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.
A seemingly floating beer tap, the first of its kind in Korea, hangs from a 12-meter-long bar. The rest of the interior is just as sleek. The feeling is dark, modern and cool, yet cozy. This is precisely the vibe that native New Zealander Simon Walsh was trying to create when he, along with his partners, turned vision into reality with the opening of Mozzie last November at the I.T.W. Hotel in Itaewon. It’s the kind of place you can come for the food and then stay for drinks without feeling the need to move elsewhere. According to Simon, Mozzie specializes in Kiwi and Aussie comfort food favorites, and the name is a reference to the Maori people who live in Australia (Maori+Aussie). Look around and you'll see that careful attention was paid to every detail, right down to the napkins, silverware and names of each menu item. The extensive menu includes everything from salads and burgers to meat entrees (lamb shanks, pork chops, beef ribeye, etc.), seafood entrees (salmon and mussels) and classics like fish and chips and shepherd’s pie. The biggest surprise for me, however, is the inclusion of several curries, a tribute to the well-trained Pakistani chefs running the kitchen. There's something for everyone. Deciding what to eat is no easy task. Your best bet is to start with a meat or seafood entree and narrow it down from there. While you might be tempted to try one of the other menu options, stay strong. (You can always come back to try them later.) The portion sizes are very
Although Plant, the beloved vegan haven of Itaewon, opened in 2013, its roots trace back to 2009 when Plant’s owner, Mipa Lee started her blog Alien’s Day Out. Documenting the ins and outs of being a vegan in Seoul, her following grew from the baked goods that she sold online. She eventually settled into this cozy one-room restaurant off the main road of Itaewon. Drawing inspiration from the many places where Mipa has lived, such as England, the U.S. and West Africa, the restaurant offers up a variety of dishes, including a Thai peanut soba bowl, chickpea avo sandwich and three-bean and lentil chili served with homemade vegan cornbread and a side salad with agave mustard dressing. While the menu features around two to three items at a time, everything’s packed with flavor and none of it is necessarily “diet food.” If you’re not convinced, check out the desserts on display—red velvet cakes and cupcakes, thick chocolate cakes, banana muffins, coconut cookies and more. Peek into the glass behind the counter and you get a sense of how much care is put into every single meal that’s served. Talk to Mipa and you begin to realize that being vegan is not just about food, but “trying to live a more compassionate life.” Every customer is greeted with a smile and leaves full after enjoying a hearty, satisfying meal. It’s no wonder that Plant holds such a dear place in the hearts of so many vegans (and even non-vegans) in Seoul.
When it comes to nutrition and dining, the It-word right now has to be “superfood.” A term used to describe foods with that are rich in nutrients and that provide health benefits, the trend of superfood dining has hit all over cities in Europe and the U.S. In Seoul, you can find this trend happening at La Ferme, which opened less than three months ago. The menu includes several salads (with the chickpea and chicken quinoa being our favorites), while hot dishes like the seafood quinoa stew, oats risotto and chicken couscous offer slightly heartier options. Not only are the dishes filling, well balanced and healthy—they’re addictively good. The chicken is well seasoned, flavorful and tender, while the hummus (in the chickpea salad) is creamy and savory. Your mouth waters at the sight of these colorful dishes coming out of the kitchen and into the brightly lit jungle-like space. Director Park Ji-hye (who also owns the French restaurant Routine down the street) explains that she just wanted people to know that healthy food can also be delicious. La Ferme, one of our new favorite restaurants in Seoul, does not fail to disappoint.
Ask people what the most important part of a pizza is, and more often than not, you’re likely to hear: “The crust.” A good crust has the ability to elevate a mediocre pizza, and along with the sauce, is the individual stamp of a pizza place. Long-time NYC resident Eugene Kim understands this well. He obsesses over it. And with partner, Yu Seong “David” Kim, the two opened Gino’s NY Pizza earlier this month in Itaewon. Recognizing a gap for authentic New York-style pizza in the already saturated pizza market, Eugene spent time in NYC learning the ins and outs of crusts and sauces (where he was affectionately known as “Fat Gino”—hence, the name) with the goal of creating a pizzeria that brings a “true” New York icon to Seoul. Each morning begins with prepping and making the dough for the crust. The dough is then left to ferment for 24 to 72 hours, resulting in a crust with a good amount of “oven spring,” which refers to its airiness. Crusts at Gino's are light and crispy, not dense and crunchy as you're apt to find at most other places. Great care has been taken to source highquality ingredients for the sauce and toppings. Most are imported from the U.S., the fresh mozzarella comes from Italy and the Italian sausage is made locally especially for Gino’s. All of this painstaking attention to detail results in a pizza that’s well balanced, both in texture and flavor. Personal favorites thus far include the NY Supreme and Brooklyn’s Best (a Gino’s signature pizza topped with Itali
Weekend nights in Itaewon are madness. Walk three minutes south of the station, however, and you’ll come across the Libertine, a classy respite from the madding crowd where you can nurse an old fashioned or down sazeracs in style. The interior is reminiscent of Old World New York, with high ceilings, dark wood and a beautifully tiled floor, not to mention a spacious and welcoming bar. If you’re feeling peckish, the Libertine’s mostly American-inspired menu is crafted with obsessive attention to detail every season (the lamb burger is consistently good, and long-time fans will want to keep an eye out for the Jeju organic free-range roast chicken, which is brined and slow roasted for hours). Daytime offers its own palate-charmers—the bacon is made in-house, and salmon is cured from fresh fish. Whether you’re charming a date over drinks or meeting the in-laws over brunch, the Libertine is a solid choice.
When you hear that an amazing new teriyaki chicken place has just opened, you go expecting something more than… a smoky kitchen with a few plastic tables on a side street in Haebangchon. It’s not very aesthetically pleasing. You can’t blame them though because they’re mostly a delivery and pick-up service that caters to businessmen and large companies. It wasn’t until recently that their delicious taste started to make its way to major social networks. Steven Kim’s really confident (borderline cocky) about the food. In their first month, they guaranteed that if you liked their Facebook page, you could get a dish for free. The menu’s simple, it’s chicken or shrimp available in two sizes with either the pepper sauce or the teriyaki sauce and a side of slightly stir-fried vegetables. “Free? Are you sure?” I ask, feeling bad but Steven’s firm response of: “Try it once and I’m sure you’ll be back.” Defiantly, I take a bite… and it is the most delicious teriyaki chicken I’ve ever had in Seoul. The meat (the chicken’s surprisingly Halal) is cooked first with a slight char around the edges giving it an accent of smokiness and then the savory Teriyaki or pepper (a spiced up Teriyaki) sauce is poured on afterwards. Steven’s particular recipe avoids the two pitfalls that make for poor Teriyaki—tough meat and greasiness. Both the chicken and the shrimp are tender and juicy. Also, who knew that Teriyaki sauce could somehow feel light without sacrificing the taste? It’s free delivery to an
As far as foreign food in Korea goes, Thai food has become as mainstream as Italian. However, some of us will remember a time when it was nearly impossible to find decent pad thai here. Back in 2005, there were a few eateries but they barely managed to encapsulate Bangkok’s street foods with authenticity. Even Seoul’s foreign food representative, Gyeongridan, had little to offer with Buddha’s Belly being the rare exception to the rule. Although the Thai food market has grown more competitive now, we do have to credit Buddha’s Belly for being the first to offer a delicious take on the cuisine for reasonable prices. The Buddha's Belly at the foot of Gyeongridan is the original, while the second chain rests at the bottom of the hill of Itaewon main street. The more recent Buddha's Belly is well decorated and has a panoramic entire view of the Noksapyeong subway station crossroad. At the Noksapyeong branch, the Thai chef has earned his dues for over a decade, and his food consistently ranks above the standard. During lunchtime, you can get a plate of fried rice and Tom Yum Goong as part of their lunch menu for the budget price of 8,800won. With the recent opening of the third branch inside of Banpo’s Famille Station, Buddha's Belly shows it’s still at its prime.
When you walk along the street behind Itaewon Hamilton Hotel, you’ll see a row of windows that are wide open and through which there’ll be groups of foreigners grilling meat. It might be the unlikely geographical location of Maple Tree House in Itaewon, or the modern interior that doesn’t look like your typical Korean BBQ place. Whatever the reason may be, one thing that’s for sure is that it has captivated the hearts of Koreans and foreigners alike. There’s always a 50:50 ratio among customers. It’s also a popular spot for workers to go for their company get-togethers. The signature Maple Tree House dish is the aged hanwoo (Korean premium beef) sirloin. The thinly sliced beef loin that comes with a savory sauce is also a favorite house dish. When they open up all their windows in the evening, a cool breeze blows through, making it the perfect setting to enjoy your Korean BBQ and Heineken beer.
One of the owners cures the meats and then slaves away at the smoker slowly cooking the brisket and pulled pork over low temperatures for around ten hours. His efforts result in a tender brisket with burnt ends just pink around the edges with that coveted smoke ring and well done in the center. Served 200 grams at a time, the taste of the four lean and fat slices leave little room for dissatisfaction. Another talked about meat on the list is the lemon and herb marinated boneless chicken leg. One order means two leg quarters at a time and as far as poultry served American style in Seoul, this chicken is by far one of the juiciest. For extra flavor, ask for either the spicy mango or raspberry chipotle sauce. Although quite tasty and creative in its own right, traditionalists might prefer the tang of the more conventional barbecue sauces at Linus’.
Taking inspiration from New York’s Artichoke Basille's Pizza & Brewery, Maddux Pizza in Itaewon recreates the creamy artichoke slice right here in Seoul. Made with white sauce, artichoke, spinach, mozzarella and parmesan, the spinach and artichoke version at Maddux isn’t overly-soupy and layered in cheese, which we think the slice is all the better for. With the crust having just the right amount of crunch to it, the artichoke pizza here isn’t just good because it’s almost impossible to find anywhere else in this city, but it actually stands on its own. Affable owner, Shin Deok-soo, is a Korean national who discovered his passion for pizza during his several visits to New York City (and through episodes of Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles). While the restaurant doesn’t serve any side dishes and there are rumors about inconsistency, you can order a mean meatball sandwich and one of the best Sicilian slices in Seoul. Located in the back alleys of Itaewon, this pizzeria is creating a whole new level of pizza here in the city. (And if you’re a TNMT fan, it’ll definitely have ya singin’ “Pizza Power.”)