Wooraeok has been serving naengmyeon, noodles in icy cold broth, since 1946 and is one of Seoul’s most famous old restaurants. While many naengmyeon stores have relatively shabby exteriors, Wooraeok has a classier atmosphere and is quite pricey for a normally inexpensive dish. But with their reputation and flavor, it's worth it: Wooraeok's naengmyeon is known for its flavorful, rich broth. If you like the taste of buckwheat, try the "soonmyeon," which has a higher percentage of buckwheat content. As with other Pyeongyang-style naengmyeon houses, Wooraeok is always filled with senior citizens, nostalgic for the tastes of earlier times. Looking for someting more filling than noodles? Another popular menu item is their bulgogi cooked on a copper grill, known for its strong seasoning. The diverse menu also includes yukgaejang (hot spicy meat stew) and galbi (grilled short ribs). Koreans often finish a meal of grilled meat with a course of naengmyeon, so save room for their signature dish if you're ordering meat. Wooraeok is easily accessible by car or public transport: it has a spacious parking lot and is also located near the subway.
If you’ve never tried Pyeongyang-style naengmyeon (noodles in icy cold broth) before, this is where you should start. Together with Pyeongyang-myeonok of Jangchung-dong, Wooraeok of Jugyo-dong, and Eulmildae of Yeomri-dong, Pildong Myeonok represents Seoul’s very best in naengmyeon culture. If you’ve become accustomed to sweet naengmyeon, you may feel cheated after you try your first bite of Pyeongyang-style naengmyeon since the broth is a bit more bland and the noodles break more easily. But after a few more bites you are bound to end up addicted to the deep and subtle taste. One unique feature of Pildong Myeonok’s naengmyeon is that it is served with chili powder sprinkled on top. Dumplings and grilled pork dishes are also available. Pildong-myeonok and Eulji-myeonok are run by siblings. The two stores originate from Pyeongyang Myeonok in Uijeongbu which was opened by their father.
The district of Jung-gu in Seoul is the home of the oldest and best naengmyeon (noodles in icy cold broth) restaurants in Seoul. It is said that people who fled from the north after the Korean War settled near Dongdaemun Station and went on to open naengmyeon restaurants. Among them, Pyeongyang Myeonok has the most patrons. If Wooraeok is renowned for its broth, for Pyeongyang-myeonok, it’s the noodles. They polish their own fresh buckwheat and mix it with starch in a ratio of eight to two. The ratio varies slightly by the season. Their noodle servings and dumplings are larger than Pildong-myeonok’s. At lunch time, the store is overflowing with salary men, naengmyeon lovers, and tourists. So make sure you pick the right time to visit (hint: off-peak hours). Also, it might be best to avoid stopping by in July and August, if you really want to enjoy your meal. Then again, the mix of people and crowds might be an experience in its own right.
Eulmildae boasts a 40-year tradition in Pyongyang-style naengmyeon. They have another branch in Gangnam, but Yeomri-dong is where it all started. The white paint is neat, though aged, and the furniture is distinctively retro. When it comes to Pyongyang-style naengmyeon, their variation is clean and light. The naengmyeon has thicker noodles and comes with the usual icy broth. Extra servings are 4,000 won but for the sizeable portions you’re getting, it’s quite the deal. Take note: the stewed brisket served on a bed of tossed chives is as much of a delicacy as the naengmyeon is.
Ojangdong Heungnamjip opened its doors in 1953. Together with Ojangdong Hamheung Naengmyeon and Sinchang Myeonok, it forms a famous trio of North Korean naengmyeon (cold noodles) restaurants in the neighborhood of Ojang-dong. But of these three, Ojangdong Heungnamjip is known to have the largest portions. The place is popular with North Korean refugees, and many of their patrons tend to be on the older side. “Hamheung Naengmyeon” consists of chewy noodles made primarily from sweet potato starch, mixed with a sauce containing generous amounts of red pepper powder, spring onion and garlic. The dominant flavor of the dish is in the sauce. Top with young ray or hoe (raw fish) according to your taste, and you have hoe naengmyeon. Top with minced meat, and you have bibim (mixed) naengmeyon. And of course, we can’t forget the sesame oil. Its savoriness offsets the roughness of the spicy flavors and stimulates the appetite. Nor can we overlook the contribution of the steaming meat broth, with its complex flavors.