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Cherry blossom trees line a street full of people in Gyeongju
Cherry blossom season in Gyeongju
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The 17 Essential Restaurants in Gyeongju, South Korea

Where to find modern Korean cuisine — from fried chicken to vegetarian feasts — in a historic time capsule of a city

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Cherry blossom season in Gyeongju
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The southeastern Korean city of Gyeongju is called the “museum without walls” for good reason. In a country where many historic structures have been lost to war or the ravages of time, Gyeongju — the nation’s capital during the Silla dynasty (57 BCE to 935 CE) — is an architectural haven, surrounded by miraculously well-preserved temples, palaces, burial mounds, and other structures of religious and political significance. All this history has made the mid-size city a top destination among Korean tourists for decades, but the picturesque town remains relatively untread by foreigners. Eating in Gyeongju is its own kind of time travel — here, you can dine like a Silla royal, with recipes passed down over the millennia, cooked by chefs specially trained in the formal styles; or, eat like a monk, with the clean, vegetable-driven cooking of Korean temple food, prepared and served by Buddhist clergy beneath swooping tile roofs.

The boom in domestic tourism has drawn young, boundary-pushing chefs, who are using local ingredients and modern techniques to reach new depths of Korean flavors. With as many garlicky fried chicken stands and cold noodle shops as there are monuments, and with more and more international tourists flocking to South Korea, the time is now to get a taste of old Korea in Gyeongju. Here, then, are the essential restaurants, cafes, stands, and shops in this historic city.

Editor’s Note: Eater is not updating international maps at this time given disruptions to global travel during the COVID-19 crisis.

Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = less than 20,000 won (less than $17 USD)
$$ = 20,000 - 50,000 won ($17 - $44 USD)
$$$ = 50,000 - 10.000 won ($44 - $87 USD)
$$$$ = More than 10,000 won ($87 USD and up)

Summer Sun-Min Lee is a staff journalist for the Korea JoongAng Daily based in Seoul.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Hwangseong Milmyeonok

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899 Hwangseong-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Although milmyeon — flour noodles served either in a cold broth or spicy marinade — is most closely associated with the southeastern city of Busan, Gyeongju is also a secret hotbed for this hot-weather favorite. Different from naengmyeon, made with buckwheat noodles, milmyeon noodles are much softer. Cut them with scissors before mixing into the cold broth, and add a splash of vinegar and mustard for the ultimate cool-down. [$]

2. Minsu’s Garlic Chicken

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785-9 Dongcheon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Garlicky fried chicken is easy to find in Gyeongju, but each spot has its own special recipe. Here, the chicken is marinated in soy sauce after being fried, and then it gets smothered in a heap of garlic and onions. For those who want an even more refreshing kick, Minsu’s offers a soy dipping sauce that’s been liberally seasoned with hot pepper. The spice-salty-crunchy combination is irresistible. [$$]

A white facade with large lettering in Korean above wooden double doors and a small window with metal lights extending out over the sidewalk
Outside Minsu’s Garlic Chicken
Minsu’s Garlic Chicken / Facebook

3. Gyeongsangdo Chueotang

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733-235 Dongcheon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Migguraji, or mudfish, is the star ingredient of the regional delicacy known as chueotang, a thick soup made with fermented soybean paste. The Gyeongju style is thought to be an energy-booster; the fish is ground into a powder and boiled, rather than stewed whole. This particular chueotang specialist sells 150 servings a day, so go early or phone ahead. [$]

4. Gyeupsik

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654-2 Seonggeon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

The owner of this tiny — and we mean tiny — place set out to open a restaurant that celebrates the almighty chicken. At Gyeupsik, one chef works the small kitchen and serves the handful of customers that can fit inside, while a handy illustrated menu helps non-Korean-speakers decrypt the offerings, which include chicken-ragu pasta and spinach curry with grilled chicken, and non-poultry favorites like tofu with sesame sauce. The menu is as condensed as the space. [$]

5. Nurunggi Samgyetang

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170-2 Seonggeon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
054-771-3766

This shop is most known for its samgyetang, a famously energizing chicken-and-ginseng soup. The classic style comes with sticky rice served inside a chicken stomach, but this restaurant’s crispy variation comes with nurunggi, or crunchy rice, and a side of boozy ginseng spirit by request. [$$]

6. Obok Dakjib

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295 Geumseong-ro, Seonggeon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
054-743-3696

No visit to Korea is complete without some KFC — Korean fried chicken — and beer. This spot in Jungang Market is ideal for both. Here, they marinate the chicken in curry for added spice, and serve the double-fried pieces with a garnish of fresh minced garlic. One serving is enough for two, or take the extra to go. [$$]

7. Daehwa Mandu

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86-3 Nodong-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Plump mandu are the focus here, where you’ll find the doughy pockets boiled, steamed, fried, and even mixed into a cabbage salad with a sweet-sour-spicy sauce. Diners can choose dumplings stuffed with pork, kimchi, or shrimp, and those in the know add on an order of jjolmyeon, chewy noodles mixed with vegetables and spicy sauce, or tteokbokki, a fiery mix of fish and rice cakes. [$]

8. Neungpo Daewon

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91 Wonhyo-ro, Jungbu-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

This teahouse was the setting for director Zhang Lu’s popular 2014 romantic comedy Gyeongju, featuring actors Shin Min-a and Park Hae-il. A front terrace greets visitors on their way into the hanok-style building, where they can linger with a cup of tea in the sunlight. Inside is filled with paintings and an array of cups and pots for the house selection of teas. The shop’s owner fell in love with the building in 2002, and began serving drinks here to ensure it wasn’t demolished. Today it’s one of the city’s best places to sip. [$]

9. Daegu Galbi

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5 Bukjeong-ro, Hwango-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
054-772-1384

Garlic lovers swoon for the spicy, garlicky braised pork here, which comes with a variety of vegetable banchan. Wrap some rice and pork in a lettuce leaf for a perfect ssam bite, and ask for a side of bokeumbab, or fried rice, to soak up any leftover sauces. [$$]

10. Hwangnam Bread

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783 Taejong-ro, Hwango-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
054-749-7000

This beloved bakery has been making its namesake pastry —  a thin crusty bun stuffed with sweet red bean paste — since 1939. Here you can watch the bakers at work and buy fresh packs to relish immediately or take home in elaborate souvenir boxes. There are many imitators throughout the city, and even in Seoul, but these are the original and often considered the best. [$]

11. Sukyeong Sikdang

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60 Gyerim-ro, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
054-772-3369

Sukyeong opened in 1979 as a bar with a limited food menu for hungry drinkers. In the late 1990s, it began serving a bowl of barley rice with a choice of more than 10 different banchan, and it’s been seen as a restaurant ever since. Its real breakthrough came just recently, however, when Key — a member of K-pop boy band sensation Shinee — introduced it to the world on a local TV show. Today, diners can choose to eat the banchan separately, mix them with rice, or add some doenjang (fermented bean paste) or gochujang for a jolt of flavor. The place stays true to its bar origins with jars of house-made dongdongju — a traditional Korean spirit made from fermented rice.  [$]

12. No Words

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1085 Poseok-ro, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Take a break with a late-morning coffee served in a building that artfully mixes the old and the new of Gyeongju. The roof of this indie cafe keeps the wooden structure typical of hanok, a traditional Korean home, but rests on sleek modern concrete blocks typically seen in many modern coffee shops across Korea. You can either opt for drip coffee or espresso with your choice of beans from Guatemala, Colombia, Indonesia, or Brazil. Steven Smith’s tea selections are available as well. [$]

A pour over contraption with a glass beaker of coffee below and a barista blurred in the background
Pour-over at No Words
No Words / Facebook

13. Dosol Maeul

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8-13 Sonhyoja-gil, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
054-748-9232

An ancient stone wall surrounds this small hanok, which feels more like a family home than any sort of formal restaurant. This is true Korean homestyle cooking, where diners sit either inside or beneath a covered patio in the garden for a traditional Korean meal known as jungsik. A simple bowl of rice and soup is accompanied by an elaborate spread of banchan. Stop there, or splurge for the superb bulgogi or pajeon. [$$]

14. Hong and Lee Table

Copy Link
경상북도 Cheomseong-ro, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

This is the next best thing to being invited to dinner at someone’s home. Hong and Lee Table serves some of the region’s most popular homestyle dishes as well as a few excellent banchan. Diners choose from a rotating selection of mains — kimchi stew or beef doenjang stew, for instance — to eat with rice and a sweetened rice drink called sikhye to complete the meal. [$]

15. Ssukbu Jaengi

Copy Link
585-5 Ha-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
054-748-3903

Local, seasonal ingredients are the inspiration behind the vegetarian feasts at Ssukbu. The restaurant is located inside a renovated hanok, with walls adorned with a variety of tea pots, cups, and traditional pottery. The centerpiece of each set meal is a dish of rice cooked in lotus leaves, which comes with a variety of exquisitely prepared banchan — small plates of marinated, pickled, and fermented vegetables. Try for a seat by the window with dramatic views overlooking the rice paddy below. [$$]

16. Hyangjeokwon

Copy Link
131 Bulguk-ro, Ma-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Close to the famous swooping archway of Bulguksa Temple, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Gyeongju, this restaurant serves Korean temple-style food, which is vegetarian, but made without pungent vegetables like onions, garlic, chives, and leeks. The meal is an inside look into what monks eat as part of their daily training and mediation. Dishes are made with seasonal ingredients and you get about 10 banchan, or side dishes, in addition to your rice and soup. [$$]

17. Surime

Copy Link
110-32 Poseok-ro, Naenam-myeon, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
054-748-2507

Dine as Korean royal families would have dined in the palaces of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) at Surime. The chef is trained in historic regional cooking techniques, and the space outside the traditional buildings is used to keep jangdok, large earthenware pots where seasonings and condiments are fermented for years. A more simplified, affordable set meal is available for lunch on weekdays, and the chef also offers cooking classes for those who wish to delve deeper. [$ - $$$]

A round segmented dish with colorful, small vegetable-based dishes in each segment around a center dip with the dish’s lid set nearby
Gujeolpan
Courtesy of Surime

1. Hwangseong Milmyeonok

899 Hwangseong-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Although milmyeon — flour noodles served either in a cold broth or spicy marinade — is most closely associated with the southeastern city of Busan, Gyeongju is also a secret hotbed for this hot-weather favorite. Different from naengmyeon, made with buckwheat noodles, milmyeon noodles are much softer. Cut them with scissors before mixing into the cold broth, and add a splash of vinegar and mustard for the ultimate cool-down. [$]

899 Hwangseong-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

2. Minsu’s Garlic Chicken

785-9 Dongcheon-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
A white facade with large lettering in Korean above wooden double doors and a small window with metal lights extending out over the sidewalk
Outside Minsu’s Garlic Chicken
Minsu’s Garlic Chicken / Facebook

Garlicky fried chicken is easy to find in Gyeongju, but each spot has its own special recipe. Here, the chicken is marinated in soy sauce after being fried, and then it gets smothered in a heap of garlic and onions. For those who want an even more refreshing kick, Minsu’s offers a soy dipping sauce that’s been liberally seasoned with hot pepper. The spice-salty-crunchy combination is irresistible. [$$]

785-9 Dongcheon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

3. Gyeongsangdo Chueotang

733-235 Dongcheon-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Migguraji, or mudfish, is the star ingredient of the regional delicacy known as chueotang, a thick soup made with fermented soybean paste. The Gyeongju style is thought to be an energy-booster; the fish is ground into a powder and boiled, rather than stewed whole. This particular chueotang specialist sells 150 servings a day, so go early or phone ahead. [$]

733-235 Dongcheon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

4. Gyeupsik

654-2 Seonggeon-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

The owner of this tiny — and we mean tiny — place set out to open a restaurant that celebrates the almighty chicken. At Gyeupsik, one chef works the small kitchen and serves the handful of customers that can fit inside, while a handy illustrated menu helps non-Korean-speakers decrypt the offerings, which include chicken-ragu pasta and spinach curry with grilled chicken, and non-poultry favorites like tofu with sesame sauce. The menu is as condensed as the space. [$]

654-2 Seonggeon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

5. Nurunggi Samgyetang

170-2 Seonggeon-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

This shop is most known for its samgyetang, a famously energizing chicken-and-ginseng soup. The classic style comes with sticky rice served inside a chicken stomach, but this restaurant’s crispy variation comes with nurunggi, or crunchy rice, and a side of boozy ginseng spirit by request. [$$]

170-2 Seonggeon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

6. Obok Dakjib

295 Geumseong-ro, Seonggeon-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

No visit to Korea is complete without some KFC — Korean fried chicken — and beer. This spot in Jungang Market is ideal for both. Here, they marinate the chicken in curry for added spice, and serve the double-fried pieces with a garnish of fresh minced garlic. One serving is enough for two, or take the extra to go. [$$]

295 Geumseong-ro, Seonggeon-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

7. Daehwa Mandu

86-3 Nodong-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Plump mandu are the focus here, where you’ll find the doughy pockets boiled, steamed, fried, and even mixed into a cabbage salad with a sweet-sour-spicy sauce. Diners can choose dumplings stuffed with pork, kimchi, or shrimp, and those in the know add on an order of jjolmyeon, chewy noodles mixed with vegetables and spicy sauce, or tteokbokki, a fiery mix of fish and rice cakes. [$]

86-3 Nodong-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

8. Neungpo Daewon

91 Wonhyo-ro, Jungbu-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

This teahouse was the setting for director Zhang Lu’s popular 2014 romantic comedy Gyeongju, featuring actors Shin Min-a and Park Hae-il. A front terrace greets visitors on their way into the hanok-style building, where they can linger with a cup of tea in the sunlight. Inside is filled with paintings and an array of cups and pots for the house selection of teas. The shop’s owner fell in love with the building in 2002, and began serving drinks here to ensure it wasn’t demolished. Today it’s one of the city’s best places to sip. [$]

91 Wonhyo-ro, Jungbu-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

9. Daegu Galbi

5 Bukjeong-ro, Hwango-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Garlic lovers swoon for the spicy, garlicky braised pork here, which comes with a variety of vegetable banchan. Wrap some rice and pork in a lettuce leaf for a perfect ssam bite, and ask for a side of bokeumbab, or fried rice, to soak up any leftover sauces. [$$]

5 Bukjeong-ro, Hwango-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

10. Hwangnam Bread

783 Taejong-ro, Hwango-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

This beloved bakery has been making its namesake pastry —  a thin crusty bun stuffed with sweet red bean paste — since 1939. Here you can watch the bakers at work and buy fresh packs to relish immediately or take home in elaborate souvenir boxes. There are many imitators throughout the city, and even in Seoul, but these are the original and often considered the best. [$]

783 Taejong-ro, Hwango-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

11. Sukyeong Sikdang

60 Gyerim-ro, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Sukyeong opened in 1979 as a bar with a limited food menu for hungry drinkers. In the late 1990s, it began serving a bowl of barley rice with a choice of more than 10 different banchan, and it’s been seen as a restaurant ever since. Its real breakthrough came just recently, however, when Key — a member of K-pop boy band sensation Shinee — introduced it to the world on a local TV show. Today, diners can choose to eat the banchan separately, mix them with rice, or add some doenjang (fermented bean paste) or gochujang for a jolt of flavor. The place stays true to its bar origins with jars of house-made dongdongju — a traditional Korean spirit made from fermented rice.  [$]

60 Gyerim-ro, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

12. No Words

1085 Poseok-ro, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
A pour over contraption with a glass beaker of coffee below and a barista blurred in the background
Pour-over at No Words
No Words / Facebook

Take a break with a late-morning coffee served in a building that artfully mixes the old and the new of Gyeongju. The roof of this indie cafe keeps the wooden structure typical of hanok, a traditional Korean home, but rests on sleek modern concrete blocks typically seen in many modern coffee shops across Korea. You can either opt for drip coffee or espresso with your choice of beans from Guatemala, Colombia, Indonesia, or Brazil. Steven Smith’s tea selections are available as well. [$]

1085 Poseok-ro, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

13. Dosol Maeul

8-13 Sonhyoja-gil, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

An ancient stone wall surrounds this small hanok, which feels more like a family home than any sort of formal restaurant. This is true Korean homestyle cooking, where diners sit either inside or beneath a covered patio in the garden for a traditional Korean meal known as jungsik. A simple bowl of rice and soup is accompanied by an elaborate spread of banchan. Stop there, or splurge for the superb bulgogi or pajeon. [$$]

8-13 Sonhyoja-gil, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

14. Hong and Lee Table

경상북도 Cheomseong-ro, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

This is the next best thing to being invited to dinner at someone’s home. Hong and Lee Table serves some of the region’s most popular homestyle dishes as well as a few excellent banchan. Diners choose from a rotating selection of mains — kimchi stew or beef doenjang stew, for instance — to eat with rice and a sweetened rice drink called sikhye to complete the meal. [$]

경상북도 Cheomseong-ro, Hwangnam-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

15. Ssukbu Jaengi

585-5 Ha-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Local, seasonal ingredients are the inspiration behind the vegetarian feasts at Ssukbu. The restaurant is located inside a renovated hanok, with walls adorned with a variety of tea pots, cups, and traditional pottery. The centerpiece of each set meal is a dish of rice cooked in lotus leaves, which comes with a variety of exquisitely prepared banchan — small plates of marinated, pickled, and fermented vegetables. Try for a seat by the window with dramatic views overlooking the rice paddy below. [$$]

585-5 Ha-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

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16. Hyangjeokwon

131 Bulguk-ro, Ma-dong, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Close to the famous swooping archway of Bulguksa Temple, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Gyeongju, this restaurant serves Korean temple-style food, which is vegetarian, but made without pungent vegetables like onions, garlic, chives, and leeks. The meal is an inside look into what monks eat as part of their daily training and mediation. Dishes are made with seasonal ingredients and you get about 10 banchan, or side dishes, in addition to your rice and soup. [$$]

131 Bulguk-ro, Ma-dong, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

17. Surime

110-32 Poseok-ro, Naenam-myeon, Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
A round segmented dish with colorful, small vegetable-based dishes in each segment around a center dip with the dish’s lid set nearby
Gujeolpan
Courtesy of Surime

Dine as Korean royal families would have dined in the palaces of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) at Surime. The chef is trained in historic regional cooking techniques, and the space outside the traditional buildings is used to keep jangdok, large earthenware pots where seasonings and condiments are fermented for years. A more simplified, affordable set meal is available for lunch on weekdays, and the chef also offers cooking classes for those who wish to delve deeper. [$ - $$$]

110-32 Poseok-ro, Naenam-myeon, Gyeongju
Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea

Related Maps