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Local favorites are easy to find: Those looking to try the best Korean dishes don’t have to go far from Coex

Sept 25,2019
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Meat grilled on charcoal at your table, left, commonly known as Korean barbecue, is a must-try during your stay in Korea. Some other popular Korean dishes, from top right, to try are: Seolleongtang or beef soup; jjajangmyeon, noodles with black sauce; mulnaengmyeon, cold noodle soup.
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From top: Bibim naengmyeon, spicy cold noodles and bossam, steamed pork with kimchi.
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Tteokbokki, below, is a popular street food treat made with rice cakes and fish cakes in spicy red pepper sauce.
Figuring out where to eat can be an overwhelming experience in a city as large as Seoul. Thankfully, Coex, located in the heart of southern Seoul’s Gangnam District, is home to a wide variety of dining options, from upscale to casual, that are sure to suit the tastes of anyone in town.

One of the easiest ways to get all kinds of food is to go downstairs in the Coex building and walk around the Starfield COEX Mall. Branches of many popular restaurants found all across Seoul are located inside the mall, to make it easier for people who live or work close to Coex to enjoy the dishes without having to travel far. Even more options can be found in the surrounding neighborhood for locals and international visitors looking to break out of the convention center for some fresh air and make the most out of their meals.

The always-popular choice of Korean barbecue, which allows diners to grill their own meat over charcoal at their table, is not only fun but delicious.

The ultimate meat experience may come from enjoying different parts of Korean beef, known as hanwoo, grilled throughout the entire meal. At Restaurant Ripe, located steps away from Coex, one popular option is often referred to as beef omakasa - it allows diners to enjoy different cuts of beef as part of a course menu prepared by chefs right in front of you. You can choose to eat in a private room or in the hall where a long bar is set up.

Woo Lae Oak is a popular choice for many international visitors looking for a barbecue dining experience near Coex. The restaurant, which first opened in 1946 in Jung District, central Seoul, is known for its bulgogi, marinated beef, as well as naengmyeon, cold noodle soup. The particular style of cold noodles served here is handed down from a style enjoyed in the regions of what is now North Korea.

Bulgogi is recommended for those trying Korean food for the first time because the flavors are quite easy to recognize - the beef is marinated in sweet soy sauce.

If you have time to check out a few more unique dishes, try jjajangmyeon, a dish of noodles covered in black sauce. The dish, whose origin can be traced to Chinese food culture, is now more commonly known as Korean-style Chinese food and is considered by many locals to be a favorite comfort food.

Try a warm bowl of jjajangmyeon and other Korean-style Chinese dishes at Grand Mao or China Factory Express inside of the Starfield COEX mall. Recently, Koreans have fallen for the mala spices that come from the Sichuan region of China, so those who enjoy a spicy kick to their meals should choose from some of the mala stew options available at these Korean Chinese restaurants.

Korean street food is also known for its spicy treats as well as quick bites to fill you up and keep you warm when it gets cool. To try it out for yourself, wander around the streets of Teheran-ro and Gangnamdae-ro to find some of the stalls selling food. Most of them will sell tteokbokki, sticky rice cakes covered in red pepper sauce with flat fish cakes, and sundae, Korean blood sausage. People often stand and eat right by the stalls, as the food is being cooked on the spot. It is quite easy to spot tents serving street food right across the road from the Coex building.

If you’d rather stay inside, you can try tteokbokki at restaurants like Sideshow inside the Coex mall. At Sideshow, you can add more toppings to your liking, such as instant ramen noodles or sticky rice, to make the dish more fulfilling.

If a more modern variation of Korean food put together by highly-trained hotel chefs sounds more like your style, then go to the lobby of the Park Hyatt Seoul. The hotel’s restaurant, The Lounge, serves a wide variety of Korean dishes. Compared to most other local restaurants where dishes are encouraged to be shared, the hotel serves its food per person to make it more suitable for business meetings. Since the lobby is located on the 24th floor of the hotel, diners can also enjoy the view of Coex and parts of southern Seoul.

For those who may have had one-too-many drinks last night, the perfect spot to visit for a quick lunch or to cure a hangover is Hadongkwan. The restaurant, first opened in central Seoul in 1939, now has a couple of branches across Seoul, including one inside Coex.

A bowl of beef soup from Hadongkwan is a bit more expensive than other places, but people still line up in front of the restaurants during the busy lunch hours. What makes their soup different from other similar restaurants is the fact that they serve rice inside of the beef soup. If you finish the soup before you clear the rice, the staff will pour more broth for you. Some also enjoying adding the liquid coming from the restaurant’s ggakdugi, a type of kimchi made with white radish, to finish the bowl on a spicier note.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]