For a quick breakfast, grab a rice roll and pair it with hot ramen at any Kimbap Cheonguk or Kimbap Nara. These chains have outlets at most subway stations. If you prefer to get your day off to a leisurely start, head to the famed Hadongkwan (10-4 Myeong-dong 1-ga, Jung-gu; www.hadongkwan.com). This restaurant, which has been around for over 70 years, serves traditional gomtang — a rich beef broth with rice, slivers of beef and green onions.
If a cup o’ joe is what you’re after, head to Anthracite Coffee Roasters (357-6 Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu; +82 2 322 0009; www.anthracitecoffee.com). The space was a steel foundry before it was converted into a café. Anthracite’s buttery espressos and hand-drip coffees are among the best in Seoul.
While in Korea, don’t miss the chance to enjoy samgyetang, a healthy and delicious chicken-and-ginseng soup. Goryeo Samgyetang (55-3 Seosomun-dong, Jung-gu; +82 2 752 9376) is a local favorite. The broth is clear, the chicken meat is so tender that it falls apart as soon as you touch it and the ginseng is high grade. You might even be tempted to make a return trip to try the fried chicken, which ranks with the best in the city.
If it’s snack time, head to Myeongdong for some street food. Enjoy giant, spiral-cut, fried potatoes on a stick; doughy pancakes known as hotteok with a filling made up of brown sugar, honey and cinnamon; and dried or grilled octopus. Wash it all down with freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.
Feasting on Korean barbecue is a must. Tong Dwegi Jip (17-1 Donhui-dong, Jongno-gu), located in an alley near Jongno 3-ga Subway Station, Exit 6, is about as authentic as it gets. This tiny place has an old-time feel to it. The service is curt and the pork menu is simple. Pork jowl (cheeks) and pork neck are available but the specialty here is pork belly – good, thick cuts seared on gas griddles. A tip: Put jackets and purses in the plastic bags provided or you’ll smell like barbecue all night.
Cap off your day by going for chimaek, a short-hand expression derived from the words “chicken” and “maekju” – the latter meaning “beer” in Korean. My go-to spot is Reggae Chicken (317-9 Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu; +82 2 338 3438). Its fried chicken is crispy and flavorful, and the dipping sauces make it even yummier. There are plenty of beers to choose from, too.
If you’ve watched a Korean TV drama, you’re probably familiar with Korea’s tent restaurants. To see one for yourself, head to Jongno 3-ga. It’s home to rows of tent restaurants that serve local favorites such as pan-fried chicken gizzards, chicken feet, fried squid, spicy ramen, eel and more. There’s plenty of soju and beer and you’re welcome to linger until the sun comes up. You’re almost sure to have plenty of company.
Also read: Seoul city guide
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Smile magazine.