with a serious send off, check out Pierre Gagnaire a Seoul.
Wow… This is great. This is definitely a detailed and excellently presented guide. I have no doubt we will enjoy sight-seeing and tasting our way through it. Thank you! Zaklina & Sam B.
Great post – I’ve missed posts like this. Good to have you back ^_^
Thanks for great post. I will refer this article to anyone asking about restaurants in Seoul.
Great post! I’ve actually been to a few of these based on your recommendation– my favorite being Mapo Jeong Daepo
Thank you! I love that place.
Sent from my Android phone with K-9 Mail. Please excuse my brevity.
Will try to add a few of this place in my eating list. For a start do you have any specific guide on how to go SamHae
Jip and their operating hours
I don’t have the hours on hand. The restaurant is right by Jongno 3-ga Station. Look closely at the map for details. —
Sent from my Android phone with K-9 Mail. Please excuse my brevity.
your google map seems wrong. I hope this is the correct url
http://www.xn--cg4b49nlvj.kr/. Its in korean and seems like it is hiding in some ally as well. Nice article anyway
Good sleuthing! That’s the first time I’ve seen Google Maps do that. When I had searched for the restaurant, it put it in the right place, but it listed the wrong address. So I copy and pasted the Google Maps address and not the location. I fixed it. It’s showing the correct location now.
Thanks for the awesome guide, my mouth is watering and I’m looking forward to getting back to try some of these places, maybe ALL of them.
In Insadong, for tea, you’ve got to try the fermented pine-needle tea at Jidaebang (지대방). It’s across from one of the dragon’s beard candy makers.
Thank you for turning me on to San Maul Boribap, truly delicious stuff. The smoked chicken, insane, the seafood pancake, the best I’ve had. After I took my parents, I came about 5 more times with friends. Awesome!
Vatos Urban Tacos – I will confirm everything you say about them. I’m a Californian, so I know my Mexican food, and they rock it. The scope of their menu is much more limited than Taco Amigo, also in Itaewon, but arguably they do a better job. And the kimchi carnitas fries, whoa! To go and not order them would be a crime.
I went to Tosokchon last September on a recommendation from some Korean friends, and their samgyetang is very good, though I had some samgyetang a few weeks before in Osan that was even better. The broth was thicker and more flavorful, and they gave you a little Chinese five spice on the side. I’ll try to find the name of the place, but it’s on the same main road near Byeongjeom Station, on the way to Osan, on the right in a little restaurant strip. Fantastic stuff.
You are really awesome to do this list!!! Thank you very much~
Thank you, Rachel!
That looks fantastic – hope my 5 days next month will look as well 🙂
Good food reviews Among them, I especially saw the reviews of ‘cheogajip’
It’s really delicious when you eat leek in your grandmother’s sauce.
Dumplings are Gangwon style dumplings. The taste is refreshing.
I first felt that North Korean food was so delicious.
Thank you for your reviews!
I love korea ,we have thought that visiting the 2020.
But “corona” makes us to do nothing.
But any how we may visit next year or after.