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.Read More