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Apgujeong, the Manhattan of Seoul, Part 1: Lunch

July 14, 2010

Look for the best street in town for great food? Come on down to…

OK, well, there is no actual street called Tasty Blvd. But a journey down to the ritzy South-of-the-river neighborhood Apgujeong may be the next best thing. Loaded up with some of Seoul’s finest restaurants, quirkest cafes, ritziest shopping and most high-class (and no-class) nightlife, its worth the trip out on any weekend.

I started out looking for a good place for cheap lunch eats in the area. Tasty Blvd., above, is a good bet for great steaks. As any steak place should be, it is a bit pricey, though, and like any pricey place in Apgujeong you’ll look a little like a freak if you are t-shirted and camera-touting eating all alone in the high class atmosphere.

The Asian and fusion restaurants tended to be on the cheaper side. A number of these were in the area, such as Chop Chop:

And Chin Chen (cast your vote: which one sounds the most stereotypically Asian fusion?):

Mmm, beautiful plasticky goodness:

For a slightly more idiosyncratic and fusion-y Asian cuisine, try the Kitchenette, which doubles as a cafe. They have a small list of specials but they all sound interesting, usually twists on typical Korean food:

I settled, ultimately, on Vietnamese food, a place called Little Saigon:

Little Saigon has a nice minimalist, modernist interior with concrete walls, hanging lamps and not much of “Vietnam” in sight. Or sound — there is no music played either inside or outside on the cozy patio, which makes it a nice place to have a conversation with your dinner partner undistracted.

Or, for that matter, to waft in the sweet and tart smells of lemon, chili, beef, stir-fried noodles and sesame that hits you the moment you walk into the place.

I picked up the menu, inspired and excited by the smells around me, and picked out a noodle dish, Pho Xao, because I was achin’ for some bacon:

Pho Xao, in all its glory:

Great tasting noodles and stir-fried vegetables, with the bacon cooked to a perfect level of juicy succulence. The whole ensemble tasted mightly of sesame with a delicate touch of sweet and hot chili, while for large-flavor lovers like myself, a bowl of sweet and sour chili sauce on the side was included. The dish included peppers, green onions and scallions, carrots, bean sprouts, bacon and noodles cooked to whatever the Vietnamese equivalent of al dente is.

Apgujeong is also a fantastic place to simply walk around and see what you can find. Small art galleries abound in the area, and since most of them are free of charge they are worth wandering into at one’s leisure:

Gallery Hyundai, near Little Saigon, was showing a free exhibit by Korean artist Hwang Julie called “Men Over Flowers” which was a study of, well, men over flowers, and other miscellany:

After all that walking around and browsing, take a look at one of the many small, quirky cafes in the area. Cafe Si advertises organic coffee and tea:

And winning the Brown Passports award for best-named cafe, Mafia is a thuggishly cool looking spot with dark, sleek interior, a great street-side balcony, and hip R n’ B and hip-hop inspired lounge music playing on the cafe speakers.

It also holds the important distinction of being one of the few Apgujeong cafes where coffee is not at least 6,000 a pop.

How to get there: Go to Apgujeong Station on line 3, exit 2. Walk out the exit and turn around (180 degrees), then turn right at the corner. You will walk for 2-3 blocks before hitting a major intersection. Cross the road and you will find yourself at the * symbol on this map below in the upper left corner of the map. The highlights of this review and subsequent reviews have been marked on the map so you can more conveniently find them (click through to see a bigger version). For all you shoppers out there, Rodeo Drive (marked on the map) is the shopping mecca of Apgujeong.

(Special thanks to Seoul Selection for granting me use of their excellent maps. Please do not reproduce without their permission)

Coming up next, an Apgujeong dinner at the most authentic pizza joint in Seoul, and Apgujeong’s elite night life scene!

This post was originally published at Painting the Passports Brown.

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