Going to Seoul? 7 Itaewon restaurants that you should not miss

Itaewon packed on a busy Saturday night

Itaewon packed on a busy Saturday night

Itaewon, a multicultural and diverse neighborhood of Seoul, is home to many must try international restaurants that serve everything from BBQ to burgers. All over Itaewon, you can find the cuisine of many countries including Mexico, United States, Turkey, Thailand, Italy, Germany, Spain, India, and more. Many of the dishes served here are unique to Itaewon and not widely available anywhere else in Korea.

For many years, Koreans avoided Itaewon mostly because it was a seedy area filled with overpriced restaurants serving mediocre food. In the past decade, the area has cleaned up. New restaurants and shops have opened, transforming Itaewon into a popular destination for both tourists and locals.

Unfortunately, many overpriced restaurants serving mediocre food still exists today. Luckily, I have made a list of my 7 must try Itaewon restaurants that you should not miss:

Linus’ Bama Style Barbecue

The awesome and smoky Brisket Sandwich at Linus' Bama Style Barbecue in Itaewon, Seoul

The awesome and smoky OG Brisket Sandwich at Linus’ Bama Style Barbecue

When you think of BBQ in Korea, the first thing you obviously think of is Korean BBQ. The last thing you would expect to find in Seoul is tender, smoky, and fall off the bone southern style BBQ.

I know it might seem strange to most, but Linus’ Bama Style Barbecue served up some of the best BBQ I have ever had.

The brains behind the restaurant is Korean-American Linus Kim, who was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. Before opening his restaurant, Kim cooked delicious BBQ food at “pop up” events around the city. These events made Kim famous in the foodie world. A few years later, Kim opened Linus’ Bama Style Barbecue.

The most popular dishes at Linus’ Bama Style Barbecue are the OG Pulled Pork Sandwich and the Brisket Sandwich.

They also serve up delicious sides such as the Bacon Potato Salad, Mac n’ Cheese, Fried Okra, Onion Rings, and my favorite, Bacon Jalapeno Mac n’ Cheese Balls.

Arrive early though as they often run out of certain items on the menu.

Must eat: OG Pulled Pork Sandwich, Brisket Sandwich

Address
136-13, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Hours
Monday: Closed
Tuesday-Sunday: 12:00PM-3:00PM and 6:00PM-8:00PM

Vatos Urban Tacos

Kimchi Fries at Vatos Urban Tacos

Kimchi Carnitas Fries at Vatos Urban Tacos

For some strange reason, every time I travel to another country, I like to try one Mexican restaurant. I’ve have done it before in Slovenia, Japan, China, Thailand, and now Korea. Not surprisingly, the restaurants are usually a big letdown, but still fun to try. That is, until I tried Vatos Urban Tacos.

Vatos Urban Tacos has become popular with foreigners and residents of Seoul and is now considered one of the best Korean-Mexican fusion restaurants in the city. Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the restaurant earlier this year.

Korean-Mexican fusion food trucks are extremely popular in California. Not surprising at all, the owner of Vatos Urban Tacos is originally from California. He returned to Korea to share the flavors of Mexico with Korea.

At Vatos Urban Tacos you will find the usual Mexican dishes here such as tacos, burritos, and quesadillas along with Korean inspired dishes such as the awesome kimchi carnitas fries and kimchi quesadilla.

Vatos Urban Tacos also has locations in Jamsil, Sinsa, and Express Galleria.

Must eat: Kimchi Carnitas Fries

Address
181-8, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea

Hours
Sunday-Thursday: 11:30AM–11:00PM
Friday-Saturday: 11:30AM–12:00AM

Little Baja

Fish, shrimp, and octopus tacos at Little Baja, Itaewon, Seoul

A trio of delicious tacos: fish, shrimp, and octopus

When one thinks of Korea, one does not think of fish tacos. They are hard to find anywhere in Korea. Luckily, Little Baja has filled this void.

Little Baja is a small joint run by a group of friendly guys that have lived and worked in Los Angeles, so they know their fish tacos. The place might not be fancy, but you come here for the food, not the decor.

The small kitchen pumps out taco after taco to hungry diners looking to try some of the best Baja California style fish (pollock), shrimp, and octopus tacos in Korea.

The tacos are cheap and filling. Soft corn tortillas are packed with fried seafood and topped with a simple cream sauce, shredded cabbage, and pico de gallo. Make sure to add a little lemon juice to each taco to give the tacos a great kick of acid.

Must eat: all three tacos (fish, shrimp, octopus)

Address
18-1, Itaewon-ro 20-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea

Hours
Monday: Closed
Tuesday-Sunday: 11:30AM-9:00PM

Lobster Bar

This amazing creation is the Maine Lobster Roll at Lobster Bar, Itaewon, Seoul

This amazing creation is the Maine Lobster Roll

The Lobster Bar is always busy. Even when I arrived at last call on a Saturday night, I had to wait for a seat. Luckily, I made it just in time.

If you are not a fan of lobster then you are probably in the wrong place. Almost everything on the menu is made using lobster. You can even view live lobsters in large tanks in the restaurant.

The main items on the menu are the Lobster Roll (Maine or Connecticut), Lobster Grilled Cheese, Lobster BLT, or Grilled Lobster.

Being a fan of lobster rolls, I went with the Maine Lobster Roll. Since I was one of the last customers of the night, I was rewarded with extra lobster on my roll, which was awesome.

They also offered a few special menu items such as the Lobster Mac n’ Cheese with bacon and two types of cheese. Lobster, bacon, and cheese? A little slice of heaven.

As I walked towards my seat, I stopped to check out the fresh live lobsters in the large tanks near the door.

Lobster Bar may be a little pricey, but it is well worth it.

Must eat: Maine or Connecticut Lobster Roll, Lobster Mac n’ Cheese

Address
140-1 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea

Hours
Monday-Saturday: 12:00PM-3:00PM and 5:00PM-10:00PM
Sunday: 12:00PM-3:00PM and 5:00PM-9:00PM

Rye Post

The Hot New York Sandwich at Rye Post in Itaewon, Seoul

The Hot New York Sandwich at Rye Post

A great sandwich may seem easy to find in a big city like Seoul, but you would be surprised.

Luckily, Rye Post serves many simple yet delicious sandwiches such as the Hot New York Sandwich, Philly Cheese Steak, Vietnamese Bahn Mi, and the Cuban Sandwich.

The restaurant seems to be popular with the younger and hipper crowd who flock here for the cool chic industrial decor, local brews, of course, great food.

I especially enjoyed the Hot New York Sandwich on my recent visit. The sandwich was simple but sometimes simple is better. The pastrami was house-made, juicy, and had tons of flavor. The bread, also house-made, was lightly toasted on the outside while soft on the inside. Served with the sandwich was a small side of thin but crispy fries.

Rye Post is open every day for those who want to check the place out.

Address
72-34 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea

Hours
Daily: 11:30AM-10:30PM

Left Coast Artisan Burger

The simple yet delicious Juicy Lucy at Left Coast Artisan Burger in Itaewon, Seoul

The simple yet delicious Juicy Lucy at Left Coast Artisan Burger

When I first walked into Left Coast Artisan Burger, it was nearly empty and dark with just a few foreigners at the bar.

After ordering and receiving the Juicy Lucy burger, I started laughing. I thought to myself, “Is this a joke? Did I really just pay 14,000 ($12) won for this tiny burger?”

For such a small burger, I was blown away by the flavors. The patty was wonderfully seared, slightly pink, and high quality. Every bite was juicy, smoky, and exploded with flavor and cheddar cheese. The onions were caramelized while the lettuce was crunchy. Last but not least, the bun was lightly toasted and soft.

Expensive? Definitely. Delicious? You bet. Reminds me to never judge a book by its cover.

Must eat: Juicy Lucy, Bao Buns

Address
130-43, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea

Hours
Sunday-Thusday: 11:30AM-10:00PM
Friday-Saturday: 11:30AM-11:00PM

The Springs Tap House

The Franco Chicken Breast rolled with Ricotta, spinach, and bacon at The Springs Tap House in Itaewon, Seoul

The Franco Chicken Breast rolled with Ricotta, spinach, and bacon

It was late Sunday night and almost everything in Itaewon was closed for the night or wasn’t serving food. That’s when I noticed The Springs Tap House, across from the Hamilton Hotel, was still open and serving food. Knowing nothing about the place, I decided to walk on in and give it a try.

The small restaurant seemed like a cool spot with a small bar and a wood fire pizza oven right by the door.

I was surprised by the extensive menu which included pizzas, sandwiches, and gourmet dishes along with a large selection of beers.

I highly recommend the Franco Chicken Breast. This delicious dish was made by wrapping chicken and bacon around spinach and cheese, rolling it up, and grilling it. Each bite was so unbelievably juicy. I was honestly sad after I ate it all. I will definitely have to return again to try more of their dishes.

The Springs Tap House is a great place to enjoy food and drinks with a small group of friends in an imitate environment.

Must eat: Franco Chicken Breast

Address
658 Itaewon-dong. Yangnan-gu, Seoul, Korea

Hours
Monday-Thursday: 3:00PM-1:00AM
Friday: 3:00PM-2:00AM
Saturday-Sunday: 12:00PM-2:00AM

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