Best Korean Beef Soup Restaurants in Seoul
Once the cold weather starts creeping in, keep yourself warm with a hearty bowl of seolleongtang. Deeply infused into Korea’s history and a go-to comfort food for many locals, seolleongtang is notably one of the few dishes that originated in Seoul. During the 1900s (towards the end of the Joseon Dynasty), merchants would eat this in between their busy shifts and as such, seolleongtang restaurants concentrated around busy hubs and bustling ports in Jongno and Mapo. Over the generations, merchants have been replaced by Seoulites and the landscape of Seoul has changed significantly, yet the beloved seolleongtang remains true to its original form. The simplicity of its ingredients juxtaposes its intricate and time-consuming preparation (10 hours!), staying true to its authentic slow food characteristic and remaining an integral part of Korean gastronomy.
Another Korean household staple is gomtang, which looks and tastes a lot like seolleongtang. People often get the two confused since the only difference is how the broth is made – seolleongtang is made with ox bones and various parts of beef (primarily brisket and the head) while gomtang purely uses beef as its base.
We feel that as your virtual Seoul food-guides, it is our duty to make sure you enjoy seolleongtang with kkakdugi (diced radish) and kimchi, the perfect palate cleansers to the slightly sticky and greasy broth. (Tip: try pouring kkakdugi juice into the broth – scrumptious!) Now you’re ready to fully enjoy the experience at one of the best Korean beef soup restaurants in Seoul we found for you.
Best Korean Beef Soup Restaurants in Seoul
An authentic experience steeped in tradition
Imun Seolnongtang first opened in 1904 and is the oldest recorded restaurant in South Korea. Venture your way through a narrow alley in Jongno to find this iconic hotspot. Despite its relocation, the restaurant echoes the traditional environment and aura of the original, sticking to its honest-to-goodness recipe and thus continuing to serve each customer with a bowl of milky perfection for over 100 years. The rice is already added to the seolleongtang with the spoon readily placed in the bowl, which is exactly how they served it traditionally. Since merchants would be in a rush to eat their lunch, the rice and spoon were already added for expediency (original fast-food, if you will).
The restaurant does not add any artificial flavoring, so don’t worry if you feel that the seolleongtang is a bit too bland for your liking – just add some salt and enjoy it with kakkdugi and you’re good to go! This simple yet consistent delicacy has been bringing flocks of locals and travellers over the generations, so you know you’re in for a treat at Imun Seolleontang.
Note: Unlike other seolleongtang restaurants, Imun Seolnongtang uses jira (beef spleen) in its broth. A rarity among Seoul restaurants, they serve the jira boiled as well. The texture is mushy and has a unique smell, so people end up either loving it or hating it.
A tantalizing experience passed down through generations
After opening for business in 1949, Mapo-ok has been passed down for three generations and remains a neighborhood staple in Mapo to this day. With a big iron pot simmering with ox bones and beef briskets, Mapo-ok’s seolleongtang differs from its counterparts such that it doesn’t use other parts of the cow. This is why its broth is so refreshing and aromatic. You might think the beef would dry out and lose its taste after boiling in the broth for so long, but it actually retains all of its juices and has a clean and pleasant texture. Similar to Imun Seolleongtang, Mapo-ok also serves its seolleongtang with rice in it, soaking up all the savory broth. With a wide variety of kimchi ranging from fermented to green onion, don’t be afraid to mix and match to your liking!
While the seolleongtang is the star of the menu, if you’re looking for something a little greasier, we suggest going with the chadoltang (beef brisket). And if you’re there in the evening, chadol suyuk will go best with your glass of soju!
Traditional tastes in a modern setting
Although most traditional seolleongtang restaurants are based in the Jongno and Mapo districts, you won’t have to travel far for this gem if you find yourself in Gangnam. Despite its contemporary atmosphere, the seolleongtang served here is by no means modernized. Since its inception in 2005, Oegojip Seolleongtang has been dubbed the best seolleongtang restaurant south of the Han river. Lauded for its authenticity, the body and depth of the broth is comparable to its more established counterparts in Jongno and Mapo.
Oegojip exclusively sources the highest grade of Korean beef that is antibiotic free. (The Korean word ‘gojip’ means ‘stubborn’ since they are insistent on using only top-tier ingredients.) The color of the broth slightly differs from the typical seolleongtang and is clear. And if you thought the broth was good, wait until you try the actual beef. It will literally melt in your mouth! The boiled beef (suyuk), which is a combination of cartilage and tendon, is also a popular choice. Oegojip is usually packed with employees from nearby firms during lunch hours, so keep that in mind before planning your visit.
Beef soup for the soul
Sangsu-dong (near Hongdae) is the hottest place to be these days with its trendy cafés and restaurants. Despite the buzzing streets overtaken by young Seoulites, Dawoori Seolleongtang is the one restaurant in this neighborhood that seems to have stood still over time. Reminiscent of what Sangsu-dong used to look like 10 years ago, this quaint little establishment has two separate seating arrangements (you can choose to take your shoes off and sit on the floor or take a table seat). After settling into your preferred setting, take a peek inside the open kitchen to see how your broth is being brewed. A huge iron pot is working around the clock to make sure your seolleongtang tastes just right. Don’t be too concerned about the unique aroma the broth has! Dawoori makes sure to eliminate this entirely.
And let’s be honest, no matter how tasty the broth is or how mouth-watering the meat is, it wouldn’t be an authentic seolleongtang experience without the kimchi or kkakdugi. Dawoori’s homemade kimchi is so good that you’ll be asking for more before you reach halfway down your bowl! The ox head soup is also a popular choice on the menu.
A timeless Myeong-dong favorite
Take two turns from the busy shopping streets of Myeong-dong and you’ll find yourself in a starkly tranquil part of the neighborhood. Miseongok first opened shop in this alley in 1966 and has been hustling with business since. When craving something warm in Myeong-dong, Miseongok is a perfect alternative to Hadongkwan, the most popular gomtang restaurant, with only two items on the menu: seolleongtang (made with 100% Korean beef) and boiled beef. With its perfectly cooked noodles and delectably tender meat, Miseongok’s seolleongtang is a hearty and healthy bowl of delight. It might be a bit bland at first, so add a pinch of salt and/or enjoy it with some kkakdugi.
Appealing to a large demographic, you’ll see throngs of office workers from nearby companies heading to Miseongok for lunch as well as older customers getting their daily fix along with a bottle of afternoon soju. They open at 6AM so you can pop in for a hale and hearty breakfast before you start your shopping spree around Myeong-dong!