Perhaps one of the best known traditional Korean dishes is bulgogi: beef bathed in a soy sauce, sugar, and Korean pear marinade, and cooked with vegetables in a wok or pan. In the past, the dish was only enjoyed on special celebratory occasions, but today it is a fairly common meal. However, not all bulgogi restaurants are created equal – here are the best places to try it.
If you find yourself in western Seoul, be sure not to miss the chance to visit Old School Bulgogi. Bulgogi sets include heaping portions of marinated beef, heaps of mushrooms and onions, and delightfully chewy glass noodles in a delectable broth – not to mention plenty of banchan (side dishes). In addition to the fun social experience that the no-frills restaurant offers, it is also known for its character of a chef. Offering some of the biggest portions for the best prices you’ll find in the city, this is not a place to dine alone, so be sure to bring along a friend or two.
If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, head to Byeokje Galbi in the ritzy neighborhood of Seorae Maeul. Reputed to serve up some of the best galbi in town, the restaurant only uses hanwoo, or high-end Korean beef, in their dishes. Their bulgogi (30,000 won (US$28)) is a star dish and pairs beautifully with the perfectly spicy prima kimchi. Other dishes on offer include galbi, galbi tang, gom tang, and naegmyeon.
Known for being one of the top Korean BBQ restaurants in Seoul, Maple Tree House is also one of the best places to try bulgogi. Treat your taste buds to the maple-aged bulgogi, two hundred grams of thinly sliced chuckroll, delicately marinated, and served with glass noodles in Maple Tree House’s special beef broth. Or, if you’re looking to warm up on a cold day, try the beef bulgogi stew set: thin slices of chuckroll, vegetables and glass noodles stewed in a sweet bulgogi stock and served with steamed rice.
Not all Korean BBQ is created equal, and this quickly becomes apparent at Tuppul Deungshim. Serving up some of the the highest quality, hardest-to-find Hanu cuts, the restaurant’s prized meats, like its aged sirloin, are top-notch, and pair beautifully with the wines on offer. Unsurprisingly, prices are fairly high, but the restaurant does offer a more affordable lunch menu (with items priced as low as 10,000 won (US$9.50)) so that diners on a budget can still enjoy the unique tastes of Tuppul Deungshim.
Situated in ritzy Gangnam, Gaehwaok has taken traditional Korean dishes and reinterpreted them with a modern twist to fit the taste of Seoul’s Instagram-obsessed youth. Go here for the bulgogi, but if you’re feeling particularly hungry, also try the grilled vegetables and soybean noodles. The traditional Korean dinnerware the food is served on also enhances the taste and atmosphere.
With enough seating to accommodate up to 1,200 guests, it’s safe to say that Samwon Garden – the biggest restaurant in Seoul – can draw a crowd. The restaurant owes its popularity to its traditional dining atmosphere as well as its expansive menu of delicious Korean entrees. The bulgogi table set, which consists of perfectly sweet bulgogi and a spread of banchan which are equally as beautiful, is the restaurant’s signature dish and might just be one of the most memorable meals you’ll have in Seoul.
With constant competition and ever-changing food trends, it’s not easy for a restaurant in Seoul to stay open for an extended length of time. But Yeokjeon Hall has stood the test of time since 1962 thanks to its widely known and unique bulgogi variation, bassag bulgogi. This crunchy take on the traditional dish is raved about in food circles, and is best enjoyed when wrapped in sesame leaves. The restaurant’s affordability, history, and food are all contributing factors for its listing by Michelin Bib Gourmand 2017.
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