Sunday, May 19, 2013

돈부리 (弘大 どんぶり) (Donburi)

Japanese rice bowls? Japanese rice bowls, anyone? You bet.

If you're walking down 어울마당로 (Eoulmadang-ro) in Hongdae, (you know, that popular street full of restaurants and shops with parking in between lanes of traffic) and you see a queue of people lined up in front of a small wooded entrance, then you may have just found 돈부리 (弘大 どんぶり). 

First off, do not be discouraged by the line. Let me repeat that, and I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT be discouraged by the line. All of these people are eagerly awaiting a table since this small, busy Japanese restaurant. It doesn't seem to matter when you go, there will always probably be so escort of wait. Menus will be distributed while you wait in line, and when you sit down, your food will be there, hot and ready to be devoured. 

Good luck making a decision on what you're going to order. Everything sounds delicious, and the price is very affordable as well. If there's a wait in line, I wouldn't suggest ordering an appetizer. I did when I went there, and it was delivered with our entrees. To start off we chose the Karaage, a Japanese friend chicken appetizer. The chicken, served in the form of breaded chicken balls, is juicy and moist. 

The rice bowls at 돈부리 (弘大 どんぶり) are what they're famous for. They're so damn tasty--and filling, as well! If you're a fan of caramelized onions, then the Kakiagedon is for you. It's described on their menu as having lots of onions, seven or four small lightly battered and fried shrimp (depending on whether you order a medium or large), a half cooked egg and donburi sauce. I don't know if I've had anything as delicious as the caramelized onions in this dish, in all of Seoul. The large size is super filling, and it'll make you forget every second you waited in line--and for only ₩9,000!

Kakiagedon (Large)
Another solid choice for a rice bowl is the Katsudon. Pork sirloin, sliced onions, two half cooked eggs and donburi sauce--if shrimp or seafood isn't your jam, you can't go wrong with the Katsudon. It's served in three different sizes, deepening on how many eggs your little heart desires. The largest size, the Double Katsudon will only set you back ₩9,500. 

Double Katsudon
돈부리 (弘大 どんぶり) very well could be the best Japanese spot in Seoul that isn't sushi oriented. Teppen, also in Hongdae, is a close second, but I'll leave that for another day. It's cheap, delicious, and well worth that wait in line. 

 Address: 마포구 서교동 366-18 (홍대본점)

Friday, May 17, 2013

틈새라면 (TeumSae Ramen)

Do you have a masochistic side? Do you like ramen? Well there's a place for you, tucked back on a dead end street in Myeongdong. Famous for their scorching hot ramen, or 빨계떡, 틈새라면 is the place to satisfy your masochism and your hunger.

If 틈새라면 looks familiar, it could be because their ramen is sold in convenience stores and packaged as single serving ramen bowls in addition to their physical restaurant. In Myeongdong, 틈새라면 serves two things--빨계떡, a spicy ramen, and the non-spices version called 계떡.

To find 틈새라면, you really have to know where you're going. Take exit 8 from Myeongdong Station, turing left out of the exit, continue to walk for about three blocks and swing a right. There in that dead end street you'll find just a simple sign that reads "틈새라면". The first thing you'll notice about the interior is the walls. Covered with thousands of testimonials written on slips of paper, it's obvious this place is something special. 

If you can handle the heat, order the 빨계떡--ramen served in a spicy liquid with sprouts, an egg, 김 (seaweed), and a few slices of rice cake. The 계떡 is essentially the same dish, minus the heat. Oh, and did I mention its super cheap? A bowl of ramen will only set you back ₩4,000!

As someone who loves spicy food, I have to admit the 빨계떡 was really a challenge to get through. Your mouth will burn. Your eyes will water. Your nose will run. You won't be the only one though. The small, windowless restaurant is a cacophony of sniffles, deep exhales and slurping.  

So try something new. Try something hot. Try to make it through an entire bowl of the spiciest ramen you may ever eat. Good luck. You're gonna need it.

Addresss: 4-1 Myeongdong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Monster Pizza

Maybe you've eaten Monster Pizza before, but you don't remember it. Not because it wasn't delicious, actually quite the contrary, but because you were wasted. Located in Hongdae, Monster Pizza is a hit with the party crowd on the weekends. In the day time it's full of young college-age Koreans grabbing a slice with their friends. At night it's usually full of foreigners with their mind set on one thing--the best pizza one can buy, and it's open into the wee hours of the night!

With only three types of pizza, Monster focuses on getting massive slices of cheesy pizza into the hands of their hungry customers with little frills. It can get crowded inside, as the seating can't accommodate more than twelve or fifteen people, but that won't stop people from crowding in and eagerly awaiting a piece of pie.

Your pizza choices are simple--Cheese, Pepperoni, or Spice Girl's. The Pepperoni is easily your best choice. Lots of slices of pepperoni, stringy, hot cheese, and some of the best crust you'll ever taste make this easily the most delicious slice on the menu.

Pepperoni with parmesan 

The Spice Girl's is great as well. Topped, albeit sparingly, with ham, jalapeños, cheese and black olives, this is a great alternative to the Pepperoni if the Cheese is too plain for your tastes. Cover it with parmesan cheese or get yourself some garlic dipping sauce to make it even better.

Spice Girl's

A slice will set you back only ₩3,500 and a full pie ₩18,000. The slices are pretty big, a sixth of a full pizza. Good luck trying to eat more than two slices on your own.

Full Pepperoni
Grab a cold beer or a can of Pepsi or Cider to wash down the best pizza you my ever eat. I've eaten Mr. Pizza, had Brick Oven New York Pizza in Gangnam, and as much as I love myself some Pizza School, nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to Monster Pizza. It is truly the pizza to end all pizzas!

Address - Wowsan 73, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Phone # - 02-334-0322

Sunday, May 5, 2013


If you've ever been out to eat in Itaewon, you probably know that the street behind the Hamilton Hotel has just about ever cuisine you could desire. If you find yourself itching for some Greek, then Santorini it is.

Above The Old Stand and across from My Chelsea, Santorini, on the second floor, is clean, with a simple interior. If you're lucky you can nab a table by the window, but the view is noting to write home about. The smell coming from the kitchen on the other hand, will only make you salivate, eagerly awaiting your food.

The menu has a good selection of choices for the main course, and a few appetizers. If you're going to start things off with an appetizer, the hummus is superb. Served with a mini-loaf of fresh bread that you'll be bound to order more of, the hummus plate is a delicious way to begin.

Hot, fresh bread
For your main course go with the pork. The Pork Souvlaki, skewers of pork served with pita, tzaziki, potato wedges and a coleslaw-like salad, is a great choice. The meat is juicy and full of flavor. Add a little salt to your tzaziki and dip away.

Pork Souvlaki
Another great pork dish is the Pork Gyros with Pita. Served with a heap if potato wedges, pita, coleslaw-like salad, onion and tzaziki, the Gyros will surly fill you up. Oh, and the juicy, delectable, fat on the shaved pork is mouth-wateringly delicious.

Pork Gyros with Pita
The portion sizes are great, and you're certainly not going to leave hungry. Santorini can fill up during lunch and dinner hours, so plan ahead or check it out at off-peak hours. If Greek is your thing, Santorini is definitely the place to go!

Address: 119-10 Itaewon-dong Yongsan-gu Seoul South Korea
Phone: 02-790-3474

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Burger 4.5 (버거 4.5)

Burger 4.5
If you come out of exit 8 in Hongdae, turn right, and walk until you reach the roundabout you'll spot a tiny brown building, plain white letters. This little burger joint, known simply as Burger 4.5, serves up a very small, but tasty menu, specializing in delicious and beautiful burgers.

The menu
The space inside is very small. Three tables, each seating four, can make Burger 4.5 a crowded place, but if you go in the middle of the day, like my friends and I did, you'll have no problems nabbing a spot to sit and mow down.

Offering only four various types of burgers (three when I went, as the Caesar No.5 was sold out), it won't take you long to make your choice.

The New Standard, burger number one, is your typical cheeseburger. Served on a soft, tasty bun with your standard (see what they did there?) lettuce, tomato, onion cucumber and cheese, burger number one is a safe and solid bet to kill your hunger.

The New Standard
If you prefer something a little less... standard, burger number three, the Red Rocket Burger, might just be your jam. With rucola, onion and a special spicy sauce that is extremely flavorful, the Red Rocket is my suggestion. Add some fries, either regular or crispy (which simply means seasoned), and you've got yourself a meal.

Red Rocket Burger
Crispy (Seasoned fries)
The burgers come in two sizes, but spend the extra ₩500 for little bigger patty. You can throw on a little bacon, or cheese for a little extra as well. If you're thirsty, they've got cans of soda or nice foreign brews.

With so many burger joints in Hongdae, what stands out about Burger 4.5 is they small, but well crafted menu. As you'd expect from a little place like this in Hongdae, it's hip, cool, and they've got Biggie blaring on their iPod radio. It well priced, the guy making your burgers is friendly and speaks English, and damn is it tasty.

Burger 4.5
마포구 서교동 330-18, 서울특별시

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Gusto Taco

Tucked away in Hongdae, up a little hill close to the university, is some of the best Mexican you may ever find in Seoul or, hell, anywhere. Possibly the smallest restaurant in all of Seoul, Gusto Taco is a hole-in-the-wall, but what it lacks in seating it sure makes up in taste.

The wall is adorned with various magazine articles praising Gusto Taco and rightfully so! The owner, Aaron, a former Oregonian, is a great guy whose main concern is making his customers happy. If he suggest you try something, my advice is to take his recommendation.

If you've never been there before he'll probably suggest the Chipotle Pork Tacos. At a very affordable price (under 7,000₩ with a soda), you'll get two tacos. The pork, formed on the grill in what almost resembles a pork pancake, is topped with tomatoes, onions and sour cream on a handmade tortilla. As Aaron will warn you, they can be juicy, so watch your clothes.

They take a break from 3:50 to 5:00, so make sure you hit them before for lunch or after for dinner.

Having eaten at various Mexican restaurants all throughout Seoul, On the Border, Tomatillo, Dos Tacos and others, I can firmly say, Gusto Taco is the best Mexican in all of Seoul!

Check them out online at and find them on Facebook! More importantly, next time you're in Hongdae get yourself to Gusto Taco! You will not regret it!

Gusto Taco
서울시 마포구 서교동 342-16
(02) 3142-8226

Thursday, January 10, 2013

김밥나라 (Kimbap Nara)

They're everywhere. Chances are if you've stayed in Korea for any extended period of time you've eaten at a kimbap joint. There are many different types, or rather brands if you will. There's 김밥천국 (Kimbap Chunguk), Apple Kimpab, and of course my personal favorite 김밥나라 (Kimbap Nara), but they're all pretty much the same, with slight variations on dishes. Some are significantly better than others, and in my neighborhood, 시흥 (Sihueng) in southwest Seoul, 김밥나라 rules.

They all look like little mom and pop joints. On your first arrival to 김밥나라 you might think you've stumbled into a nice Korean family's kitchen. Worry not, you're welcome.

가라 or 'nation' in English, caters to everyday people and if you've a tourist visiting Seoul, you won't find any kimbap places on any suggested itinerary--and that's a shame. 김밥나라 is Korean sit down fast food. Never have I waited more than a few minutes for my grub.

With a massive menu and most, if not every item under 6,000₩, you cannot go wrong. It's doubtful you'll ever find one of these places with an English menu, but a quick Google search will lead you to a nice blog where every item has been translated and accompanied with a picture.

As mentioned before these kimbap places all seem to differ in quality from place to place, neighborhood to neighborhood. Your local 김밥나라 may suck kimchi, but that's for you to find out on your own. Given a choice though, always seek out a 가라.

Of course in you're in a hurry, there's no better quick meal than a roll of 김밥 (Kimbap). I prefer the 참치김밥 or phonetically, Chamchi (tuna) Kimbap. Other great types are the 쇠고기 김밥, Soegogi (beef) Kimbap; 치즈김밥, Chijeu (Cheese) Kimbap; or the traditional 김치김밥, Kimchi Kimbap. At the local 시흥 김밥가라 the Kimbap rolls are so big the seaweed can barely contain all the rice, fish cake, radish, ham, imitation crab goodness without busting.

치김밥 Chamchi Kimbap
Another solid bet is going for the 돈까스 (dongkas), or pork cutlet. I prefer either the 치즈 돈까스 (Chijeu Dongkas), a deep fired pork cutlet with a melted cheesy filing, or the 카레 돈까스 (Curry Dongkas), a pork cutlet covered in a curry mixture with potatoes and carrots. Or course the original 돈까스 is great too if you're not looking for cheese or curry.

치즈 돈까스 (Chijeu Dongkas)
카레 돈까스 (Curry Dongkas)
Along with Kimbap and Dongkas, you'll also find a variety or other dishes. A couple personal favorites are of course the 비빔밥 (Bibimbap), a mixture of rice, seaweed, various vegetables and an egg; 철판소고기덮밥 (Cheolpan Sogogideo Bap) a Japanese style Teppen style beef and rice dish with cellophane noodles; or 제육덮밥 (Jeyugdeo Bap) a spicy-pork rice dish; get some street-food indoors by ordering the 떡볶이 (Tteokbokki), a famed Korean snack food with rice cake, fish cake, cabbage and an egg; or finally the 치즈오므라이스 (Chijeu Omeu Laiseu), a cheese omelet covered in the 독까스 sauce.

비빔밥 (Bibimbap) Before
비빔밥 (Bibimbap) After
철판소고기덮밥 (Cheolpan Sogogideo Bap)
제육덮밥 (Jeyugdeo Bap)
떡볶이 (Tteokbokki)
치즈오므라이스 (Chijeu Omeu Laiseu)
They also have a seeming never ending soup menu to go alone with it.

If you like Korean food, then there's something for you at 김밥나라, I guarantee it. If you're an expat, I challenge you to try everything on the 가라 menu once. To do so will be a long and delicious journey you certainly won't regret! So get out there and get some 김밥!