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.
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.
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!
Readers occasionally complain that I don’t write about enough places outside the Itaewon “bubble” – a bit unfair (as a quick look at my Seoul food map page will demonstrate), though I do see their point. Well, today I am reviewing a restaurant so far out of the city that I won’t even attempt to put it on the map; the mighty Sweet Oak in far-flung Wonju.
El Pino is a well-known landmark in East Los Angeles, and despite being open for just a couple of weeks, its namesake El Pino 323 is already well on the way to becoming an equally notable landmark of the Seoul food scene. Opening officially last weekend, hidden in a basement near a little-frequented subway station on line 5, this takeaway-turned-restaurant is dishing up some of the most authentic and certainly best, Cali-Mex food that you’ll find anywhere outside the 323 L.A. area code.
[UPDATE, JULY 2017: This location has now closed, with El Pino reopening near Noksapyeong Station. Please see my new review for details.]