Where to Eat in Seoul

With everything from street food to Michelin-starred cuisine, Seoul boasts an extensive culinary scene. Be sure to sample specialties like bulgogi (barbecued meat), japchae (stir-fried noodles), and comforting soups, all served with kimchi.

33-1 Insadong-gil, Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
One of the city’s oldest teahouses, Insadong Chatjip hand-makes everything on its menu, from drinks to desserts. Unlike China’s and Japan’s traditional leaf teas, many of the Korean teas on offer here feature herbs, spices, or fruits like quince and plums that are believed to have medicinal properties. Don’t be surprised if some taste sugary sweet—it’s common to add heaps of honey or syrup to the blends. If you prefer a more delicate flavor, stick to the buckwheat or Ujeon green teas. In addition to drinks, this two-level teahouse has a lovely open-air courtyard where guests can enjoy their tea alongside cookies and rice cakes.
27 Myeongdong 8ga-gil, Chungmuro 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Korean for mixed rice, the simple yet satisfying dish bibimbap was conceived as a way to use leftover side dishes before the New Year started. At locations in busy Myeongdong and Insadong, Gogung specializes in the Korean staple, serving it in a bowl of hot rice covered with seasoned vegetables and tangy gochujang (red chili paste). Diners can top the dish with a fried egg, sliced raw beef, or seafood, then mix all the ingredients together, adding their preferred amount of spice and seasoning. If you want to try Gogung’s signature dish, order the Jeonju Dolsot bibimbap, which comes in a sizzling stone bowl that nicely crisps the bottom layer of rice.
Sinseon Seolleongtang is a local chain that specializes in seolleongtang soup, a milky broth that gets its subtle, soothing flavor from simmered ox bone. When combined with tender beef brisket and sliced green onions, the soup is the ultimate comfort food. The origins of seolleongtang are in dispute—some believe it evolved from the boiled beef with scallions dish eaten by ancient Mongolian invaders, while others argue it came from an 11th-century king, Seonjong, who, after sacrificing a cow, wanted to feed a large number of subjects with the least possible ingredients. Either way, the 24-hour Sinseon has remained a go-to since 1981 for locals seeking a satisfying breakfast, lunch, dinner, or hangover meal.
South Korea, Seoul, Mapo-gu, Seogyo-dong, 410-3, 1층
Located in the midst of a raucous university district, BAR d.still is a haven for cocktail connoisseurs. The swanky spot, consistently at the forefront of Seoul’s mixology scene, boasts several awards for being one of the top bars in the city—and Asia at large. Hidden in an unmarked space down a Hongdae alley, it’s well worth the effort to find it. Inside, skilled bartenders make drinks with seasonal ingredients and will customize libations to patrons’ requests. The bar also stocks an extensive selection of whiskeys from around the world and is known for its mean martini.
Gaon takes diners on a fine-dining journey through Korea’s culinary heritage. For its thoughtful interpretation of traditional food, the Gangnam-based restaurant holds an elusive three-Michelin-star rating, making it more than worthy of a splurge. Here, the experience is intimate—diners are seated in sleek, private rooms adorned with elegant art. Seasonal set menus, with courses like grilled Jeju perch and chicken stewed in red ginseng, are beautifully presented on custom tableware specially designed for the restaurant by the famed ceramics maker KwangJuYo. The highly trained staff offer impeccable service and speak English well. Advance reservations are required, as the restaurant only has four private dining rooms.
Korean fare involves a broad array of dishes deeply rooted in agricultural tradition. To get an overview of the cuisine and sample a bit of everything, head to Seasons Table. You should arrive with an appetite—this restaurant chain has an all-you-can-eat buffet with fresh, healthy dishes, including vegetarian options, that are made with seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers. The decor features warm wood accents and modern takes on traditional textures, creating a rustic yet inviting space that reflects the food. With close to 100 dishes on offer—everything from salad and rice to dumplings, entrées, kimchi, soup, and dessert stations—you are sure to leave satisfied.
8-1 Myeongdong 10-gil, Myeongdong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
When a restaurant has only four items on the menu, chances are good it will be an expert at preparing them. Myeongdong Kyoja is one such establishment. The restaurant’s signature dish is kalguksu, a hearty soup with chicken broth, hand-cut noodles, minced meat, dumplings, and vegetables. Also on offer is kongguksu, a cooling soup of soymilk broth and nutrient-rich chlorella noodles that’s perfect for summer. On the other end of the spectrum is guksu, a wheat-noodle dish coated with spicy red-pepper paste. Lastly, there are mandu—baskets of steamed dumplings stuffed with fresh pork and vegetables. As servings here tend to be large and optimal for sharing, it’s best to come with a friend or two.
244-1 Noksapyeong-daero, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Seoul has been slow to the craft-beer craze due to strict government regulations and taxes. In recent years, however, a small number of new local breweries have been leaving their mark on the city. One such trailblazer is Magpie Brewing Co., opened in 2012. Easily identifiable by its cute bird logo, the brewery has become a favorite of thirsty hipsters and expats for creative beers made with interesting ingredients and balanced flavors. You’ll find both seasonal and flagship beers, ranging from IPAs and pale ales to porters and wheat brews, at the two laid-back locations in Noksapyeong and Hongdae. To complement the beverages, the brewery offers American-style pizza—a food that’s not easily found in Korea.
26 Itaewon-ro 27ga-gil, Itaewon 1(il)-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
If there’s one thing synonymous with Korean cuisine, it’s barbecue, known as bulgogi. In Seoul, dining at a barbecue restaurant is a communal affair. Friends gather around a table and order generous portions of marinated beef or pork, which servers then grill right in front of them. For an elevated experience, visit one of Maple Tree House’s four locations. Each outpost boasts a sleek, contemporary atmosphere and uses only quality cuts of meat. The barbecue-averse can enjoy traditional dishes like noodles, stews, and bibimbap, while first-timers will be relieved to find a friendly bilingual staff who can walk them through the process.
56 Myeongdong-gil, Myeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
A bowl of warm juk (Korean rice porridge) is a gratifying way to start the day. Commonly topped with vegetables or meat, the dish is believed to contain healing and nourishing properties. Though mainly eaten for breakfast, juk can be enjoyed at any time of day. There are many specialty porridge shops in Seoul, but Migabon is considered the standard-bearer. Located in the heart of Myeongdong, the unfussy restaurant offers more than 20 types of juk, ranging from a signature abalone version to sweeter pumpkin and red bean options. For those who don’t want porridge, a flavorful ginseng chicken soup is also on the menu. All orders come with complimentary—and refillable—banchan (side dishes) and tea.
More From AFAR