With a gogi-jip (meat house) on just about every corner, Seoul doesn’t make it easy to find the right place for dinner. But you must try Korean barbecue – it’s an essential activity on any visit to South Korea, whether you want a casual bite after a day of sightseeing or a 4am pit stop during a night on the town. Here are the best restaurants in Seoul grilling up tasty barbecue dishes.
In Seoul for the first time? The Korean BBQ experience – right down to the excellent ventilation system – has been perfected at Wangbijib. Here, waitstaff grill the meat for you, so you can give you full attention to the main event: the melt-in-your-mouth meat, which is lightly seasoned with salt. Snowflake marbling – a reference to the white veins that riddle prized cuts – ensures a buttery richness without too much fattiness. Jal meokkesseumnida! (Bon appétit!)
Walking solo into a Korean barbecue restaurant and ordering a meal for one was once unheard of in Seoul. Today, thankfully, many restaurants are up to speed. Among them is Baetjang, with a long bar tailor-made for lone diners, cooking their meat on miniature grills. It is some of the best in the city, and the all-hanu (Korean beef) menu includes skirt meat, sirloin and short loin. The prices are not exactly cheap, but it’s an incredible flavour experience. Just don’t knock back too many shots of soju – you’ll want to remember this special occasion.
Down an alley amid the push and shove of Yaksu Market, barbecue joint WooSung Galbi lays on an authentic, old-school dining experience. The simple, rustic-feel interior, with plastic chairs, mirrors the menu, which lists precisely two items, pork galbi and pork rinds, both executed flawlessly. A favourite among Korean food critics and bloggers, WooSung Galbi is also affordable. For just 12,000 won (around £7.70) a serving, you can walk out with a bellyful of galbi that should keep you going for the next 12 hours.
While as a rule, galbi (beef short ribs) is cooked over an open grill, it can also be served in galbi jjim. This irresistible dish comprises said galbi, seasoned in classic Korean flavourings (soy sauce, garlic, sugar and other spices), then slow-cooked in a simmering beef broth. It’s a speciality that, many say, is served at its finest here, in scorching clay pots bubbling with generous portions. Mushrooms and peppers lend further flavour, adding just the right amount of sweetness and spiciness to create a dish that’s as memorable as it gets.
Yongsan district has some superb foreign restaurants – but it doesn’t stop there. Maple Tree House, for example, is a premium Korean barbecue chain, currently numbering three locations. It turns out delicious food in funky modern surrounds – glass-screened dining areas and tree-trunk room dividers. Try their perfectly aged hanu (Korean beef). Cut into thin stripes, it is gently cooked on the grill at your table until meltingly tender.
Set in an unassuming red-brick building on a corner in glitzy Gangnam, Saebyukjib is easy to stroll past in the daytime. But come nightfall, it’s a different story: open 24 hours, this popular barbecue joint buzzes with locals filling up before or after taking in the thriving local bar scene. As well as the classic self-grill barbecue of meat and onions, the beef tartare bibimbap and the selection of soups are popular with locals.
Yang Good has a particular take on barbecue: it specialises in halal lamb and chicken. But while you might not get the classic beef and pork cuts here, you won’t be disappointed when it comes to taste. Marinated lamb, sourced from Australia, caramelises deliciously on the grill, and is served with garlic clove skewers, punchy kimchi and warm corn noodle soup. Also – if desired – you can add a round of ice-cold, frothing beers.
This Seongdong restaurant does things a little differently. Rather than on the usual hot coals, you cook your marbled slivers of sirloin beef in a pan with a knob of fat, giving it an even, delicate sear and keeping it moist. The restaurant uses Hanwoo beef, Korea’s answer to wagyu, while cabbage, whole garlic cloves and rice complete the feast.
After an afternoon hitting the shops in Myeongdong, this is just the place to recharge with succulent chunks of pork and beef. As at other Seoul barbecue restaurants, here you’ll cook your own meat – getting those grill marks to perfection – and you can, if you like, devour the mains with banchan (side dishes) such as salad drizzled in gochujang (red chilli paste) dressing. Unlike other Seoul barbecue restaurants, though, this place is owned by a well-known local comedian.
Alicia Miller contributed additional reporting to this article.
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