Toothsome Busan: 7 restaurants that should be in your next culinary itinerary
Showcasing an impressive level of diversity and range of skills that the city hadn't seen before, the new wave of Korean, French and Italian restaurants has been taking Busan's food and beverage scene to a whole new level. Many of them incorporate locally-sourced seafood and fresh seasonal vegetables sourced directly from independent, environmentally-friendly farms, to create their authentic culinary concepts. Check out this list of restaurants for your next trip to Busan—they're re surely having both the locals and tourists come back for more.
Kong-guksu for all seasons
Some get busy in the summer so they never miss a chance to get this simple meal; others just don’t get why it is even considered ‘food’. Whether it’s an acquired taste or not, the appeal of kong-guksu (cold soybean noodle soup) is in its natural, nutty and oh-so-comforting flavors. Some may consider the combination of just beans, water and salt that go into the soup is way too simple to allow any distinct character. But there are, in fact, many different factors to be found in one bowl to create variations: the type of noodles and garnish, along with how thick or thin the soup is and how savory (or even sweet) it is. We don’t know how you feel about the dish, and we know we can't make you change your mind anyway; it’s for those with delicate taste buds who’ve already got hooked by the simple, milky soup, we’ve prepared a list of great Kong-guksu restaurants in Seoul.
We tried 5 Hawaiian-themed restaurants in Seoul
Hawaiian shirts and poké bowls—we're certainly seeing a lot more of them in Seoul this summer. From fast-casual dining to hipster-esque superfood joints, most of the Hawaiian offerings found in Seoul so far are either Americanized (or “California-inspired,” as many of the emerging food trends are described) or Koreanized versions of the cuisine. Here are 5 Hawaiian-themed restaurants we've tried in Seoul (so our beloved readers know what they're getting into).
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Bistro Normal by Ryunique
Listed on the Michelin guide this year, Ryunique is one of the best French fine dining restaurants in Seoul. Headed by chef Ryu Tae-Hwan, Ryunique offers one-of-a-kind menu items that showcase Ryu’s creativity. However, with Bistro Normal by Ryunique, his second restaurant, Ryu hopes to achieve the opposite effect as Ryunique - offering a more ‘normal’ dining experience. While the atmosphere of the restaurant is definitely more casual than Ryunique with only five tables, the restaurant is far from typical. Far from “normal”, Chef Ryu’s distinct culinary style and attention to detail were clearly evident in the food, especially in the ten-course dinner tasting menu. The course starts off with the shrimp guacamole wrapped in rice paper as the amuse-bouche, then continues with a tomato salad with cucumber dressing and pumpkin cream soup as the appetizers. For the main entrees, you can choose from a roasted duck that has been aged thirty days, chicken or fish. The combination of ingredients made for a special tasting experience that may as well have been considered fine dining. Whereas Ryunique offers a course-only menu, at least you have the option to order a la carte at Normal. If you were ever curious about Chef Ryu Tae-Hwan’s culinary style but unwilling to spend the extravagant costs, the Bistro Normal by Ryunique may be well worth a visit.
Seochon’s Bear Café’s been getting a lot of hype from culture-savvy crowds of Seoul. Created by Design Eum, a publishing group that issues Bear magazine and Kinfolk Korea, Bear Café serves up specialty coffees paired with a tranquil ambiance and culture-related activities; housed in a charming 70-year-old hanok, it juxtaposes tradition and modernity with the well-preserved garden and quality café menus. The espresso, Americano and latte are brewed with Coffee Libre’s blended beans, Bad Blood, while French press made with Namusairo’s seasonal single origin is also available. Bad Blood has a good balance of acidity, complexity of flavors and aftertaste. After one sip, you can definitely tell this is the highest quality of blending from Coffee Libre, which is arguably one of the best roasters in Seoul. The Americano has all the basic characteristics to the right extent and latte has a delicate balance coffee and milk. Gelana Abaya coffee from Ethiopia has notes of orange and Earl Grey tea, offering a unique flavor and crispness that lingers in your mouth for a while. From time to time, seminars and exhibits related to lifestyles and art held at the café. While the drinks are reasonably priced, some of the selection is offered free of charge with a purchase of the magazines published by Design Eum. Note that Bear Café gets extremely crowded during weekends. It closes on Mondays and Tuesdays, which leaves only a few days a week to enjoy all of its offerings. Even when it’s bus
Hidden in the hanok clusters of Bukchon is a small and quaint little café specialized in purple sweetness. Just look for the alley with a light flow of extremely satisfied people walking out of, with some even holding an unfamiliar purple item in hand. Stroll into the pathway and continue down until you find a small white sign with a cute purple blob. There you will find Café Bora (Bora from the Korean word for purple), It’s a dessert café serving deliciously unique purple delights. From ice cream to bingsu, your summers won’t be complete without some purple. Their iconic purple is made from special purple sweet potatoes produced in the seaside city of Boryeong. They serve purple ice cream, purple bingsu, purple porridge, purple jjinbang (steamed bread), purple rice cake macaroons, purple latte, and last but not least, dried purple sweet potato chips. They also have flavors but purple is what they are known for. Their bingsu deserves a try as almost everyone gets a little surprise by the realness of the scent/flavor of sweet potatoes. Decorated with a small flower, the bingsu also come with a side of extra purple porridge to add onto your bingsu as well as the purple potato chips to add some extra crunch. Bora Café is the only place in Seoul and perhaps the world where you will be able to get purple bingsu, so if you ever have the chance, the café will be well worth your time.
As soon as you step off the pavement and onto the confines of Bonjour Hawaii, you’ll be transported to a makeshift wooden café in the tropics of the Hawaiian Islands. Makeshift seems to be the right word when describing the shabby concept of the restaurant as it is filled with mixed-and-matched furniture and bare concrete walls lightly painted with tropic colors and patterns. This place doesn’t feel like it's been decorated to be Hawaiian, and unfortunately, there's an unpleasant smell leaking out of the bathroom—it’s not the best welcome. Some of the dishes, however, were quite comforting, especially for the Korean palate. The Locomoco Plate tasted similar to the Japanese-style Hamburg steaks you'd find in Hongdae, topped with a sauce similar to the Korean-style demi-glace and a sunny-side-up. The plate came filled with fries, corn salad, veggies, a small piece of corn on the cob and rice on the side. The Hawaiian Pasta, however, was extremely soupy with floating bits of bacon, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms. It wasn't in any way an exciting dish but had just enough flavor to be called "edible." Perhaps sticking with recommended menu items (the ones with a crown on top) might be the safest way around Bonjour Hawaii.
At the very edge of Haebangchon’s main street sits McCoy’s, a rather fashionable restaurant decorated in bright blue and pink that will catch anyone’s attention. When you enter, you’ll be transported from the urban and hipster-esque Haebangchon to the quaint alleys of the Marais in Paris. You might wonder why France, but once you hear the history behind the owner-chef, it will make more sense. After a few years of working in the culinary scene in Korea, Denis Ryu left to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney. Upon graduation, he interned at the Hilton Sydney hotel and soon after found himself in Albertville, France working at a restaurant called Phillipe Million. This was where he says he learned the true life of a chef—through the extensive experiences he endured during his one and a half year stay. Returning back to Korea, Ryu established McCoy’s to continue his culinary path. One specialty about McCoy’s is their menu is constantly evolving. There is no particular schedule to when they change their menu items, but usually, it’s according to the seasonal ingredients that are available. The menu however, will usually be composed of a grilled chicken, pork, and beef dishes along with pastas. Currently one of the chicken dishes that are available is the Spicy Spatchcock Chicken, a grill and oven baked whole chicken with 15 different spices and grilled veggies. The white meat is extremely juicy while the slightly crusty skin overwhelms your taste buds with a powerful mix of aromas.
Perched on the hill that connects Itaewon with Gyeongridan sits a café named C Through. With its gray façade exposing its sleek, modern, and the minimally colorful interior, it's almost lonely-looking from outside yet welcoming at the same time. For those of you who are an avid fan of the TV program My Little Television, yes this is the café that was aired. You’ll notice the small My Little Television logos attached to the Polaroid-sized picture/description menu cards displayed on the cashier. Lee Kang-bin, the owner and barista of the café has also made it on quite a few internationally-known online media Korea’s famed coffee artist. He is noted for his ‘Creamart’ which is essentially Dutch coffee with thick sweet cream. It comes with an elaborate painting on top like Van Gough's The Starry Night. Lee provides this service to only one person a day creating an artwork of their choice. If you are looking for a special drink with a special message for that special someone, you might want to make a reservation through Instagram. Of the few other items that are available, ‘Scotchino’ is a popular choice and also one that was shown on the television show. The description of the drink translates into: “A Scotch candy tasting drink, overflowing with sensibility.” It’ll make more sense when you take your first sip—you also won’t regret trying it. Served in a mini tea cup, the thick creamy like foam comes overflowing, sprinkled with cacao and coffee powder. Whether is it made with
Take your pick: restaurants by theme
The best cheap eats in Seoul
Here at Time Out Seoul, we love to eat well (obviously) and we love to eat out. But as much as we appreciate wining and dining, we’re beyond grateful for the vast array of cheap eats available in Seoul. From kimbaps that keep us satiated and satisfied when it’s been too long since our last paycheck to some of the best bánh mi and Moroccan in the country, these cheap eats keep us eating (while allowing us to pay our rent at the same time).
Best places for Korean BBQ
This hanwoo (Korean beef) specialty restaurant that uses high-quality domestic beef and has a diverse range of sidedishes. While the prices are a bit steep, they have the best cuts and are known for their quality service as well. Visiting once will make you a returning visitor.
There was recently a time when Korean restaurants fell out of favor with the fickle Korean youth. In that respect, Gaehwaok was a Korean restaurant that was ahead of its time. In 2004, when young people frequented Italian restaurants and Illy coffee shops, it opened on a corner of a run-down alley with a completely different atmosphere from traditional Korean restaurants. It was sophisticated yet restrained, and simple but finely presented. Thankfully, their foresight was rewarded and they've become quite successful, relocating to a new venue in Sinsa-dong in 2010. This place is more spacious than the previous restaurant, with a more modern interior. The spaciousness has robbed a bit of the more comfy atmosphere, but the food presented in finely crafted in brass tableware, the steamed corn and baked garlic amuse-bouches are still as welcoming as ever. Beef tartare, roast brisket with seasoned vegetables, and bulgogi are some of their more popular menus. We also can't get enough of the doenjang noodles. It's just a simple broth made from anchovies and doenjang, with some rough noodles thrown in—it honestly isn't much to look at, but somehow they get the flavors just right. Gaehwaok is the kind of place where you could pair Korean food with wine and no one would bat an eye (take that as you will). It's also great for special gatherings.
Best restaurants by cuisine
The best Korean restaurants in Seoul
Trust us, this is not your chain kimbap store. From hot bubbling stews served with steaming, sticky rice to the best cold noodles to more traditional Korean dishes like samgaetyang (Korean-style chicken soup), these Korean restaurants are the ones that make ahjusshis confess their mothers aren't the best cooks in town. Bring your Korean friends and their parents, even!
The best Italian restaurants in Seoul
Expats that have lived in Seoul for a few years know the real struggle to find authentic Italian food here. For too long, the carbonara has been drenched in cream, the bolognese coated in sugar and cheese limited to American. Finally, we have a few restaurants where we can actually take our Italian friends and proudly say buon appetito!
Craving Japanese food?
With Japanese food & drink in Seoul being as common as Korean in Los Angeles, good restaurants of our neighbor aren't that hard to find. Filled with good sake, chewy, soothing noodles and Japanese-style skewers, even the the average isn't bad. However, start becoming a stickler for authencity and quality and the list of best drops down to a few names. And the names are as follows.
Where to eat Thai food in Seoul
What can account for the boom in Seoul's Thai food restaurants? Of course, their sweet and savory dishes are delicious, but how has that discovery landed upon Korea's capital? Perhaps one main reason is the growing number of Koreans traveling to Thailand and finding the cuisine simply irresistable. Seoulites are crazier now for authentic Thai food than they've ever been in the past. With the quantity of Thai restaurants growing, it's inevitable that the competition amongst these restaurants will grow stiffer. Who has the best pad thai? Which places offer green curry that's made with the freshest coconut milk and chili peppers? Time Out Seoul finds out.
The best Chinese restaurants in Seoul
You probably already know all about Chinese-Korean fast food: jjajangmyeon, those thick noodles slathered in unctuous black bean sauce, and fiery jjambbong noodles. They're a go-to quick meal found on any street corner or even delivered right to your door. But Chinese cuisine has so much more to offer, whether it's Peking duck, red pork belly, a dozen ways to cook scallops, or a plethora of dim sum options (don't get us started on the dumplings). So skip the noodles for now and dig into these delicious mainland dishes—and hey, most of these places also serve jjajangmyeon if you're really craving it.
Where to get good French food in Seoul
Some say that once you study abroad in Paris, it destroys you for life. Part of that reason is the country's culinary artistry which often tops lists when we talk about must-have cuisines. The growing number of exchange students and travelers to the country get glossy eyed just talking baguettes, cheeses and charcuterie. To meet those needs are these praised French restaurants which offer some authentically French food to French inspired to French with a Korean twist. French food in Seoul's not limited to Seorae Village anymore. Bon appetit!
Best cafés by neighborhood
Best restaurants by neighborhood
The best restaurants in Itaewon
Long reputed to be one of the most delicious neighborhoods in Seoul, Itaewon is particularly known for foreign food. Expats and travelers can come here to get a taste of home while Koreans might come seeking something from their travels. Here's the inside scoop on which places are authentic and just plain delicious.
The best restaurants in Gangnam
Gangnam is chock full of delicious places to eat. However, this area south of the river doesn't have as many "food alleys" and designated areas for specific cuisines. Since Gangnam spreads out further, it may involve driving or taking cabs out of the way. Here are the restaurants that we can guarantee to be good and worth the price.
The best restaurants in Jongno and Myeongdong
With so many good restaurants in the Jongno and Myeongdong neighborhood, it's often overwhelming to have to pick just one. How do you narrow it down? How can you stop from getting caught in a tourist trap? We have our list of authentic Korean eats as well as delicious international cuisines of these neighborhoods.