Even though their sign has a disclaimer that they have no connection to the restaurant of the same name in popular Japanese comic series “Shinya Shokudo,” Shimya Sikdang still sees a steady stream of people coming here with expectations of consolation. And not completely unlike the book, Shimya Sikdang also allows customers to order whatever they would like to eat (as long as they have the ingredients at hand), and closes late at night (around 5am). Chef Kwon Ju-seong's Shimya Sikdang is filled with love for food and travel. He puts his own twist on dishes that he tried while traveling through 100 different cities around the world. Some of his favorites include tom yum goong, Japanese donkatsu, "Itaewon soup" blended with Nagasaki broth, and Swiss potato pancakes made from thin potato slivers in an egg batter with grated cheese. There's also the “daebahk” (which means jackpot in Korean) shrimp paste, 14-week old ham, a bomb cocktail concocted with Mt. Hall and Thai Chang beer, and the notorious yeomyeong (hangover drink) as a chaser, all humorous yet delicious creations.
Sinsa locals are all familiar with Hanchu—and before a TV program named it one of Seoul’s “Top 4 Fried Chicken Spots,” it was a cozy, beloved neighborhood hof. But luckily for everyone, though tables may be a bit harder to come by, the popularity hasn’t tainted its two decades of excellent service and satisfying eats. Their sweet and spicy made-to-order ddeokbokki and their kimchi fried rice with egg on top remain as delicious today as they were years ago. The owner also has the knack of turning ordinary dishes into something more special: it was their gochu chicken (double deep-fried with chili pepper) that made them legendary. Continuing with the chili pepper theme, their spicy hanchu ddeokbokki is another hit you’ll want to try. Yes, you’ll get a little greasy—this ain’t no health joint. But isn’t that why you came here? Just be sure to wash it all down with an ice cold stein of cheap beer.
The name of this establishment comes from the phrase “gaemi,” which in Jeolla dialect means “a savory taste.” (Fun fact: "gaemijib" can also be literally translated as “ant farm.”) The food in this Korean-style dining pub is based on the cuisine of the Jeollanam-do region. On the menu, you'll find seasonally sliced skate fish and parboiled dolmuneo (octopus from Cho-do island). Live nakji (small octopus) dishes and cooked skate fish are favorites of those who often enjoy nightcaps. The menu is representative of indigenous Korean food, while the dining area and decent service give the place a classy feel. The alcohol served is mainly premium soju, whiskey, and makgeolli (rice ale). In fact, don't expect to find your typical green-bottle cheap soju here—the focus is on quality, and that fake potato stuff just won't do. The cooked skate fish is especially nice at Gaemijib, and the citrus Makgeolli is popular. Mac-geolli, a mix of the Macallan Highland Malt Whiskey and Makgeolli, is also exquisite. Portions are small while prices are high, so if you’re looking to fill your belly then it may be best to stop by for dinner elsewhere before heading to Gaemijib for drinks. However, keep in mind that ordering food with drinks is expected in most Korean-style bars, so leave at least a little room. And it's food well-worth trying, so you won't want to miss out.
Garosugil is known for its trendy shopping and flashy bars, but Cuckoo is a refreshingly low-end pub for those evenings when you want to down a few soju shots in an unpretentious atmosphere. Its interior is reminiscent of pojang macha (street food stalls), with walls full of graffiti and a loud, energetic vibe. Despite opening a second location nearby, Cuckoo is always crowded with young people enjoying the pojang macha menu: fried beef tripe, clam soup and egg soup. Their best menu items are definitely the ddeokbokggi with octopus and garlicky stir-fried chicken gizzard. Their food is far from healthy, and comes in large portions (especially considering the good prices), which is just the way we want our street food.
Nuenejip (Korean for “your place”) is always the last stop during a night out in Itaewon. No matter how tired or drunk you are, once you step into the shabby nest of Nuenejip, you will mysteriously find a second wind. This new-found energy is most likely from the excitement of trying Nuenejip’s famed soy sauce ddeokbokki (everyone literally comes here just for this), known amongst the Itaewon regulars as notoriously tasty. The catch is that you can only order this popular dish if you are ordering at least two more dishes. This place lives up to its name, and supposedly even attracts the occasional secret celebrity couple.
The pojang macha is practically an institution—nearly every Korean has fond memories of sitting on rickety plastic chairs and throwing back soju and street food at these ubiquitous stalls. Hanshin Pocha (short for pojang macha) recreates the nostalgic nights when college students in the 80s would hang out at the pojang macha tent city near Hanshin Apartments in Jamwon-dong. Hanshin Pocha’s owner is a minor celebrity in his own right, as the successful food industry CEO and newly-wed husband to a Korean actress, and the crowds are his pocha are a testament to both his popularity and the restaurant’s quality. Once you get your seats, settle in with a group of friends to order plates of fried seafood and ddeokbokki and, if you like your food with a kick, get the spicy chicken feet. There’s plenty of space for large groups (unlike the old pojang macha, this indoors spot has high ceilings, large tables and an open kitchen). The vibe at Hanshin Pocha is young and full of energy—we even hear it turns into a bit of a mingling hot spot on the weekends, earning the nickname “Hunting Pocha.”