Seoul Weekend Edition: The Best of Itaewon

By November 18, 2014East Asia

When you’re feeling isolated, homesick, and tired of kimchi, there’s only one place in Seoul that you should go: Itaewon (이태원). Itaewon is the foreigner’s district located right in the center of the city north of the river on Line 6. It is where you need to go if you need anything Koreans don’t have, like deodorant or Mexican restaurants. Many international cities like Tokyo or Washington D.C. may have all varieties of ethnic food littered and tucked around each corner of the map. But in Seoul they decided it was best to put it all in one place.

If you live on the southwest side of Seoul like we do, seeing other expats is a rarity. I maybe catch a glimpse of one or two foreigners each day in the hours I spend on the subway. I look at them as if I’m supposed to know them and wait for them to smile. They never do. Probably because we are complete strangers. But as you walk up the stairs at Exit 3 of Noksapyeong station, a different feeling will envelope you. You will see white people. Everywhere. And black people, and brown people too. You will hear other languages. You will see almost as many foreign faces as Korean ones. And many of the Korean faces will be speaking English to entice you into their stores. It is a wholly different experience than anywhere else in Korea.

My husband and I don’t go to Itaewon often, but when we do we almost inevitably end up at the same three places. Because they are the best three places. This time we were going for brunch (the meal I miss most from home) and there is no better place to do that then at Suji’s.

Suji’s


 

best of itaewon

you call that a garnish?

Suji’s is a NY style deli that serves brunch all day on the weekends, and basically everything is amazing. The eggs benedict always come out perfectly poached, the bacon still a little chewy, just the way I like it, and the homemade cream cheeses for the bagels are orgasmic. Not to mention the mimosas and spicy bloody marys. Itaewon is the one place where you can freely speak English to servers at restaurants without fear. Suji’s is a place that makes me feel like I’m home and this weekend was no different. I opted to have a bagel with scallion cream cheese and a side of bacon, which I put on the bagel. Then I got a bowl of chili because why not. Also a bloody mary and a mimosa. $26 was spent and another $32 for Hudson’s eggs benedict and bloody marys. We were off and running.

Every trip to Itaewon must also include an errand that would be hard to accomplish anywhere else. This Saturday it was getting some clothes tailored and heading to the international food market. Sure, it’s manageable to get things hemmed without knowing Korean. But since we have a guy there we thought, ‘what the hell.’ You can get anything tailored in Itaewon as there are countless custom-made suit shops lining the main drag. We dropped our pants off at Jokeman (yes, he tells a free joke with each tailoring job), paid him $16 to hem two pairs of pants same-day (what?), listened to him lecture us on why persimmons and kimchi cure ebola, and had three hours to kill. So we headed to the next place we invariably go in Itaewon: Sam Ryan’s.

Sam Ryan’s


 

best bar itaewon

thank you, i will.

Sam Ryan’s is an unassuming bar that isn’t particularly special for any reason. Except that their drinks are about $2 cheaper than every other bar in Itaewon. Rail cocktails are only $4 and Jameson is only $5! A double will run you $7 and $8, respectively. So with three hours to kill, we posted up at the bar and spent the afternoon laughing at inane things and downing our double cocktails like the professionals that we are. If you’re hungry, they’ve got some respectable bar food as well. Three double Jamesons and three double G&Ts later, and we were $45 poorer.

By the time Hudson’s pants were ready to be picked up, we had already worked up a bit of an appetite. This brings me to my absolute favorite place in Itaewon: Rye Post.
 
 

Rye Post


 

itaewon best restaurants

mmm...expensive beer

Rye Post used to be an amazing sandwich shop impossibly tucked in an alley that no one would ever find except for accidentally stumbling upon it, which is exactly how we found it. They had a couple tables inside, two outside, and the best sandwiches I have eaten in Korea. The bread is soft and freshly baked, and the ingredients are top notch. Not to mention they actually have a legit Philly Cheesesteak! And a bacon avocado sandwich. Oh, how I miss avocado. Much to our surprise this weekend, Rye Post had moved from their tiny corner of obscurity up to a huge new space on the main strip! Itaewon’s best kept secret is out! Naturally, we had to go in to support our favorite sandwich shop. They are also now boasting craft beers on draft, another thing I miss desperately about home. So we ordered one cheesesteak to share and a 10% ABV imperial stout (I can’t recall the brewery). Reveling in the cheesy deliciousness and smooth, rich stout, all was right with the world. Until we went to pay and it came to $22. I’m sorry, what? As their sandwiches are only $9 that means, you guessed it, it was a $13 beer. Maybe we’ll stick to Cass next time.

With our usual Itaewon tour almost complete, there was only one place left to go. We had to go get the one food that makes me feel more at home than anything else. Scared when the first market was out of this perennial favorite, we scoured two more markets before we found a few straggling boxes hiding on a hard-to-see shelf. At last. Mission accomplished:

best of itaewon

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Sriracha! Dropping $14 on the last four boxes that they had left, $7 on the Sriracha, and another $7 on a single stick of deodorant, we made our way home happy, full, and $156 poorer than when we left.

The key to going to Itaewon is to go rarely, to always bring $100 per person, and to get the hell out of there before nightfall. Otherwise that $160 will spiral into $300 before you know it.

Do you guys have any Itaewon gems or secrets? Share them in the comments below!

16 Comments

  • Matt says:

    Yep, you nailed it at the end! Be careful, or you will spend a ton in Itaewon. I only went maybe once every two months or so (because I knew I’d get tired of it if I went too often) and every time I spent way too much. But it’s definitely a nice place to go when you are feeling a bit homesick.

    I always made sure to hit up the bookstores when I went. There’s two I know of…What the Book and another used one (can’t remember the name). Both are on the strip.

  • We’ve been to Suji’s and Sam Ryan’s a couple times, but have never heard of Rye post!! Sounds good but I think we’ll steer clear of the 13 dollar beer. (that rhymed)

    • Taylor says:

      Haha, had we known it was $13, we also would have steered clear the beer. But definitely go for the sandwiches. Rhyming is fun!

  • Elle says:

    I love going into Itaewon! It’s one of the few places, like you said, that you can get brunch! However, I would disagree about spending a lot of money there and to go infrequently. I usually go to Itaewon every other week or so and am able to leave spending the same amount I would anywhere else. It just really depends on your intentions and where you go. Although you definitely CAN leave having spent upwards of $300, you can also leave having spent about $30-50. There are some brunch places with HUGE portions that I share with the people I go with thus splittin costs. There’s also plenty of bars that run nightly specials too. But, like you mentioned, careful about those sneaky $13 beers. That’s definitely going to jack up your bill.
    Lovely post as always and thanks for sharing! I haven’t been to Suji’s yet so maybe that will be my next one to visit!

  • Laura says:

    This made me laugh – I always try to make eye contact with other foreigners when I see them – a knowing nod kind of thing. Nothin. Aren’t we all in this together?

    I have only been to Itaewon once – I’m sure I’ll head back eventually, but I just hated the vibe. I felt like I was walking about some military base and I totally didn’t come to Korea for that. That being said there are some really great restaurants and craft beer bars that I’m eager to try. Guess I’ll just have to brave it!

  • LOVE Itaewon but I don’t live close enough to visit all the time…Where is the Kraft Mac and Cheese sold? I know there are two foreign stores and that’s about… would I find them there? I really like the food sold in Itaewon. The best Mexican and Kebabs that have found my way into my tummy while living in Korea were bought there!

    • Taylor says:

      if you get out at exit 4, turn around, then make a right down the street with the taco bell and make your first left there is like an alley of cell phone stores. at the end of that alley on the right is a store that sells mac n cheese, sriracha, campbell’s tomato soup and other wonderful comfort foods. though they were out of the blue box last time!

  • Katie says:

    I have been a couple of times now and have been overwhelmed by crowds and foreigners! I know I will go back again, but I haven’t had the real cravings of home yet! Good to know these tips for when I do!

  • Meg Wray says:

    I get so excited whenever someone asks me if I want to tag along to Seoul for a day/weekend… Mainly, because of the food! I am addicted to Mexican food and they have the best places in Itaewon. Have you tried Vatos? I think it’s a tad overrated, as there are places that are cheaper and more authentic tasting… They put cinnamon in EVERYTHING at Vatos.

    • Taylor says:

      I’ve been to Vatos once, and it was amazing, but suuuuper expensive so it’s tough to bring myself back there. Have you been to Gusto’s Tacos in Hongdae? Delicious and much more reasonably priced. It’s near Hapjeong station.

  • Kirsten says:

    Awesome post, I’ll definitely be hitting up all of these places next time I’m up in Seoul! I’ve been to Itaewon a few times and always went to Vatos for Mexican food. It’s fine, but a bit expensive so I was wondering if you knew of any better Mexican joints?

    • Taylor says:

      Kirsten, check out Gusto’s Tacos in Hongdae. It’s closer to Hapjeong station. The owner is super nice, the food is legit and it’s much cheaper than Vatos. Also, margaritas.

  • Duke Stewart says:

    I don’t know too much about Itaewon other than the restaurants I’ve visited but love your recommendations here. My favorite (though pricey) place is the Greek food, Santorini’s I think is the name. We also found some awesome calzones on that same block (behind the Hamilton) and I’ll be definitely coming back there next time.

    You’re right though, things are pricey in Itaewon. I’ve been floating more towards Hongdae lately and even found a great burger place there last time. Beeger’s is the name and yeah, they do a sampler of craft beer like the others:) It’s good stuff.

    Thanks for sharing this. You’ve got me wanting another Itaewon trip!

    • Taylor says:

      Yes! Beeger’s is delicious! Cheap Jameson shots there too! Hongdae is a lot closer to us since we live out in Kkachisan so it’s easier to justify a cab ride home after a night out. But until Hongdae starts selling mac n cheese, Itaewon will always have a place in my heart.

  • Andrew says:

    It was disappointing that we didn’t have the time to stop by Itaewon when we were in Korea, as it sounds pretty amazing! Also would have been good to have a meal and not be stared at by every other patron and avoided by the wait staff! 🙂

  • Nailah says:

    Itaewon is a must every time I visit Seoul. I usually stock up on international foods I won’t find in Jeju. Sometimes I find beauty products I’m familiar with.

    Itaewon is great for that. And well brunch is always welcomed; Will have to look into that Suji’s place. Sounds nice!

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