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.
Here it is, the most eagerly awaited post of the year; the second annual Soju Sunrise Food Awards, showcasing the best foreign food that I think Seoul has to offer. No doubt squadrons of restaurateurs are reading this with fear in their souls, whole chains poised to collapse if they aren’t mentioned in my year-end review. What can I say? With great power comes great responsibility.
As with last year’s favourites – quite a few of whom return this year – I don’t present this list as a definitive “best of” but rather a compilation of my favourites, the places I return to again and again, the places that made 2016 worth persevering with. No doubt in each category there are better places around, and you should feel free to set me right in the comments – but these are the places that pop up again and again on my Instagram feed.
Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and see you all in 2017!
Anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog, or who follows my Instagram, will suspect that I’m not a particularly regular consumer of salad; anyone who’s met me in person will know it for sure. So, in the interests of living past the age of sixty, I enticed one of my fit, healthy-eating friends to come with me to try out Root, in Hannam-dong, in the hope that it might persuade me to ditch the burgers and gogi at least one or two mealtimes a week.
It’s been very busy in the real world of Soju Sunrise, but things are quietening down so hopefully I’ll be posting some more reviews and notes on Seoul eateries very soon. In the meantime, here are some of the things I’ve been eating over the last few weeks. (You can see most of these pics, as well as many more, on my Instagram feed at instagram.com/sojusunrise.)
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.
Gilbert Burger has been serving up top quality burgers in Garosu-gil for a few years now. Or at least, so they tell me: I’d never been. (EDIT: The members of Burger Lovers Seoul – a Facebook group that any lovers of burgers in Seoul should definitely join – inform me that Garuso-gil is the second branch, and the original branch is actually in Seocho-gu. I haven’t been to that one either.)
I make the occasional pilgrimage to Sinsa for my favourite spicy galbijjim at the mighty Dongin Dong, but Garosu-gil isn’t my style – the girls too skinny, the prices too high, the places too fancy. Yes, I know that’s a stereotype, but this is my blog, not yours.
So the opening of a new branch of Gilbert Burger within walking distance of my house is big news, and when I found that it was open Monday, which is one of my days off, it wasn’t a tough choice. Having been two consecutive Mondays for lunch, here are my impressions.
Perched on the hill just behind Manimal (directions are at the bottom of this post), it’s a nice, light, no-nonsense space with seating for about 30 people and a decent view.
On my first visit, I had the eponymous Gilbert Burger, which is basically a bacon-egg-cheeseburger. I love a fried egg on a burger, so it was an easy choice. The set menu option offers a side of fries and a soda, so that was what I picked up.
It was really good. The bacon was crispy, the bun perfectly cooked. The patty is beefy, no fillers, no nonsense, and cooked medium, exactly as advertised. It began to break up towards the later stages of my munching, which was probably due to the egg, which made the whole thing a bit slippery. Whatever, this was a very solid burger indeed. It disappeared in less time than it’s taken to write this paragraph.
The second Monday, I decided to order the Mr President burger, which I’d heard good things about. It’s essentially the straight-up cheeseburger, with a slice of raw onion, pickle, tomato and lettuce.
It was terrific. Goddamn, it was good. I wasn’t expecting it to be so good, because, you know, it’s the standard basic burger. But it was off the charts good. Bacon perfectly crispy, the onion sliced just thin enough to be able to eat it properly (are you listening, Jacoby’s?), the pickle just perfect – and I’m not a fan of pickles.
Gilbert Burger is a good burger place and you should go there. It may or may not be as good as Brooklyn Burger – that would be a big call, and I’m not yet ready to make it – but there was just nothing I could have improved in the two burgers I’ve had at Gilbert, especially the Mr President, and it’s much more convenient for Itaewon folk than Brooklyn. Even better, unlike Brooklyn Burger, there isn’t a line of people out the door to stand between you and burgery goodness – at least, not yet (eventually the Instagram crowd will find it). Get there before they do and let me know if you liked it as much as I did.
- Category: American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Mr. President Burger
- Subway: Noksapyeong station (녹사평역) exit 2.
- Directions: To get there, walk up from the Itaewon main street as if you were going to Manimal or Coreanos, but before you get that far, turn right at the GS25, as in the photo below. From Noksapyeong, come out of exit 2, walk over the bridge and turn right, and pass Manimal and Coreanos until you get to the same GS25, whereupon you’ll want to turn left. Gilbert Burger is in the back of the yellow building that houses Butcher’s Daughter – you can just see a green sign in the window above Butcher’s Daughter. It’s open seven days for lunch and dinner.
- Hours: Open 7 days, 11:30 – 9:30pm.