Where to Get the Best Craft Beer, Southern Brisket and More in Seoul
Here, we spotlight American expats around the globe and get their insider tips on the best places to eat and drink in their adopted city.
The Expats: Korean-Americans Bryan Do and David Cho left their lives in California to open Hopscotch, a Seoul gastropub serving modernized, stylized American comfort food—think duck fat frites and a blackened salmon sandwich—using vegetables and herbs grown on Do’s farm outside the city. Over the summer, Do also launched The Hand and Malt Brewing Company, a 21-barrel brewhouse.
Can you tell me about the craft beer scene in Korea?
Bryan: I’ve found working behind the bar at our restaurant that many people still do not know what craft beers are. We give out mini-samples of craft beer, and it’s amazing to see the look on people’s faces when they taste beer that is different than the light lagers that dominate in Korea. Many restaurants here are now starting to carry craft beers. The most popular are usually the imported ones, like Lost Coast’s Great White or Indica IPA. I call them the “gateway” beers, since they’re easier to drink before going to strong IPA and other craft beers. At Hopscotch, we carry my signature beers like the Hand and Malt Brewing Company’s Extra Special Ale, which is an English Ale that uses Maris Otter malts to give a strong malty and earthy flavor profile, while finishing off a little bitter from the hops. We also have a variety of other beers on tap from both the U.S. and Europe like Heretic’s Red Ale, an awesome Saison from Belgium.
What is the restaurant scene like in Seoul?
David: Korean food is obviously the most abundant but varies widely between high- and low-end. Western food is always trendy, but where one restaurant takes off another one flops. The tendency for Koreans to always be on top of trends shortens the lifespan of many non-Korean restaurants. There's always a new cuisine or new style being introduced as more and more people pour into Seoul from all parts of the world.
Photo Courtesy of Bryan Do
What is the most exciting restaurant in Seoul right now?
Bryan: Fads come and go quickly in Korea, so it’s been different almost every year. Many Korean-Americans have come to Korea and started massively successful restaurants like Vatos Urban Tacos, but probably Lynus’ Bama Style Barbecue is among the most exciting right now. Lynus Kim, a Korean-American from Alabama, makes the best brisket I’ve tasted in Korea and possibly even in the U.S.
What are some of the must-try Korean foods, and where are your favorite places to get them in Seoul?
David: One of the most alluring and inspiring types of Korean food is the traditional han jung shik, a table full of 20-plus different banchan (small side dishes). It usually accompanies a main dish like bulgogi (a classic Korean dish of sliced beef that's marinated in soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and garlic, then grilled), ji-gaes (stews) or broth. One of my favorite places for it is To-Dam-Gol.
Bryan: Korean barbecue is a must. I especially like it at So Poong, which does all kinds of meats well, so you can’t go wrong with any barbecued item. I also like tofu, and there’s a place near me, PiYang Kong Halmunee, that specializes in it. Choose any bean dish, and it will be good.
Ratha Tep is a former Food & Wine editor who lives in Dublin.