There are two things everyone must do when traveling: find a place to sleep and eat. While there’s a wide range of options of what you’ll do in between those two critical activities: museums, shopping, hiking, guided tours, fashion shows, and so on, enjoying the local cuisine on your vacation can be some of the best memories of your trip.
I love to eat. And I’m one of those fortunate people that doesn’t have any allergies or food aversions, so I am likely to try a wide range of food while traveling the world. My most recent trip to South Korea was a daily adventure for my taste buds, and although I live in Los Angeles where there is a bustling Koreatown full of delicious Korean BBQ spots, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve only had Korean food twice. Luckily, I was able to play catch up in South Korea’s capital. Here’s my list of top places to eat in Seoul, where both daring and discerning diners will leave satiated and smiling.
I was lucky enough to enjoy a proper Korean meal with some local friends who brought me to this Seoul standard for a sumptuous feast. Not knowing the names of most of the dishes, I just followed my hosts’ lead and ate what they ate. I was pleasantly surprised, but my favorite had to be the bibimbap(pictured above), which is like the ultimate Korean comfort food! Paired with berry wine, and a delectable steak appetizer that was like a better version of a lettuce wrap, my stomach was happy. What a way to start my stay in Seoul!
One of the best things about Seoul is its proximity to the rest of Asia, and with that, a wide range of Asian cuisine to enjoy. Make it a point to visit Richmond Dimsum in Itaewon neighborhood, and come hungry. Once you try one of Chef Danny’s Chinese creations, you’ll want to keep sampling more of his masterful menu. My friends and I had a shrimp dish that practically melted in your mouth – I couldn’t believe something could be so good! And then followed by the chef’s signature dumplings, each a different flavor: eggplant, sweet potato, and squid ink – I was in heaven! Another favorite was the shrimp curry. I’m not sure what Chef Danny does to the shrimp, but you’ll never be the same. They are amazing!
While there’s a few of these around town, I stumbled upon the Osulloc adjacent to the Seoul Modern and Contemporary Art Museum. This place was so good, I circled back on my way out of the museum just to try something else on the menu. Wanting some fuel for intense art scoping, I started with a mild green tea(their signature blend) paired with a green tea croque monsieur. Yes you read that right! I wasn’t sure what to expect from my sandwich, but the green bread did not disappoint. Eyeing the other patrons on the way out, I noticed everyone was drinking a sort of milkshake looking thing, which I ordered on my way back after finishing up at MMCA. Paired with a traditional Korean roll cake with matcha-infused cream, I was glad I came back a second time. Try it at least once – you won’t be disappointed!
I also have a sweet tooth, which can be dangerous at times, but I find that it leads me to some of the best discoveries when I travel, which is exactly what happened with Arario. The funny thing is that I had already been to the Arario Gallery on the other side of town and didn’t know that there was a related museum, which is a must-see for art lovers. But before heading into the labyrinth of rooms filled with contemporary art, I found myself drawn to the alluring aroma of coffee and cinnamon from their garden cafe called Fritz. The cinnamon roll filled with a dollop of ice cream was enough for me, but then I found out that they have three other restaurants, one of which was just mentioned in the 2019 Michelin Guide. If you’re a serious foodie, put Arario Museum on your list.
Just down the way from Arario Museum on the way to Gyeongbokgung Palace, is a Thai restaurant that had a small sign advertising that it was the best Thai restaurant in Seoul. I decided to try it, one because I was too tired to search for anything else, and I thought I’d continue on with my sampling of other Asian cuisines given my good experience at Richmond Dimsum. It was so good that I ate here twice. Their pad thai was the best I’ve had, and I’ve had quite a bit back in California! The second time I visited, I’m not sure what I ordered, but it was absolutely amazing(a spicy shrimp dish with very thin noodles). With a crowd of people filling their small upstairs restaurant during the lunch hour, I knew that there was some truth to their sign outside.
Buddhist Temple Stay
Now this isn’t a restaurant, nor will you find it on any “best of” lists besides mine, but the food that I had at the temple stay in Bukhansan National Forest was simply divine. The simplicity of the vegan food and the humble surroundings allowed me to focus on each bite. With a strict rule of no conversation during meals, I found myself focused on my food and its textures and flavors in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. If you’re vegan, you might want to visit a temple just for the food. And if you’re not, well this might make you consider going vegan a few days a week. I felt amazing after the few meals I did have and am hoping to recreate some of these dishes back home.
While I can’t remember every place that my friends took me to eat, I suggest being open-minded when you come to Seoul. Below are photos of a grilled fish dinner that we shared one evening, and a Vietnamese feast that had me drooling over every bite.
And last, but definitely not least is Conrad Seoul. If you don’t have the fortune of staying here, make it a point to head to the south side of Han River and enjoy their award-winning cuisine for at least one meal. Everything from their breakfast buffet to their crown jewel restaurant, 37 Grill and Bar is worth the trip. If you’re a wine lover, make it a point to visit 37 Grill and Bar and enlist the advice of expert sommelier, Nathan Kim. My chef’s tasting menu would not have been complete without his guidance. Read about my full experience here. And if you’re lucky enough to stay at Seoul’s top-ranked hotel, try the bone broth at breakfast. I know it sounds crazy, but I had seconds because that stuff is soooo good!
Enjoy your stay in Seoul and let me know in the comments where some of your favorite eateries are in this amazing city. I definitely plan on coming back and can’t wait to try more of Korea’s diverse dishes!