A couple of weeks back, I was chatting to the owner of the HBC gogijip in Haebangchon (now temporarily closed as they relocate to larger premises further up the road). He was raving about a new burger joint in Itaewon that I’d never heard of. How could there be a burger joint in Itaewon I had never heard of? I decided to hunt it down to try for myself.
A couple of visits later, I’m happy to say that Downtowner is legit – perhaps not a life-changing burger experience, but one worth seeking out nonetheless.
Downtowner is situated in one of the more up-and-coming corners of Itaewon – a little warren of side streets that I didn’t even realise existed until recently. Cutesy cafes sit cheek-by-jowl with boutiques that would probably call the police if a sweaty fat guy like me walked in, and those odd little shops, so common in trendy parts of town, that don’t seem to sell anything much but always seem to have people looking in the windows.
It reminded me strongly of Maddux Pizza in terms of its exterior, interior and overall vibe. Despite being open just a couple of months, it is pretty busy at lunchtimes and the word seems to be well and truly out. Orders are placed at the counter from a small menu that splits into three sections; burgers, a range of fries, and three varieties of chicken tenders.
The food seems to take visual inspiration, at least, from Shake Shack – a chain I’ve never tried, though it will be arriving in Seoul in the next few weeks so I’m sure I’ll get my chance. Whether it tastes similar, I couldn’t say.
The burgers are good. Not in the league of titans of the Seoul burger scene like Brooklyn, Firebell or Cali Kitchen, but more than solid. The patty was cooked medium well done (I would guess), not as pink as Firebell’s finest nor as juicy or well-seasoned, but a very solid effort nonetheless. There’s a small sliver of lettuce, which some people find annoying but I find perfect – I utterly loathe Korean burgers padded out with half a head of watery, boring lettuce.
The regular cheeseburger and the bacon cheeseburger range from 6,800 – 7,800 won. If a single isn’t enough for you, there are doubles on the menu for 3-4,000 more, as well as an intriguing-looking avocado burger.
The fries on the menu are crinkle-cut fries similar to what Shake Shack offer. On my first visit, the regular fries were over-salty even by my tastes (and I put too much salt on my food). I dunked them in some mayo and ignored the over-seasoning.
On my second visit, I went for the guacamole fries (above). These were a good choice, I think. The guac was cool and complemented the chips well.
I’d have preferred it a bit more garlicky, or maybe to have some onion scattered over rather than the finely diced tomato, but overall I was happy with this side – the most expensive fries on the menu at 6,800 won but still good value.
There are also three types of boneless chicken tenders on the menu, all at 7,300. I went for the General Tso chicken. It was sweet without being too sickly, but a bit overcooked. It went well with the guacamole fries to temper the sweet glaze.
The other thing worth mentioning about Downtowner is their good beer selection.
There’s plenty of bottled beers which Itaewon regulars will be used to seeing on menus; Sam Adams, Watermelon Wheat, Ballast Point all feature, along with several others. What’s a bit more interesting is the [currently] four draft beers from Goyang-based Playground Brewery, which is a new-ish joint venture with an American brewery. I wasn’t familiar with their lineup before visiting Downtowner, but if the Gentleman lager (a whopping 7.6% ABV) is any guide, I’ll be trying their other brews with interest.
Overall, Downtowner is a good addition to the Itaewon burger rotation. These guys are doing things right, service is good, and the whole place feels like a good neighbourhood burger joint. Maybe not a place you’d arrange a visit to Itaewon for, I’d nonetheless happily recommend it to anyone who is looking for a simple, good-tasting burger done right. I’ll be back.
- Category: American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Bacon Cheese Burger (7,800 won)
- Subway: Itaewon Station (이태원역) exit 3
- Hours: 11:30am-10:30pm, 6 days a week. Closed Monday. Tel. 070-8820-3696
- Directions: To get to Downtowner, walk east from Itaewon subway exit 3 along the road past the fire station. When you get to the intersection at the Cheil Building, walk across the road and down the narrow street that leads down to the right of Ganges Indian restaurant (see the photos and map below). Downtowner will be on your right, just off the street, about 100m down – keep an eye out for the little signboard.
Head down the street to the right of the “Urbane Spice” sign.
Keep an eye out for the Downtowner signboard.
- Soju Sunrise Food Awards 2016 | soju sunrise - […] Kitchen (Gyeongnidan), Downtowner (Itaewon, above). Honourable mention: Firebell […]