Top 5 new Seoul restaurants
In Seoul, the fact that a certain restaurant may be trending online doesn't necessarily mean that it’s good. Or even that it actually exists.
Case in point: a while ago, “the fishing hoe restaurant” was the top searched-for term on Naver, South Korea’s largest portal site -- no mean feat, if you consider the fact that Naver has more than 70 percent of the market share in a country where 95 percent of households have broadband Internet.
But upon investigation, we found that although the restaurant looked ridiculously fun (customers could actually fish in a pool filled with live fish in the middle of the floor and have their catch served up on the spot) it had had also long gone out of business.
No, even in the most wired city in the world, the best kind of restaurant buzz is still via word of mouth –- preferably those from the foodiest of foodies.
Here are the hottest new restaurants in Seoul right now, all opened within the past year, where lines are long and the buzz is local, real and justified.
1. Vatos Urban Tacos
Every time we’ve attempted to go to Vatos, we’ve been astounded by the lines and the wait time. And how we run into all the coolest people we know, all standing awkwardly around with growling tummies and increasingly bad tempers.
As any traveler knows, it’s damn difficult to come across good Mexican food anywhere outside of North America -- to the point where Vatos is regarded as a near miracle in this city. And the combination of Korean and Americanized Mexican cuisine (the Kimchi Carnitas Fries, ₩10,000, have sparked some copycat wars and a lot of gossip mongering) is so ridiculously good that you’ll wait out that two-hour line or die trying.
Another highlight of the menu is the Galbi Short Rib Taco, featuring Korean soy sauce marinated ribs and lots of cilantro and lettuce -- but not so much as to drown out the taste of the succulent meat.
The margaritas are also delicious. And if you can't pick between a margherita or a beer there's always the Dos-a-Rita Corona Rita.
66-8 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 용산구 이태원동 66-8); +82 2 797 8226; open Tuesday–Thursday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m.-2p.m., 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
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Despite its explosive popularity as the new “it” neighborhood, Garosugil was surprisingly lacking in good foodie options until recently.
A whole crop of restaurants have sprung up in the block left of the road on the Sinsa side, and one of the standouts is the new Chinese restaurant Goldfish, which serves handmade dim sum – the soft and delicious kind, instead of the hard little nuggets you find anywhere else outside of Hong Kong. Authentic Chinese teas are also available.
As it is popular with young people on their first “sogeting” (blind dates), it's best to be wary when you pick a spot, lest you suffer from indigestion after chortling over the godawfully awkward exchanges you’ll overhear (“Oh my god, you’re blood type A? Me too!”)
In addition to the delicious dim sum, we also like the dark interior with orb lights.
535-1 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu , Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 신사동 535-1) ; +82 2 511 5266; Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m., closed on Monday. Expect to pay around ₩17,000 per person (lunch and dinner).
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3. Pizzeria d’Buzza
This pizza parlor is always so fully booked that the only sure way to grab a table is to drop by at 10:30 a.m. and write your name down on a reservation list for lunch beginning at 11:30 a.m.
The name is also a multilingual pun -- pronounced in Korean, "Buzza" sounds like "rich person," so Pizzeria d'Buzza would be like the "pizza of the rich."
But contrary to any misconceptions given off by the restaurant’s Konglish name, the food is not fake Italian. The crust is not too crunchy or dry, but in the vein of fine Neapolitan pizzas, made with authentic Italian ingredients, and baked in an open air clay pizza oven.
We recommend the Margherita con Bufala (₩16,300) which uses buffalo mozzarella imported from Italy, or the Buzza's Classic (₩14,000).
743-33 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (서울특별시용산구 한남동 743-33); +82 2 794 9474; www.buzzapizza.com; open daily, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; closed 3 p.m.-5:30 p.m. on weekdays.
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4. Goseumdochi (고슴도치)
Three-month-old restaurant Goseumdochi -- meaning "hedgehog" in Korean -- is perched above the labyrinth of the narrow, congested streets of Sinsa-dong.
Reminiscent of a Japanese Western food joint, Goseumdochi's popularity can perhaps be credited to the calm, atmospheric lighting and décor and the simplicity of the cuisine.
Staple dishes include the Pork Tonkatsu (₩9,500) covered in Japanese Worcestershire sauce and the hamburger steak in demi-glace sauce (₩15,000).
For the homesick Tokyoite, it is a delicious reminder of home. For the Seoulite and the bewildered traveler, it serves up a comfortable minimalist meal as a quiet respite from the rest of the city.
Rather than trying to combine unusual tastes together, Goseumdochi goes by tried-and-tested tastes that everyone can relate to and enjoy.
548-4 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 신사동 548-4); +82 70 7571 5484; open daily, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
5. La Categorie
More high-end than any of the other restaurants on the list, La Categorie is located in an unassuming building with no signs or identification.
For a French fusion restaurant, La Categorie has reasonable prices, especially considering its exclusivity and quality.
While a lot of Western food has been sweetened to appeal to Korean taste buds, La Categorie offers very good French fusion and experimental meals.
In particular, we loved the Lobster Bisque (part of a ₩45,000 four-course meal) which features a fantastic balance of lemongrass, lobster and fresh sea urchin, combined with a sea urchin mousse and fish eggs.
627-21 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 신사동 627-21); +82 2 545 6647; Tuesday-Saturday noon-3 p.m., 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
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