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An octopus dish at Bicena
Photo: Bicena / Facebook

The 12 Hottest New Restaurants in Seoul, South Korea

Where to find crispy katsu sando, world-renowned pastries, and haute Korean classics

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An octopus dish at Bicena
| Photo: Bicena / Facebook

Today Eater heads to Seoul — South Korea’s capital and gateway to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang — to call out 12 of the buzziest newcomers to Korea’s exploding dining scene. Eater contributor and photographer Matty Kim has kindly offered up his picks of the hottest restaurants of the last year or so.

“This marks the second year of Korea’s Michelin Guide, and it may be coincidental, but Korea’s restaurant scene has seen a lot of change over the past two years,” says Kim. “Chefs who spent years training abroad are returning home (Mosu). An increasing number of American restaurants are branching out to Korea (Tartine Manufactory), and I’m continually rediscovering the depths of Koreans’ love for Japanese food (Goryori Ken, Dotz, Sushi Ooshima).”

Also among his picks, a whiskey-loving Korean barbecue haven (Woorahman), a trattoria with a party vibe (Cucciolo Terrazza), and classic Korean dishes with a panoramic view of the Seoul skyline (Bicena). Looking for the essentials? Head to the 38.

Without further ado, and in geographic order, the Eater Heatmap to Seoul, South Korea.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Sushi Ooshima

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Hiding down a back alley in a residential neighborhood is this six-seat counter offering some of the city’s best sushi omakase for a mere 35,000 won (approximately $32). The unassuming space is run by chef Park Sangha, a sushi veteran who trained in Japan and has worked at some of Seoul’s most revered sushi restaurants. This is truly a one-man show, and Park’s DIY philosophy helps him keep costs low. It’s paying off: The restaurant is booked six months out, making it one of the city’s most coveted reservations. Watch Park’s Instagram for last-minute openings that disappear within seconds.

Sushi at Sushi Ooshima
Photo by Matty Kim

The Ninth Gate Grille

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Korea’s oldest French restaurant inside the Westin Chosun Hotel has been ahead of its time since it opened its doors in 1924. This is where Caesar salads, eggs Benedicts, and other Western delicacies were first introduced to Koreans. After a dramatic makeover in 2017, the Ninth Gate Grille continues its trendsetting legacy, now as a contemporary wine bar with a slate of modern, globally inspired dishes and a cheese and charcuterie selection curated by Soyoung Scanlan of California’s Andante Dairy. A range of wines offered by the glass caters to Seoul’s fast-growing crowd of casual oenophiles.

Dining room at Ninth Gate Grill
Photo: Ninth Gate Grille

Woorahman

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A spate of high-end Korean barbecue spots have opened across Seoul, specializing in fine Korean beef (Hanu or Hanwoo) served tasting-menu style in especially luxe venues. The trend has taken off over the past couple years, spawning more than a handful of establishments that keep Korea’s meat lovers happy. One newcomer that has separated itself from the pack is Woorahman, where the drink options go beyond the normal soju and beer — each cut of prime Hanu beef is paired with a complementary glass of whiskey.

Private rooms at Woorahman
Photo: Woorahman

In a sleek dining room furnished by Danish designer Verpan Panton, chef Jacob Hyun — a former sous chef at two-Michelin-starred Jungsik — serves his interpretation of some of Asia’s most iconic dishes, such as Japan’s katsu sando and Singapore’s kaya toast. The place is a favorite for brunch, and Hyun’s take on dinner — which features black pepper beef, duck breast, and fried rice — is marked by rich, bold flavors that aren’t easy to come by in Seoul’s contemporary dining scene. Dotz Bao, a dessert dumpling made with vanilla mousse and peanut praline, is an instant classic.

A noodle bowl at Dotz
Photo by Bob Lee

Shortly after receiving his first Michelin star in San Francisco, Korean-born Sung Anh made a bold decision to relocate his restaurant to a quiet, hilly neighborhood in his homeland. The food at Mosu Seoul is not precisely what Anh has been serving in San Francisco, nor does it neatly fit into the category of contemporary Korean cuisine. Instead, Anh describes his food as “American with heavy Asian influences,” combining his experiences in the kitchens of Urasawa, the French Laundry, and Benu with his memories of working at his parents’ Chinese restaurant as a child. The resulting boundless tasting menu has made this one of the most in-demand — if pricey — destinations in Seoul.

A gold leaf creation at Mosu
Photo by Matty Kim

R. About

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Korea’s high-end coffee catering company now has a showroom in one of the hippest neighborhoods in Seoul. The industrial exterior might look like a house in mid-restoration — or demolition — but the emerging aromas of coffee and baked goods are signs you’re in the right place. Barista Yoon Sungsoo, who started his career in the U.K., serves a primo cup of coffee made with beans from Britain’s famed Square Mile Coffee Roasters and Seoul’s Fritz Coffee Company. Yoon’s signature flat white is considered the city’s finest, and shop’s chocolate cake-like brownies are a nonnegotiable.

Coffee and a brownie at R. About
Photo by Matty Kim

Tartine Bakery Seoul

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The first international outpost of San Francisco’s famed Tartine Bakery is now open for business. If you can brave the lines, you’ll find Tartine’s famous country bread, banana tart, and other staples all baked using chef Chad Robertson’s original recipe. (For the first few weeks, he is in Seoul baking them himself.) Warning: Bread and pastries have been selling out well early. (*Map point approximate)

A Tartine croissant
Photo: Tartine Bakery / Facebook

Goryori Ken

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Goryori Ken is the latest restaurant from Kim Gun, the chef often credited for bringing Japanese izakaya culture to Seoul. At an intimate nine-seat counter, chef Kim showcases highly seasonal dishes that go beyond the standard izakaya fare. Drinks are the focus here, while food plays a supporting role, so unlike a traditional tasting menu, your beverage order determines the progression of well-executed small plates that appear before you. Just pick your drink and let Kim decide the rest.

A seafood dish at Goryori Ken
Photo by Hyunjin Kim

Polestar

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Polestar has all of the characteristics of a quintessential Japanese cocktail bar, from the elegant glassware to Zen bartending style. The man behind the drinks is none other than Japan’s bartending champion Yoshifumi Tsuboi, whose countless trophies are scattered around the room, doubling as decor. His meticulously crafted cocktails, along with the bar’s haute sense of hospitality, complement a slate of light Japanese bar foods such as Neapolitan spaghetti and katsu sando. Occasional guest bartending events draw some of Japan’s cocktail elite.

Katsu sando and a cocktail at Polestar
Photo by Matty Kim

Chef and author James Park spent years as a sous chef at South Africa’s acclaimed Test Kitchen, and has been a mentor to many aspiring chefs in Korea. In 2015, Park returned to Seoul, and in October he finally opened a restaurant of his own. From its name — which means “oak tree” in Afrikaans — to the decor to the cuisine, Muoki pays homage to the country where Park spent most of his career. A signature appetizer of tomatoes cooked seven ways is accompanied by fresh basil sorbet, and a bouquet of wild mushrooms accentuates slow-cooked duck.

An appetizer at Muoki
Photo by Bob Lee

Cucciolo Terrazza

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In just two years, chef Ji-Woon Kim has launched three of Seoul’s hottest Italian restaurants. He continues the winning streak with Cucciolo Terrazza, an Italian bar with tapas-style bar snacks and mini pizzas served until the wee hours on the restaurant’s scenic and sprawling patio. A natural-heavy wine list, as well as cocktails and craft beers, keeps the party going.

The bar at Cucciolo Terraza
Photo by Seungjun Lee

The Michelin-starred Bicena has found a new home on the 81st floor of the Lotte World Tower, making it the tallest restaurant in the country. Diners are flocking for Bicena’s signature authentic Korean cuisine, now with a panoramic view of Seoul. Dishes like abalone rice and steamed king crab with barley porridge are served on custom locally thrown pottery.

Modern dumplings at Bicena
Photo: Bicena

Sushi Ooshima

Sushi at Sushi Ooshima
Photo by Matty Kim

Hiding down a back alley in a residential neighborhood is this six-seat counter offering some of the city’s best sushi omakase for a mere 35,000 won (approximately $32). The unassuming space is run by chef Park Sangha, a sushi veteran who trained in Japan and has worked at some of Seoul’s most revered sushi restaurants. This is truly a one-man show, and Park’s DIY philosophy helps him keep costs low. It’s paying off: The restaurant is booked six months out, making it one of the city’s most coveted reservations. Watch Park’s Instagram for last-minute openings that disappear within seconds.

Sushi at Sushi Ooshima
Photo by Matty Kim

The Ninth Gate Grille

Dining room at Ninth Gate Grill
Photo: Ninth Gate Grille

Korea’s oldest French restaurant inside the Westin Chosun Hotel has been ahead of its time since it opened its doors in 1924. This is where Caesar salads, eggs Benedicts, and other Western delicacies were first introduced to Koreans. After a dramatic makeover in 2017, the Ninth Gate Grille continues its trendsetting legacy, now as a contemporary wine bar with a slate of modern, globally inspired dishes and a cheese and charcuterie selection curated by Soyoung Scanlan of California’s Andante Dairy. A range of wines offered by the glass caters to Seoul’s fast-growing crowd of casual oenophiles.

Dining room at Ninth Gate Grill
Photo: Ninth Gate Grille

Woorahman

Private rooms at Woorahman
Photo: Woorahman

A spate of high-end Korean barbecue spots have opened across Seoul, specializing in fine Korean beef (Hanu or Hanwoo) served tasting-menu style in especially luxe venues. The trend has taken off over the past couple years, spawning more than a handful of establishments that keep Korea’s meat lovers happy. One newcomer that has separated itself from the pack is Woorahman, where the drink options go beyond the normal soju and beer — each cut of prime Hanu beef is paired with a complementary glass of whiskey.

Private rooms at Woorahman
Photo: Woorahman

Dotz

A noodle bowl at Dotz
Photo by Bob Lee

In a sleek dining room furnished by Danish designer Verpan Panton, chef Jacob Hyun — a former sous chef at two-Michelin-starred Jungsik — serves his interpretation of some of Asia’s most iconic dishes, such as Japan’s katsu sando and Singapore’s kaya toast. The place is a favorite for brunch, and Hyun’s take on dinner — which features black pepper beef, duck breast, and fried rice — is marked by rich, bold flavors that aren’t easy to come by in Seoul’s contemporary dining scene. Dotz Bao, a dessert dumpling made with vanilla mousse and peanut praline, is an instant classic.

A noodle bowl at Dotz
Photo by Bob Lee

Mosu

A gold leaf creation at Mosu
Photo by Matty Kim

Shortly after receiving his first Michelin star in San Francisco, Korean-born Sung Anh made a bold decision to relocate his restaurant to a quiet, hilly neighborhood in his homeland. The food at Mosu Seoul is not precisely what Anh has been serving in San Francisco, nor does it neatly fit into the category of contemporary Korean cuisine. Instead, Anh describes his food as “American with heavy Asian influences,” combining his experiences in the kitchens of Urasawa, the French Laundry, and Benu with his memories of working at his parents’ Chinese restaurant as a child. The resulting boundless tasting menu has made this one of the most in-demand — if pricey — destinations in Seoul.

A gold leaf creation at Mosu
Photo by Matty Kim

R. About

Coffee and a brownie at R. About
Photo by Matty Kim

Korea’s high-end coffee catering company now has a showroom in one of the hippest neighborhoods in Seoul. The industrial exterior might look like a house in mid-restoration — or demolition — but the emerging aromas of coffee and baked goods are signs you’re in the right place. Barista Yoon Sungsoo, who started his career in the U.K., serves a primo cup of coffee made with beans from Britain’s famed Square Mile Coffee Roasters and Seoul’s Fritz Coffee Company. Yoon’s signature flat white is considered the city’s finest, and shop’s chocolate cake-like brownies are a nonnegotiable.

Coffee and a brownie at R. About
Photo by Matty Kim

Tartine Bakery Seoul

A Tartine croissant
Photo: Tartine Bakery / Facebook

The first international outpost of San Francisco’s famed Tartine Bakery is now open for business. If you can brave the lines, you’ll find Tartine’s famous country bread, banana tart, and other staples all baked using chef Chad Robertson’s original recipe. (For the first few weeks, he is in Seoul baking them himself.) Warning: Bread and pastries have been selling out well early. (*Map point approximate)

A Tartine croissant
Photo: Tartine Bakery / Facebook

Goryori Ken

A seafood dish at Goryori Ken
Photo by Hyunjin Kim

Goryori Ken is the latest restaurant from Kim Gun, the chef often credited for bringing Japanese izakaya culture to Seoul. At an intimate nine-seat counter, chef Kim showcases highly seasonal dishes that go beyond the standard izakaya fare. Drinks are the focus here, while food plays a supporting role, so unlike a traditional tasting menu, your beverage order determines the progression of well-executed small plates that appear before you. Just pick your drink and let Kim decide the rest.

A seafood dish at Goryori Ken
Photo by Hyunjin Kim

Polestar

Katsu sando and a cocktail at Polestar
Photo by Matty Kim

Polestar has all of the characteristics of a quintessential Japanese cocktail bar, from the elegant glassware to Zen bartending style. The man behind the drinks is none other than Japan’s bartending champion Yoshifumi Tsuboi, whose countless trophies are scattered around the room, doubling as decor. His meticulously crafted cocktails, along with the bar’s haute sense of hospitality, complement a slate of light Japanese bar foods such as Neapolitan spaghetti and katsu sando. Occasional guest bartending events draw some of Japan’s cocktail elite.

Katsu sando and a cocktail at Polestar
Photo by Matty Kim

Muoki

An appetizer at Muoki
Photo by Bob Lee

Chef and author James Park spent years as a sous chef at South Africa’s acclaimed Test Kitchen, and has been a mentor to many aspiring chefs in Korea. In 2015, Park returned to Seoul, and in October he finally opened a restaurant of his own. From its name — which means “oak tree” in Afrikaans — to the decor to the cuisine, Muoki pays homage to the country where Park spent most of his career. A signature appetizer of tomatoes cooked seven ways is accompanied by fresh basil sorbet, and a bouquet of wild mushrooms accentuates slow-cooked duck.

An appetizer at Muoki
Photo by Bob Lee

Cucciolo Terrazza

The bar at Cucciolo Terraza
Photo by Seungjun Lee

In just two years, chef Ji-Woon Kim has launched three of Seoul’s hottest Italian restaurants. He continues the winning streak with Cucciolo Terrazza, an Italian bar with tapas-style bar snacks and mini pizzas served until the wee hours on the restaurant’s scenic and sprawling patio. A natural-heavy wine list, as well as cocktails and craft beers, keeps the party going.

The bar at Cucciolo Terraza
Photo by Seungjun Lee

Bicena

Modern dumplings at Bicena
Photo: Bicena

The Michelin-starred Bicena has found a new home on the 81st floor of the Lotte World Tower, making it the tallest restaurant in the country. Diners are flocking for Bicena’s signature authentic Korean cuisine, now with a panoramic view of Seoul. Dishes like abalone rice and steamed king crab with barley porridge are served on custom locally thrown pottery.

Modern dumplings at Bicena
Photo: Bicena

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