On Facebook there is a rather great page called Burger Lovers Seoul, which does exactly what it says in the description. When two of the most venerable members of the group posted within a few hours of each other to say that there was a new place we should try, it was a no-brainer. So today, with a day off, I braved the humidity to walk through the city streets in search of Sid Burger.
The newest venture from Sid Kim, the co-founder of Vatos, Sid Burger is no more nor less than a hole-in-the-wall concession stand in a food court in the middle of the city. Don’t let that put you off, though, because it’s a great burger, and well worth seeking out, especially if you find yourself anywhere near City Hall on a lunchtime.
Once inside the “Over The Dish” food court (directions are at the bottom of this post), keep walking past the other counters and you’ll come to Sid Burger further inside.
The menu is pretty simple: several varieties of burgers, all of which come with an order of fries, and all of which can be served up either as one traditional-sized burger or as two sliders. There’s a couple of variations on the fries if you’re there in a group, a couple of good beers, and a chicken sandwich which is also highly spoken of.
Whatever. When I saw pork belly on the menu, I was hooked. The “bossam burger” (as it’s rendered in Korean) comes with a couple of chunks of deep-fried belly pork, a perfectly sunny-side-up fried egg, and a hit of ssamjang aioli. I knew that was my destiny, so I ordered up, paid my 11,000 won, took my buzzer and waited for it to buzz.
7 or 8 minutes later, the buzzer buzzed and I sat down to enjoy my food.
As is my weird custom, I started with the chips (fries). They had a light dusting of sweet paprika and were served with a small side of ketchup. They were… OK. Neither fantastic nor bad, just OK. A little dry and crumbly, but with the ketchup I wolfed them down quickly enough all the same.
On to the main event. The burger was great. The patty was perfectly seasoned and well-cooked, maybe a little on the well-done side of medium but very juicy, flavourful, and just – yes. The pork belly was seared to perfection and the egg worked well on top.
Some on the Facebook group had commented that the burger fell apart very easily. Mine didn’t. It was a completely satisfying burger which I devoured in record time, even by my standards.
Bear in mind this is a food court, albeit a superior one – there are a whole bunch of other franchises and people milling around eating whatever takes their fancy. So it has the ambience of a food court – don’t go expecting white linen napkins and personal service.
That proviso aside, I would thoroughly recommend Sid Burger to anyone in the area. I wouldn’t necessarily travel across town for it, given that places like Left Coast and Brooklyn offer a fuller dining experience, and Firebell is right next to my office – but that’s not the market Sid is aiming for. A very nice burger in a part of town not overburdened with good quality foreign food options. Sid Burger was terrific, and I’ll be back to try the other offerings soon.
- Category: American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Try all of them. With the mini-burger concept, this is a great place to come with friends and share a few different varieties of burger.
- Subway: City Hall (시청역) exit 10
- Directions: Come out of City Hall Station exit 10 and walk along the road for a hundred yards or so. You’ll come to a Paris Baguette Cafe on your right; turn down that street. Another 50 yards in front of you to the right you’ll see the large sign for the Over The Dish food court – you can’t miss it.
- Hours: Open 7 days to the best of my knowledge, but I am not certain.
At lunchtime today I headed up the steep, steep Haebangchon hill to The 100, a brand new hole-in-the-wall burger and sandwich joint in a backstreet near the o-gori at the top of the hill. Also known as 더백푸드트럭, it’s a nice little spot, albeit a bit out of the way of the main HBC / Gyeongnidan action, although as the Korean name suggests there is a food truck of the same name which hopefully will be popping up closer to sea level for those of us who need a bus to get up the road at the best of times.
This is only a “bite-size” review, as I had a burger and nothing else on the menu, and was in and out in twenty minutes. But I’ll certainly be back to try the other items on offer.
The menu (all in Korean) comprises nachos, a Cubano sandwich, a couple of different burgers and one or two other bits and pieces, as well as juices and beers. I had the 100 Burger – always best to try the signature dish, I think. The 200g patty was handmade in front of me, and it came out with some mixed greens, tomato, swiss (I think) cheese, sauteed onions and a little bit of a sauce with some wholegrain mustard – yum.
There was also a nice and tangy coleslaw – I’m not generally a fan but I had a few forkfuls and was surprisingly happy to be eating it. Despite what the photo above might suggest, it wasn’t overloaded with mayo.
Verdict? It was very tasty. Hard to eat, even with the ubiquitous wooden skewer holding it together, it nearly fell apart on me a couple of times, and I found myself scarfing it down quickly just to make sure I didn’t lose any on the ground. That quibble aside, it was a nice burger at a very reasonable price – 7,000 won. The leaves were not your standard-in-Korea massive lettuce overkill, but complemented the nicely seasoned meat well. I stood outside eating in the sunshine and it fortified me nicely for an afternoon of work.
Despite three burger joints in a row on the HBC main drag – the divisive Jacoby’s, the somewhat meh Burgermine and the execrable Bombs Burger, which I’ve never forgiven for replacing Two Hands Burger – this is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood, and I’ll be back.
- Category: Burger
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: The 100 Burger
- Subway: not really
- Directions: From HBC o-gori (do yourself a favour and get the bus), walk along the street with the convenience store on the lefthand corner and Namsan on your right. You’ll get to The 100 about three or four minutes along the road, on your left.
- Hours: Apparently 11:30am – 10pm, but don’t take my word for it. It’s newly open so hours may vary.
It’s pretty much impossible to find a decent burger in Gangnam, certainly one that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The Alibi near Gangnam station, on the site of what used to be Craftworks, claims to have a 7-star Michelin chef making burgers in their kitchen, but the food and drink there is priced to match and it’s not exactly the sort of place you’d pop in for a quick bite at lunchtime. Basically your choices are to schlep to Seorae Maeul or Samseong for a Brooklyn Burger – admittedly, a superb choice that is well worth the journey – or to check out the new Burger B franchise in COEX, which (if it’s as good as the Hongdae branch) would be a more than acceptable option.
Three cheers, then, for Firebell, which has just opened up in Daechi-dong between Seollung and Hanti stations. Coincidentally, the restaurant is in the same block as my work, which I took to be God’s sign that He needs me to eat more burgers. So in I went. Who am I to question Him?Firebell looks and tastes like an American diner, which I mean as a compliment. They have a red and white theme going on and no more than a handful of tables, I reckon about six. You can watch them making your burger in the compact kitchen. On my first visit I ordered the Habana burger. This has a slightly spicy jalapeno / cheese topping reminiscent of the CREAM burger at Brooklyn, and the similarities do not end there. The 5oz patty was perfectly seasoned and cooked, with a nice char on the outside but pink inside, and the bun was soft (perhaps even slightly too much so). On my second trip – no, I didn’t eat both of these at the same sitting – I just had to try the Mac n’ Cheese burger. This is exactly what it sounds like: a burger with some macaroni cheese, as we’d call it back home, on top of the burger. The effect was nice but a bit odd – it was basically like a cheeseburger with some random pasta shapes on top of it. Is this a thing in America? Whatever, it’s another sign of your nation’s greatness.All burgers are 5oz (apart from the double) and very reasonably priced at between 7,000 and 8,500. For 4,000 won you can add fries and a soda, which include the option of Dr Pepper or Cherry Coke for the homesick expats among you. They also have some decent imported beers available and some very nice-looking shakes, which I haven’t yet tried – more shades of Brooklyn Burger.To be clear, these burgers are great. There’s no bullshit toppings on them, no sweet sauce, no Korean-style eight slabs of lettuce to clear off the bun. Just a really good, well-cooked burger. On the modest size, it’s true, but the fatties can always order the double; for a lunchtime treat, it’s perfect. I’m not saying I’d travel across the city for it – that honour remains with Brooklyn the Burger joint – but as a neighbourhood diner, Firebell is pretty much perfect in every way. If you live or work south of the river, give it your custom, and let’s make sure they don’t go anywhere.
- Category: American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try:Habana burger
- Subway: Seollung (선릉역) exit 2 / Hanti (한티역) exit 1
- Directions: Coming from Seollung station, come out of exit 2 and walk down the street for 6-7 minutes until you pass an intersection with a pharmacy and an optician on the corner. There is a Pizza Hut and a Cafe Nescafe on the left. Turn left after that and Firebell will be on the left side of the sidestreet after about 50 yards. From Hanti exit 1, walk up towards the same spot and turn right at the Cafe Nescafe.
- Hours: Open seven days 11am – 9:30pm. They occasionally take a mid-afternoon break so if you are coming from afar, call ahead or check their Facebook page.
[July 2017 update: This location has now closed, with Left Coast reopening in new premises up the street behind the Hamilton Hotel.]
Because, you know, I’ve been eating too healthily. More burgers. All of the burgers.
Left Coast mostly eschews the “obvious” burger choices in favour of interesting alternatives. The Juicy Lucy (above) has a patty stuffed with cheese, the whole slathered in caramelised onions. It was a great burger, though I found the sweetness of the onions a bit much (and I love onions). The bun was perfect and the seasoning was also good, which isn’t always the case in Korean burger places.
More to my taste was the John Wayne burger which I had on my second visit, which sticks bacon and a huge onion ring on top of the burger and then BBQ’s up the whole thing just to keep you on your toes. Just… wow.
My whiny lunch companion yesterday had the fried chicken burger (below), and it was so good that even he was satisfied.
The star of the show, in many people’s views, is the galbi fries. This dish may well be influenced by a certain Mexican-Korean fusion taco place up the road in Itaewon… but these chips surpass the kimchi fries at Vatos, largely by not having kimchi on them.
In the photo above, the galbi is replaced by pulled pork, as they were out of galbi topping on the day I visited with my camera, snapping away like a dick. They were every bit as good. Really, the flavour of the chips together with the pork and the onions was superb.
Left Coast also make great homemade tater tots, which is obviously an American thing. But a perfectly cooked, fluffy potato croquette (as I would call it) is a universally good thing.
On my most recent visit I decided to go beyond the burger menu and try the bao buns. These are little Chinese bread buns, very soft and slightly sweet, of the sort you sometimes get in Chinese lamb skewer places in Seoul. At Left Coast, they are piled high with alternative fillings – galbijjim or chicken, or (as in this case) seared pork belly with cucumber matchsticks and fresh coriander.
Seriously, these were the business. The only possible criticism would be that after three of them, the sweetness of the glaze on the pork started to get a bit overwhelming for my taste. But really, they were fantastic. Definitely on the agenda for next time.
It is worth noting that Left Coast can get a little pricey. Burgers run more expensive than Brooklyn Burger by 2-3,000 won, and sides, though reasonably priced, add to the total bill. I don’t care, as I’m happy to pay for quality food and foreign restaurants are always more expensive than local cuisine. Note also that some dishes on the menu change regularly; the one below, which is taken from Left Coast’s Facebook page, was for January, I think, but most of these items are on the current one.
Left Coast is excellent. On my first couple of visits I was impressed but not knocked out, but the range of great items on their menu, and their attention to the little details, has converted me. I still give Brooklyn Burger the top spot – just – for their actual burgers, which I reckon are superior. But overall Left Coast is becoming a favoured spot, and my waistline is expanding to match. Recommended.
- Category: American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try:Little Piggy bao buns
- Subway: Itaewon (이태원역) exit 1
- Directions: Come out of Itaewon station exit 4 and walk down the street away from the Hamilton Hotel, past the Taco Bell and Chef Meili’s Austrian deli. Left Coast is a couple of minutes on your right – keep your eyes open for the sign at the top of this review.
- Hours: Open seven days a week from 11:30am, closes 10pm weeknights and 11pm Friday/Saturday.
“Best burger in Seoul” must be one of the most Googled phrases among foreigners in this fair city. Now, let’s start by admitting up front that burgers, like pizza, coffee, music and girlfriends, are deeply personal experiences, and we all have our favourites. Some people like them dripping with chili, others like it with a huge slab of tomato on the base. Some folks eat them with fork and knife; I always eat the fries first and save the burger until last. I knew a guy once who would swear that the best burger in Christendom was one of those Australian affairs with beetroot and God only knows what else on it, the very thought of which made me want to puke. So your mileage may vary, and indeed I’d be suspicious if it didn’t.
All that having been said, I’m calling it. Brooklyn the Burger Joint makes the best burger in Seoul.
The first clue is the wait. If you go to either of their restaurants at any time around lunch or dinner – and I mean even vaguely near those mealtimes, not just the noontime lunch rush – you’ll probably have to queue. Neither location is very big, a couple of dozen seats at the most. You’ll put your name down on a list at the door and then wait, patiently, in the freezing cold or the sweltering humidity, whatever. Be patient and wait. You may peer inside and note to your consternation that the place appears to be filled with Gangnam ladies-who-lunch, and if you’re anything like me you’ll take that as a sign that the food must be over-hyped, or over-priced, or both, and you’ll start to walk away. Do not walk away. Hold firm. Stay in line.
Once inside the promised land, you’ll get a big menu with English on one side.
All of the burgers come in regular and larger sizes. Even the regular one is a decent handful, but larger customers (like me) will want the larger of the two. All burgers are available as a meal set with an order of chips and a soft drink for an extra 5,000 won.
If you’re here in company, though, you should get the sharing fries. The chilli cheese fries are extremely good. If they’re not hot enough for you, Brooklyn has a whole bunch of hot sauces on hand that you can shake onto the chips.
Recommending a favourite burger is as pointless as picking a favourite girl from SNSD; they’re all equally tasty. The patty is thick, juicy and perfectly seasoned, the bun has a hint of char. The chips – fries, if we’re being pedantic – are just right, not too thin. This (below) is the Real McCoy, with bacon, cheese and a thick slice of raw onion on top.
My clear favourite so far – I haven’t yet tried them all, but I plan to – is the C.R.E.A.M. burger (Cheddar Rules Everything Around Meat – a Wu-Tang Clan reference, or so I’m reliably informed). The burger is covered with cheddar, bacon, and then a large dollop of horseradish mayo, which gives the whole thing a bite and an edge. This is an incredible piece of burger engineering.
And there’s more. The shakes. Oh, the shakes. If Elvis really is still alive, then the peanut butter and banana shake would kill him instantly. The Nutella and burnt marshmallow shake is almost ridiculously thick and creamy – it needed a lot of stirring before it could be sucked through a straw. I could almost hear the wails from my doctor back home in Glasgow.
As the restaurant’s name might suggest, Brooklyn beers are available here in three varieties if milkshakes aren’t your thing.
Brooklyn the Burger Joint has two main locations at the time of writing. Both are inconvenient to find and get to, but persevere. The first is in Seorae Maeul, the French village near Express Bus Terminal or Seocho stations. The second is in a sidestreet in Samseong-dong near the northwestern end of COEX, up by the Seven Luck Casino and the Intercontinental Hotel.
If both of these are too irritating to reach, there is a Brooklyn Burger in the Gourmet 494 food court in Galleria department store in Apgujeong, conveniently situated next to the Vatos counter so that the ambulance will be able to find you. This outlet runs a more limited selection of burgers and sides at more-or-less the same price, and the quality seemed to me to be pretty much as good as the originals – but nothing will beat a pilgrimage to the real burger Shangri-La itself.
I’d been hunting for a good burger since my local burger joint, Two Hands Burgers, was bought over a few months ago and destroyed by some guy who now serves them with – I kid you not – doughnuts on top. The hunt is now over, and this is the place. Accept no substitutes.
- Category: American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try:Everything, but not at one sitting.
- Subway: Seorae Maeul: Express Bus Terminal (신사역) exit 5
Samseong: Samseong station (삼성역) exit 5
- Directions:See below.
Seorae Maeul: OK, this is a little complicated. Walk out of exit 5, cross the road and turn right, heading west away from Express Bus Terminal. After four or five minutes walking along the road, take the first street left, which will twist and turn a little but basically go straight. You’ll walk past a kids’ playground and some apartments, still walking straight, and just as you think you’re utterly lost, you’ll see Brooklyn Burger perched on a corner to your left. Unless you don’t see it, of course, in which case you really are lost.
Samseong: Come out of exit 5 and walk past COEX and the Intercontinental Grand on your right. Take the first turning right and walk up the side of COEX, past the City Air Terminal and the casino. Take the last turning to the left before you reach the top of the street, and then the first right. Brooklyn is there waiting for you.