Back in November of last year, when Mexican restaurant El Pino 323 opened in a little hole in the wall space near Aeogae station, I wrote in my review that “I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they are expanding or moving to a bigger location before too long”. You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to see that the tacos and enchiladas being dished up by Chef ‘D’ Morales would quickly draw a wider audience than could fit into a slightly poky basement room next to kimbap joints and nail salons.
Fast forward nine months or so and the prophecy has come to pass even more quickly than most of us would have expected. El Pino 323 has outgrown its original location, and moved on to bigger and better things. Now in a bright and airy second floor space near Noksapyeong station, the new version of this restaurant could scarcely look or feel more different, but the food continues to be some of the best, if not the best, Cali-Mex food to be found anywhere in the city.
Three of my favourite things; good Korean beef restaurants, restaurants that offer great value for money, and restaurants that offer food in portions large enough to fill my big ol’ belly. So when I heard from my friend Thomas of an all-you-can-eat Korean beef restaurant that combines all three, I was immediately interested.
AYCE deals are nothing unusual around Seoul, but quality varies enormously – unlimited samgyeopsal deals for under 10,000 a head are especially dubious – and there’s usually various conditions attached that annoy me (pay in cash up front, eat up within 90 minutes, and so on). But if Thomas, a trained chef who knows his beef, was impressed by Sododuk, a new restaurant in Gangnam offering unlimited beef at a reasonable price, I was keen to give it a try. And so it was that I found myself venturing to Cheongdam, not an area I frequent when I can avoid it.
The burritos, burgers and chilli bowls of Gyeongnidan’s Cali Kitchen have been a vital source of sustenance for many of us for a couple of years now; come rain or shine, owner Chuck Chun has been serving up a taste of California since mid-2015.
Having outgrown the original space behind Maloney’s pub, Chuck closed down operations during the spring of 2017 in order to bring his new concept to reality. It’s been an agonising wait for some of us, but with the partial help of a Kickstarter campaign to help them over the line, to which I contributed a small amount (does that make me an investor? are royalty cheques about to come flooding in? I can dream…), the newly rebranded California Kitchen and Craft Pub officially opens today after a short soft opening, and I’m pleased to say that it’s a winner.
I’ve never really “got” chicken wings. Yes, I like chicken and I guess I enjoy eating the wings, and they certainly go well with a cold beer, but I can’t really imagine going to a place specifically to eat them. “Wing nites” leave me cold. They are a quintessentially American food; I was once driven an hour and a half across Pennsylvania to eat chicken wings, and I thought (and still think) that the nice people who drove me there were also a little crazy.
Even on the sunniest of summer Seoul days, it isn’t exactly easy to close your eyes and imagine yourself on a Jamaican beach with the sand between your toes. At Trenchtown, a new Caribbean rum bar and restaurant in Itaewon, they’re doing their best to help you try.
Note from Andy: This is the second in an ongoing series of interviews with restaurateurs and chefs around Seoul. The previous interview was with Wahid Naciri of Casablanca and Morococo Café, and can be found here.
Jungsu Lee is from Seoul. He opened his restaurant Villa Guerrero in Samseong-dong in 2015, serving Michoacán style carnitas and chorizo tacos.