The Places We Keep Going Back to in Seoul
More than a quarter of our time abroad in Seoul has passed, and we’ve discovered some solid places that we will continue to frequent for the remainder of our time here. If you’re in the area or planning a trip, here are some places you might want to visit!
Carbo Mama in Yangjae. It’s probably counter-intuitive to start my recommendations with an Italian-style restaurant, but I had to start with this one. Any dish will set you back a mere $5 USD and every dish we’ve tried has been fresh, flavorful, and decently portioned. I highly recommend the aglio olio or tomato sauce spaghetti, Gorgonzola pizza (served with a side of honey), garlic bread, and grapefruit ‘ade.’
Do Chef in Banpo. Order the gamberi crema (ask if they have extra noodles) and any pizza and use the leftover pasta sauce to dip your crusts in. It’s decadent and delicious.
Jil'Hal Bros in Cheongdam. The Halal Guys are in Seoul, in Itaewon and Gangnam, and I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit we eat there almost weekly. For a healthier variation, though, there's Jil'Hal Bros.
Cafe 413 Project in Yeoksam (pictured above). A dried-flowers-hanging-from-the-ceiling-type cafe, but with a cool, underground vibe. Funny enough, if there's anything I miss from the States, it's a good sandwich. They do a good spinach and fresh mozzarella grilled panini here, and refreshing drinks. The carrot cake is one of the best I've ever had.
Chunky Myeonga in Jung-gu. On your way to or from Deoksugung, stop by this Chinese-style restaurant for noodle soup, pork dumplings, Chinese broccoli, and spicy cucumber. Wash your meal down with plenty of complimentary pu'er tea.
Goldfish Dimsum Cuisine in Sinsa. We made it for brunch one Sunday and shared two orders of soup dumplings, one order of pork, shrimp, and chive dumplings, and a seriously flavorful Si Chuan-style spicy beef noodle soup. The tea here isn't complimentary, but refills are, so treat yourself.
Hohwa Banjeom in Sinsa. Jjajangmyun and jjambbong are Chinese-style Korean comfort foods, and those are wonderful here, but the dumplings are the star of the show. These are the first dumplings we've found that aren't stuffed with japchae, or glass noodles (which we both hate).
Gaehwaok in Sinsa. One of the first restaurants we stumbled upon in Seoul, their kimchi and doenjang jjigaes, or stews, are maybe the best I've had (and these are two of my favorite Korean dishes of all time). The banchan, or side-dishes, are fresh and varied. This is a place we plan to bring family and friends when they visit.
Maeumeun Kongbate in Seocho. Bossam, or pork belly wraps, are a thing in Korea and this place does them good. Be prepared to sit cross-legged on the floor.
Hobak in Eunpyeong-gu. Jun, or savory Korean pancakes, are one of my favorite foods, and the ones here are the best we've found so far. The traditional decor creates a nice ambience and the man who owns the place maintains a balance of friendly and giving you space.
It's hard not to come across a place to shop in Seoul, but places can be hit or miss with selection, price, or especially quality, and it's hard to know which ones are hits. These are the ones I've had luck with, return to, and would recommend. Good rules of thumb (when shopping for apparel) are to touch and get a good feel for the fabrics, try on when possible (many items are 'free' size, or one size, and many shops don't have fitting rooms), and (in independent shops) ask for a discount when purchasing more than one item or paying in cash. One nice thing about shopping in Seoul is that shops put out one of each item for viewing or trying on, and bring you a new one from the stock if you decide to purchase it.
Gangnam Station, specifically F8 (by Exit 10), Rumen (by Exit 7), and Talk Talk. I bought two pairs of shoes at F8, slip-on loafers for work and gorgeous tweed flats, and both are the best quality and prettiest shoes I've found in Seoul, especially for the price. Rumen is a small clothing shop that carries the most unique and classic styles (most shops, especially in major stations like Gangnam Station, can be quite same-y). I fawn over their merchandise every time I walk by (and wallow in regret over the Balmain-inspired dress I let get away). Talk Talk is one of the larger shops in the station, but surprisingly uncrowded, and the sales associate gives you space to browse leisurely and encourages you to try items on (a rarity).
Uniqlo. I never shopped at Uniqlo much in the States, but I'm all about it in Seoul where it's even more affordable. They do good basic layers, which are all I wear anymore.
Express Bus Terminal. This is one you have to mentally and almost emotionally prepare for as it's a never-ending terminal of overcrowded shops with overbearing sales associates, but it's almost a fun experience. Prices are generally low so it's really hit or miss with quality, but I've been able to find some gems. The first shop on your immediate left when you enter from the subway station tends to have good knitwear, and The Wang, further down the terminal, carries some seriously cool, unique pieces.
The Zara in the Star City Lotte Department Store is small in size but large in selection and variety. It's hardly ever busy and the sales associates are so nice and willing to help.
Cree'mare at Sinnonhyeon Station is a haven for beauty lovers, located underground, gorgeously decorated, and stocked with difficult-to-find brands. It's a change of pace from the overwhelmingly bustling streets of Myeongdong or the usual pharmacies (e.g., Olive Young). Chicor, in the Gangnam Shinsegae Department Store and Korea's response to Sephora, is another beauty playground, and Shinsegae has an extensive high-end/luxury beauty department.
Garosu-gil is an obvious choice for beauty and apparel, and with good reason. The main street, which spans Sinsa and Apgujeong and is lined with ginko trees, houses a range of shops and eateries with even more nestled behind and around them.