I’m just back from a wonderful twelve days in Vietnam and oh my lord, the street food. So much pho, banh mi, bun cha, and everything served with a mountain of fresh herbs and a bill for $1-2 at most. Vietnamese food seems to be having a moment in Seoul right now, as everything does eventually. Everyone and his wife is churning out banh mi and some of them are doing a pretty decent job.
[Note: No money, free food or other inducement was asked for or received in return for this post. Soju Sunrise accepts freebies only very occasionally and will always explicitly state if this is the case.]
Plus 84 (+84), which takes its name from the dialling code for Vietnam, does it better than most in the city. In an unlikely side alley near the top of the Insadong main street, this small and cozy eaterie is run by two young Vietnamese people and on my visits there it has largely been filled with Vietnamese customers, too.
The menu is reasonably extensive for such a small place. The usuals are all present and correct, and the prices are good.
I’ve been dreaming of banh mi for ages, and these ones hit the spot. The grilled pork and lemongrass sandwich is not huge, but for the price (5,900) it is absolutely good value for money. Spicy-sweet (in a good way), nice crunch from the vegetables, good bread – everything was “on point”, to use the dreaded phrase. One of the best banh mi in the city.
The pho (above) has gained plaudits, but I was a bit less excited about this. It’s Hanoi-style, a clean-tasting broth and reasonably generous portion of meat and noodles.
I was a bit underwhelmed, but others have praised it, so I guess your mileage may vary. A few more fresh herbs would have helped to lift it, but that would lift the price as well. Limes would have been nice too, and I’m told that those are on the way when suppliers allow. For the time being, if I wanted pho, I’d probably head out to Wangsimni for Pham Thi Chinh.
For me, the star was undoubtedly the bun cha. For the uninitiated, this is a sort of DIY pork and noodle salad. A mix of grilled pork belly and grilled pork meatball is served in a sweet broth into which you add vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs to taste before scooping the lot into your mouth and trying not to make a mess.
Again, the only thing that was missing – a quite important omission, to be fair – was the mountainous plate of cilantro, mint and unidentifiable Vietnamese herbs that you’d get alongside in a Hanoi street food stall. Here the garnish was more modest – in fact, on my first visit I got only lettuce on the side, but I was assured that was a mistake. Still, this is the closest I’ve come to real bun cha in Seoul, and pretty damn good it was, too.
The restaurant is small, with space for maybe a dozen people downstairs and some more in a somewhat cramped upstairs mezzanine. It’s very nice, though, without a hint of the grungy atmosphere I got used to in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and the riverside of Danang this past couple of weeks.
Of course no visit to a Vietnamese place is complete without coffee. The ice coffee here with condensed milk (caphe sua da) is as good as anywhere.
Since my first visit in August, Plus 84 has hit the big time, being praised on Facebook food groups and appearing on a TV show. While this is great news for them, it’s meant that the secret is well and truly out, and there have been reports of long waits and issues with service. I’ve also heard that break times can be irregular – on my first visit they were closed and I had to wait until 2pm for them to open; more recently, I’ve been told that there is a break time at 2pm. Go figure.
I can only note that my visits have been entirely satisfactory on that front, but you might want to have a back-up plan, or phone ahead on 02-735-1112 (English is spoken), while they come to terms with the increased buzz around their food. It would be a shame if you let that stop you, though – Plus 84 is terrific and the closest most of us will get to proper Vietnamese food without hopping on a plane to Hanoi.
- Category: Vietnamese
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Bun cha (8,000 won)
- Subway: Anguk Station (안국역) exit 6
- Directions: Plus 84 is at Insadong 16-gil (서울특별시 종로구 인사동16길 6) – plug that into your map app and you’ll be halfway there. Coming from the very top of the Insadong main street, it’s the second alleyway on the left – look for the view in the picture below, and turn into that. Plus 84 will be just on your right about 100 feet down the street.
- Hours: See above. Open for lunch and dinner 11am-9:30pm seven days a week, but be careful of break times and avoid busy times, at least for the time being. Check their FB page or call 02-735-1112 to be sure.