The Koreatowns of the world don’t hold a candle to Seoul – a bustling city of almost 10 million in the heart of South Korea. There’s no question that this is a cosmopolitan destination, and yet it never forgets its roots. Case in point: BBQ. As accustomed as we are to seeing Korean BBQ – even Seoul BBQ in American cities, nothing beats the real thing. And to celebrate that delicious authenticity, we’ve assembled our faves in South Korea’s towering capital city. Get ready for some grilling; it’s barbecue time.
Translated as “Queen’s House” Wangbijib is a local and tourist favorite in the Myeongdong district, a shopping hub in the center of the city. Expect a wait here; devotees have been known to linger for 45 minutes waiting for a table. But it’s worth it – the menu, printed with detailed pictures and English translations, showcases countless carnivorous and vegetal delights: lean cuts of marbled beef, bright green veggies, plump pork belly, and a dizzying array of sides (kimchee, sliced scallion and egg yolk “salad,” and brothy soups abound). For the full experience, opt for table-grilling so you can cook your chosen plate of meats and veggies over the charcoal yourself. If you find it to be a challenge, the staff is more than happy to help – and they speak pretty good English, so don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.
On the fancier side, Maple Tree House is actually a chain launched in 2005. What started as a tiny BBQ hut has now become a Korean phenom – and for good reason. One of the standouts here is the quality of the meat, which the Maple Tree House team takes pains to mature until its flavor has peaked. Naturally, this makes for unbelievably flavorful barbecue. For the best MTH meal, head to their flagship in the Samcheong district and order the Maple Tree Best Seller Set – a triumvirate of beef sirloin, seasoned ribs, and pork belly. The accompanying sides play no second fiddle, mind you; fiery kimchee, soybean paste stew, cucumber salad, and other treats make apt companions to your sizzling meat feast, while an accompanying flask of soju is always a must. If you just happen to want something a little less bbq-y, then order the Bibimpap – you get to assemble the dish yourself from a mounded plate of carrots, onion, egg, meat, and half a dozen other fresh garnishments.
Head a bit farther north in Seoul and you’ll land at 853, a modest but on-point barbecue lunch fave. We recommend a plate of the fork-tender Pork Bulgogi with vermicelli, though have been known to go the soul-satisfying Stir-Fry or chile-spiked Bean Stew. With its wood-lined everything, yet clean and modern feel, this is a delightful spot to meet a friend for lunch and a chat or linger between sightseeing spots. Oh, did we mention they have some tongue-tickling cocktails here, too? That might be more of an evening indulgence, but if you’re living it up, consider nabbing one to go with that sizzling beef.
4: Yang GOOD
Situated in the Gangnam Gu district, just south of the Han River, Yang GOOD is simple spot dotted with communal tables designed for one purpose: efficiently, masterfully barbecuing meat. Visitor rave about the lamb kabobs (which, we admit, are delightful), but so is the Lamb Stew, available only in the winter months. For the most part, though, coal-fired meatiness is the game here, served alongside cabbage slaw, piles of rice, sweet and sour sauces, classic kimchee, and simple bevvies. This isn’t a fancy feast kind of place, but they have lamb grilling down to a science.
Further northwest of downtown, you’ll find yourself at the meat palace known as CHOI GO ZIP hongdae, an unassuming, affordable Seoul BBQ spot that has some exceptional marinated meats prime for grilling – the beef and/or pork ribs are a big yes for us. Classic sides and accompaniments are all accounted for here, including housemade kimchee, buckwheat noodles, stewed eggs, mushrooms, and rice, though you could easily skip the DIY grilling bit and go with Stir-Fried Pork, Beef Bulgogi, or Bibimbap. For a wintertime warmer, get the blood flowing with a brimming bowl of Pork and Kimchee Stew.
Have you enjoyed some world-class Seoul BBQ? Send your favorite spots to email@example.com and we may just add them to our list!