Here’s the thing: Korea. That’s the thing right there. Yep. Korea is excellent. That’s why it’s the thing. Maybe you aren’t in Korea right now. I know how that feels, I’m not there either. Sucks for both of us I guess. But there is hope: You could GO to Korea. I could go BACK to Korea. Korea for everyone!
What I’m trying to say is that I recently went to Korea and now I’m going to tell you about the places that I liked so that you get excited about Korea and go there and eat at those same places.
One quick note: I’m including foursquare links for each place because Foursquare is excellent in Asia and the best way to find things that Google maps would fail at. Google maps is terrible in Korea. So. Cool. Here we go:
Finally. FI-NA-LY. It’s time to talk about chadol-baki (차돌박이). “Chadol” is a type of thinly sliced beef. “Baki” means…. uh I don’t know what it means. I’m not even sure what it is doing there. Chadol is plenty a name enough for this to be my favorite type of Korean BBQ. Like all good K-BBQ, chadol-baki comes to your table raw and beautiful. You grill it yourself and because it is so thin it cooks very quickly. Half of eating this glorious meat is keeping track of the grill and making sure it doesn’t over cook. Once it is all grilled up you dip it in salt, bring it to your face, put it in your mouth, chew, say “oh hell yes, I love me some good chadol”, and then… uh… I don’t know did you swallow yet? Whatever. You eat it. You eat the chadol-baki and you like it a lot.
The problem is that good CDBK is hard to find. Right now I know of two spots. If you live in Chicago you’ve got Cho Sun Ok and life is good. Otherwise it is off to Seoul. When you get to Seoul make sure you find the real Chadol House. You can go to that link to learn more about the fake Chadol House a few blocks away and to see pictures of the outside to make sure you aren’t fooled.
Verdict: I ate at Chadol house for my birthday and it was both the best CDBK I’ve ever had and the best birthday meal I’ve ever had. Number 1 reco mega must go.
Mealtop is a super popular patbingsu/shave ice place. This is the main branch and it is on the top floor of the Hyundai department store because departments stores are way cooler in Korea. I ate about one and a half of their milk/red bean bingsu and still have no idea what was going on. It is deliciously confusing. If you have had shave ice then you are probably used to the clear ice just providing texture and support for the toppings. At Mealtop, the ice is milky. Maybe it is frozen milk? I obviously haven’t figured it out but it was amazing. We had to wait to get a seat even though we went in the middle of winter. Milky ice is a wonderful thing.
Verdict: Here is your must try dessert in Seoul.
When it comes to K-BBQ that isn’t CDBK, this was that place that completely reset my expectations. I thought I had had great K-BBQ in the US. I figured the best of NYC or LA was a pretty good representation of what you can get in Seoul. Holy crap that wasn’t right at all. Two Plus completely reset my understanding of how good K-BBQ can be. The cuts of meat were absolutely beautiful and tasted even better than they looked. Marbling like you’ve never seen that cooks down to so much flavor! Instead of the sad little gas grills used in the US they bring raging hot charcoal straight to your table and holy crap how is everyone there not severely burned or on fire right now. The ambiance? The decor? Two Plus is designed to be a date spot and looks more like a wine bar on the inside than the utilitarian Korean spots I’m used to. They also have a location in 이태원 so go nuts with that little fact if you can read korean.
Verdict: If you are looking for Korean BBQ in Seoul you just found it.
Seoul has the highest concentration of coffee shops in the world. Most of them are terrible. If you are a certified coffee asshole like I am then prepare for a struggle finding something good to drink. Most coffee shops serve burnt poorly made coffee and espresso drinks filled with sweeteners to cover the terrible flavor… this is actually true in the US as well so I don’t know why I’m picking on Seoul. Let me try again: the world is full of bad coffee shops, let’s ignore those for a moment and talk about a great one: Ikovox.
Ikovox is an oasis in the Korean desert. They offer well prepared single origin coffee that will remind you that the earth is not a cold dead place. Like other Seoul coffee shops the atmosphere inside Ikovox is outstanding and you will want to hang out forever, enjoying your coffee and spending quality time with your phone. The price is high in terms of won but low if you are desperate for good coffee.
Verdict: The best coffee I had in Seoul and a place I would return to regularly if it were in NYC.
Soft serve ice cream flavored like breakfast cereal. They really nail the flavors too so it is extremely well done. To top it off Bastille includes dry ice in a cup beneath your ice cream to … look super cool? Keep your ice cream mega cold? Discretely dispose of their excessive dry ice supply? I don’t know why. I just really enjoyed this place and it is half a block from Ikovox so, screw it, you deserve it.
Verdict: Maybe not a must-go destination but you will probably be in Itaewon at some point so you should pop by.
When night rolls around you will probably see tents popping up along the streets, especially if you are in Myeongdong (명동) like we were. Turns out they serve random food and well priced soju. Pull up a plastic stool, grab a dixie cup adorned with cute little animals, and drink like your job depends on it. Verdict: I just can’t see any reason not to do this. It is basically the best idea.
I traveled for nearly an hour with the last leg in the rain to get to Algeria Coffee. It was worth it. Well crafted espresso drinks supported by an array of single origin pour overs. If you are a coffee asshole then Algeria Coffee is WHAT YOU NEED. The only challenge I ran into is that pour over coffee is called “drip” in Korea. I don’t know what they call US drip coffee. Oh and Kyoto drip is called Dutch coffee which … holy crap, actually is accurate. Ok. Fine. Points go to Korea on this one. I’m striking Kyoto drip from my vocabulary and calling it Dutch Coffee going forward.
Verdict: Another great coffee shop but maybe only worth the trek if you are going to the area anyway.
Seriously. Coffee. Everyday. It was a significant challenge in Seoul. If you end up in Myeongdong then Cafe Themselves was the best I found in that area. You can get a pour over (aka “drip”) single origin with a reasonably light roast that should keep you from acting like a wretched cave troll for a day or two (depending your addiction level).
Verdict: Best in the area but nothing you need to travel for.
If you are heading to Seoul then my favorite way to keep track of recommendations is google maps. Here is a google map of all the recommendations seen here. For bonus points: here is a map of all the recommendations I was following for my trip.
Yeah, I could have just said that up front but I was having a pretty good time with that whole “Korea is the thing” bit. I’m assuming that anyone who “reads” this site is just skimming anyway. ↩
Seriously. I asked all the Korean people I had on hand and they were like “Yeah chadol is the thinly sliced beef and baki means… uh I don’t know what it means”. Google translate maybe says it maybe has something to do with marbling? I doubt it. Feel free to tell me whats up in the comments! ↩
Oh man, chadol-baki sounds soooo cool abbreviated. I’m so excited about this abbreviation right now. ↩
seriously, anyone know anywhere else with exemplary CDBK? I want to know ↩
This whole “verdict” thing is kind of strange isn’t it? I’m only including the places that I really liked so obviously they will all have a really good verdict. I guess I’ll have to have a different spin on the next few verdicts ↩
I would double check to make sure that every single K-BBQ place in Korea hasn’t burned to the ground before you go because these hot coals are no joke ↩
Fine. 이태원 is Itaewon which means there is a location near Chadol House and a few of the other places I’m about to recommend. If you don’t know Seoul, Itaewon is right next to the US army base and has a ton of great food and bars. ↩
well this verdict is pretty much identical to the other two… great. Verdicts are the worst ↩
They probably won’t actually remind you of Explosions in the Sky. Did you catch the reference? It wasn’t so much a reference as me just using their album title to describe coffee… more so the coffee will just, like, taste really good ↩
No Foursquare link, naturally, because these things just happen wherever you are ↩
which really sounds like an STD anyway ↩