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Seoul's top 8 barbecue joints

From classic galbi sal ribs to dry-aged meats, here's where to find the best barbecue in the South Korean capital.

Published 3 Nov 2019, 06:00 GMT
Various dishes, Woo Lae Oak
Various dishes, Woo Lae Oak
Photograph by Ben Weller

1. Gold Pig
Best for: Great cuts of pork
A two-minute stroll from Yaksu subway station, Gold Pig lives up to its name, with thick, fresh cuts of locally sourced, premium pork belly and collar. This neighbourhood joint does a booming business and often has a queue out the door, so expect to jot down your name on the list and wait out front with the rest of the salivating would-be patrons.

2. Yeonnam Hwaro
Best for: Barbecue & booze
For years, the choice of beverages at barbecue restaurants in Korea has been limited to one or two brands of light Korean beer as well as soju, the nation’s ubiquitous green-bottled firewater. This is beginning to change, however, thanks to places like Yeonnam Hwaro meat bar. This popular restaurant, specialising in American Black Angus beef, expands the horizon of drink options by offering up imported and craft beers, cocktails and whisky by the bottle.

3. Vatos Urban Tacos
Best for: Full-on fusion
While not technically barbecue, this Itaewon institution deals deftly in the art of grilled meats, but wrapped in soft, savoury corn tortillas and topped with fiery salsas. Founded by three Korean-Americans who grew up eating both authentic Mexican and Korean cuisine, Vatos has become famous all over Seoul for dishes such as kimchi carnita fries, galbi tacos and spicy chicken quesadillas. There’s now a new location in Jamsil.

4. Ganddan Samgyeop
Best for: Dining solo
Korean barbecue isn’t something you can usually do alone. Most restaurants require a table to order at least three portions, and even if you’re that hungry, sitting and eating solo (known as ‘honbap’) can earn you strange looks. This street stall chain is here to address the conundrum by selling individual take-away portions of fatty, succulent pork belly with all the fixings, starting at just 2,900 won (£2). You can find it just four blocks down from Sillim subway station, exit 3.

5. Han il Kwan
Best for: Dining in the shadow of presidents
One of Seoul’s oldest restaurants, this upscale establishment has been filling the stomachs of the city’s political elite, including many of the nation’s former presidents, for around 80 years. Specialising in multi-course meals, their famous grill special offers a choice of bulgogi, galbi or beef sirloin, accompanied by an array of other mouthwatering dishes, including the always-delicious nakji bokkum (spicy baby octopus).

6. Woo Lae Oak
Best for: Bulgogi & cold noodles
Hidden away in the back alleys of the business district of Euljiro 4-ga, this restaurant has been wowing customers since 1946. Its legendary bulgogi is cooked next to your table and is almost always served with their Pyongyang-style cold buckwheat noodles (naengmyeon). The fact that Woo Lae Oak has garnered a Michelin star surely adds to its allure, but regardless of that, this is a place where it’s all about the food. T: +82 2 2265 0151.

7. Dajeon
Best for: Jeju Island pork
The black pigs of Korea’s Jeju Island are said to have a deeper, nuttier flavour than their mainland counterparts. Dajeon — located on the third floor of the mammoth, recently renovated Sewoon Sangga complex — serves up Jeju ogyeopsal, pork belly plus a layer of skin. This small, no-nonsense joint has plenty of outdoor seating, where, when the weather is warm, customers can take in the view while taking down some serious meat. T: +82 2 2273 9005.

8. Gangnam Myeonok
Best for: Galbi jjim
Galbi (short ribs) isn’t just grilled. It can also be cooked as galbi jjim — braised in soy sauce with garlic, chilli peppers and sugar, along with fat slices of mushrooms. The result is a sweet, spicy, meaty concoction that will knock your socks off. This establishment just may serve up the best in the capital — and that’s saying something in a city where the competition is indeed fierce. Located near Apgujeong subway station. Open 10.00-22.00 daily. T: +82 2 3446 5539.

Published in the November 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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