Gwangjang Market. | Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

From a luxe barbecue feast at an exclusive basement counter, to fried chicken and spicy rice cakes at an old school beer bar, here’s where to eat in Seoul

Seoul’s food traditions extend back centuries, from the hearty bowls of seolleongtang (ox bone soup) found in cozy restaurants to the simple vegan fare of Buddhist temples. But the Korean capital’s dining scene has experienced a sea change in the last decade, as chefs look both outward and inward to keep up with customers’ evolving tastes and expectations.

The new modern Korean cuisine started at renowned fine dining spots like Mingles, where chef Mingoo Kang combines traditional ingredients with Western cooking techniques, and the global approach has proliferated through casual eateries and bars. Many of the city’s star chefs who had been working overseas, like Mosu’s Sung Ahn, also returned home during the pandemic, bringing international experiences and tastes back with them. Drink menus typically dominated by soju and beer have expanded to include wine, sake, and cocktails, while standout bars such as Charles H and Bar Cham have elevated Seoul’s drinking scene to worldwide recognition.

The country’s own cuisine is also thriving. Korean barbecue has entered a new heyday, as chefs continue to explore ways to improve the experience with better ingredients and services. Young craft distillers have also attracted attention for new takes on old Korean spirits, gaining exposure thanks to a slew of restaurants and pubs interested in redefining traditions. And, after some classic businesses succumbed to the pandemic, long-time powerhouses of the Seoul dining scene are getting more affection now than ever. A bowl of simple warm noodles and a cold beer at an old standby restaurant just hits differently.

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