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itaewon seoul korea

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Itaewon, Seoul, Korea was really shaped by the United States (US) military base that was established there in 1945.  I think a lot of neighborhoods next to military bases serve the base in the form of having entertainment, and sometimes, prostitution.  Prostitution was made illegal in Korea in 2004, but when I visited Korea in 2010, it still seemed a little seedy, but somewhere between 2010 and 2018, Itaewon seems to have gentrified and it became kind of a cool area.   Most businesses in Itaewon seem to cater to English speakers and expats.  I think it’s one of the more diverse areas of Seoul.  If you are looking for food from back home and you’re living in Korea, this is the place you’re most likely to find it at least if you’re American – deep dish pizza, the chicken and rice cart from New York, American style barbeque, Mexican food, American style brunch, places that just serve salad like Sweet Green but at double the price, lots of pizza joints, and the original pancake house, to name a few.

Personally I think if you’re an American visiting Seoul, you can skip these restaurants because you can find better quality and cheaper food back home.  But if you’re actually living in Korea, then you might want to pay a visit to some of these spots for a taste of home.  Also it’s a place in Korea where you can pretend your’e not actually in Korea just because there are so many expats that hang out here, and a lot of the restaurant staff speak English fluently.

I think there are a lot of bars in Itaewon and it’s a popular place to go out at night, at least among expats, but I haven’t gone to a bar since my daughter was born 5 years ago, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for information on nightlife.

Also if you’re looking for specialty food like vegan food or halal food, this is the place you’re most likely to find it.

Itaewon used to be a pretty busy place, but now it kind of feels like a ghost town.  And I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  First, the US military base moved a couple hours south of Seoul, so most of the Americans are gone.  And secondly, I saw on the news that in Gyeongnidan (which was kind of an up and coming area near Itaewon) that the landlords got together and agreed to raise the rent, because it was becoming a really popular area in Seoul. However, there wasn’t a massive increase in customers, so the businesses just couldn’t afford the higher rent. Most have either gone out of business or moved out. So you will see a lot of vacant buildings here, and it feels pretty sad. I don’t know what will become of this area after the military base completely shuts down.  But it’s kind of dead nowadays.

There are still a few nice spots that have survived.  So in this post, I’m just going to talk about some of the hits and misses I’ve found in Itaewon and the neighboring Gyeongnidan.

How to get to Itaewon and Gyeongnidan

Itaewon subway station is on line 6 of the Seoul Subway. Alternatively, if you want to visit Gyeongnidan, you can get off at Noksapyeong station. Gyeongnidan is within walking distance of Itaewon, and vice versa.

What is Gyeongnidan-gil?

Gyeongnidan-gil road is a road that leads up to Namsan Mountain. It begins at the Armed Forces Financial Management Group, which used to be called the Armed Forces Central Gyeongnidan. That is why the road and surrounding neighborhood is called Gyeongnidan. This used to be a hotspot for trendy restaurants and cafes in Seoul, but because the landlords have agreed to collectively raise rents, many independent cafes and businesses have been forced out of business

What to eat and do in Itaewon

Halal Guys

This has to be my favorite place in Itaewon.  You can’t go wrong here. The Halal Guys hail from New York and I’m talking about the chicken and rice cart on 53rd street and 6th Avenue. I was shocked to find this restaurant here, because I didn’t even know this place had a name. I left NYC in 2010 after having lived there for 6 years but I”m happy to see that this little cart did well. My husband and I love this place and it’s a little bit nostalgic for us but it’s also really good.

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Address: Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong, Itaewon-ro, 187 이태원역 2번출구 2층
thehalalguys.co.kr

LINE Store

The Line store in Itaewon is probably one of the biggest LINE stores in Seoul.  They have a cafe on the top floor and a lot of great photo zones if you’re into that.  Also it tends to be less crowded than the one in Garosugil or Hongdae in my opinion.

Address: 200 Itaewon-ro, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
store.linefriends.com

Plant Cafe

If you’re looking for a good vegan restaurant in Korea, check out Plant Cafe.  I am not an official vegan but I do eat a lot of meatless meals at home just because I hate touching raw meat or fish.  I had the soba salad, which was really good. I was inspired to make something like this at home afterwards.  The food reminds me a lot of some cafe near UC Berkley that uses these wooden bowls. You can go here and pretend you’re not in Korea because it is totally like something you would find in the states and the staff speaks perfect English.

Address: 117 Bogwang-ro, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
(There is also a bakery called Plant Bakery, with the same owner)

Mont St. Clair

This is a Japanese patisserie that specializes in cakes.   It’s right across from Plant cafe so after you eat all healthy you can go here and indulge in some pricey cake and coffee.  The interior is really pretty, chic and homey all at the same time. Its definitely the kind of place that my daughter and I like to hang out at.

Address: 112-3 Bogwang-ro, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
www.ms-clair.co.kr

Vintage Shopping Street/Antique Furniture Street

There is this little road that is kind of out of the way but it’s lined with antique shops. I find this place really interesting and if you are into this kind of thing, go check it out.  They sell everything from old dishes, furniture, housewares, to vintage toys and decor.

Address: Various shops on the street between Mont St. Clair and Cafe Tiravento

Cafe Tiravento

Cafe Tiravento is a really unique shaved ice place, It went viral a couple of years ago for their shaved ice noodles, or “shiltare bingsoo.”  It is served with a scoop of ice cream and two small pieces of Korean rice cake, which is refillable. I came here with my family and thought that it was a really fun concept.  I’m glad I was able to try it once but I’m more a fan of fruity fresh flavors and everything here was super creamy.

Address: 77-6 Noksapyeong-daero 26-gil, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Cafe Tape

This seems to be a popular cafe among young Koreans.  They serve this galaxy cake, which is pretty reasonably priced when you compare it to other Korean cafes.  This cafe is on a second floor walk up building and its super not kid friendly at all but it’s more meant for people out on a date.  There are lots of trendy young people here.  But I wouldn’t go out of my way to come here.

Address: Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong, 63-5, 2층

Linus BBQ

I think this is a really popular restaurant so I have to mention it. I thought it was just okay. We ordered a sampler platter where you can make your own BBQ sandwiches.  However, my husband who is the self proclaimed BBQ expert thought it was terrible.  I just wanted to mention it in case you are looking for American style BBQ in Seoul.  It seems really popular among Koreans.

Address: 136-13, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Detroit Motor City Pizza

This restaurant serves up midwestern style deep dish pizza. I felt like I was eating a cheese casserole, but maybe that’s because I got the Four Cheese Horsemann Pizza.

Address: Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong, Itaewon-ro, 140-1 2층

DAISO

Itaewon has a really big two story DAISO. Always a great place to shop for souvenirs and things you forgot to bring from home like tissues or cotton pads and the like if you are traveling.

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181-74 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Trevia Pizza

Trevia is a pizza restaurant right next door to DAISO and they serve pizza napolitana.  I don’t know if it actually qualifies as Neopolitan pizza but I really like it.  They used to be located in Gyeongnidan, but they recently moved here. I really like this location better because it feels really clean and modern, kind of like Au bon Pain.  I love how the pizza prices are really reasonable.  It’s a thin crust pizza that’s really light and fresh.  This is one of the few places that I’ve seen in Korea using fresh mozzarella cheese on their pizzas, and I love it.  Some of the pizzas have more cheese but I actually don’t like a lot of cheese on my pizza, I know I’m kinda weird but I like basically tomato sauce on my bread with a  few pieces of cheese and that’s what I can get here.

Location: next to DAISO and downstairs from Vatos Tacos

Vatos Urban Tacos

I have been here a few times and I have to say that it’s not my favorite place to get texmex food. The atmosphere feels like an American sports bar, but the food is like Cheesecake Factory or Dave & Busters food. It’s really salty and loaded with oil, and not enough fresh ingredients, so it’s very American in that way. It doesn’t taste like thought was put into the menu, but rather it’s a factory churning out stuff with cheese and sauce on it. However, I think this place is kind of an Itaewon installation. I do like how they offer to-go boxes though.

Address: 1 Itaewon-ro 15-gil, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
www.vatoskorea.com

Coreanos

This restaurant is located at the top of the hill in Itaewon, and it piqued my curiosity just because it’s so visible. I came with low expectations but was surprisingly pleased by my burrito as well as the loaded fries. If you’re looking for texmex food, check this place out.

Address: 46 Noksapyeong-daero 40-gil, Itaewon 1(il)-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Nori Table

If you’re craving American style sushi, and by that I mean California rolls topped with mayo and eel sauce and deep fried goodness, you can find it here.  I used to look down on this kind of sushi as “not real” sushi, but having lived away from California which is where I grew up for quite some time, I have become nostalgic for this kind of food, and I understand now why it’s called a California roll. This is not real sushi and you won’t find this in Japan, and in Korea maybe you’ll find it in the all you can eat buffets.  But it’s tasty and good and not remotely healthy.

Address: 455-47 Itaewon 2(i)-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Richmond Dim Sum

I really like this little hole in the wall dims shop.  Their soup dumplings are really clean tasting and not so fatty. So when you bite into them fresh out of the steamer they aren’t too hot because it’s actually the fat that burns you. They use real pork belly instead of cheap leftover parts of the pig that other restaurants use.  The shumai were good, and also the scallion pancake was really different but still good.  We also had the dan dan mien which was not my favorite.  Overall I like this place because the flavors are mild and it’s not super salty and over seasoned.   

Address: 5 Noksapyeong-daero 40na-gil, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Mafia Dessert

This is a really cute little cafe that’s great for dates.  The door is so cute, and its a two story cafe.  They specialize in tiramisu and millefueille and these desserts are amazing.  They are large and definitely meant for sharing.  I would say if I could choose one dessert cafe in Itaewon, I’d pick this one. The green tea tiramisu had such  rich matcha flavor that i haven’t tasted since maybe I left Japan, and the millefeuille had the lightest crispiest layers and the richest cream which was cut by the tart raspberry flavor. It was beyond good.

Address: 26 Noksapyeong-daero 40na-gil, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

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Deep Fried Cheese stand 상상핫독

If you’re looking for a really indulgent and tasty treat, give this place a try (if you have room in your stomach). It’s a piece of deep fried mozzarella that looks like a corn dog, coated in sugar. Its weird but super addictive and delicious.

Address: Seoul, Itaewon-dong, 이태원동 559번지 1층 103호 용산구 서울특별시 KR

Japangi Claw Machine Arcade

I always stop here to play Korean claw machines when I’m in the neighborhood. It’s not super easy to win here, but still winnable.

Google maps coordinates 37.53819, 126.98711

The Baker’s Table

This place always seems busy and I was really excited to go here but to be honest I was so underwhelmed by the food. If you want tot take a pretty instagram picture then you can do that here, but I felt that the pretzel sandwich had no flavor and the tomato soup while I liked the novelty of having bubbles was missing that umami flavor that makes tomato soup good. My husband said his schnitzel was ultra salty and the mashed potatoes seemed like they came from a box.  Do yourself a favor and go next door to Pho for You.

Address: 244-1 Noksapyeong-daero, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Pho for You

If you’re from California and your looking for the kind of pho you eat back home. Like a place that serves real sriracha instead of kochujang and gives you cilantro and lime to put on your pho (They’re missing the thai holy basil though).  But really this is the closest thing Ive found to real american pho (Cause I heard they don’t use hoisin sauce in Vietnam?)  Anyway, this place is solid. We used to go here all the time until they opened up another location closer to our house.

Address: 246-1 Noksapyeong-daero, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Our Commune

Our Commune has a cafe on the first floor, and on the second floor, a homestyle Japanese restaurant. I loved my Kaisen-don set. Everything was seasoned to perfection. I absolutely love Japanese food and can’t help myself when I see a restaurant like this.

Address: 38 Hoenamu-ro, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
www.ourcommune.co.kr

Everything But the Hero Coffee

This coffee shop is probably one of the MOST EXPENSIVE coffee shops I have ever visited. Admittedly I got the most expensive thing on the menu, the einspanner (espresso topped with whipped cream) but I actually liked this place. The pastries were so delicious and baked in house. I could tell that whoever owns this place has put thought into doing something really well, and when I see that I can appreciate it. You get what you pay for!

Address: 62 Hoenamu-ro, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Summer Lane

This is pretty much my favorite brunch place in all of Seoul. In general, brunch in Seoul is overpriced. But if i’m going to pay $15 for brunch, I’m going to get it here.  I’ll get a cheese waffle topped with poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, and smoked salmon and this is just heavenly.  I’d go here more often if I didn’t have to walk up such a steep hill.

Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong, 224-56

Sugar Lane

Sugar Lane s a little dessert spot that sells these rainbow meringues.  It’s really pretty and I believe they have baking classes.  I came here with my daughter and we got the dessert set – it was really good. The owner was super friendly and speaks English well. I believe they have another location in one of the department stores.

Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong, Noksapyeong-daero 46-gil, 25 1층

Tokyo Bingsu

Tokyo Bingsu is a chain cafe that serves up really good shaved ice. In Korean, it’s called Bingsu, and in Japanese, it’s called Kakigori. I suppose this is s a fusion of the two styles. They use a Japanese Kakigori machine and large blocks of ice, as the Japanese do. We ordered their bestseller, the tomato bingsu, which has a savory flavor. It’s topped with black pepper and has a milky base. My kids didn’t like it but my husband and I did. They also have other flavors like Oreo, green tea, and more if you don’t like savory desserts.

Address: 10 Noksapyeong-daero 46-gil, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
tokyobingsu.co.kr

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