Best Naengmyeon Restaurants in Seoul
Naengmyeon is all the rage right now. Primarily sought out by elderly Seoul-dwelling North Koreans longing for a taste of home, the global broadcasting of the two leaders tucking into this stuff during the recent North-South Korea Summit has sparked a naengmyeon craze across South Korea. Although some might say that only real foodies can appreciate the complexity of gourmet naengmyeon, all generations of South Koreans keep craving for more.
Not sure which naengmyeon is up your alley? Typically, old-style naengmyeon restaurants offer either ‘Hamheung’ or ‘Pyongyang’ style naengmyeon. Pyongyang naengmyeon, served in the mul or water base style, has an unsullied, mellow taste that can take a bit of getting used to. Give it a go! After a few mouthfuls, most first-timers are hooked. For the few that aren’t sold, fiery red pepper-laced Hamheung naengmyeon (served bibim or ‘mixed’ style) is a tried-and-true alternative. Don’t get left behind on this growing cold noodle craze! Here’s our comprehensive list of the best naengmyeon restaurants in Seoul.
Best Naengmyeon Restaurants in Seoul
A golden oldie offering the best of the best
If you’re a newbie to Pyongyang-style naengmyeon, Woolaeok is a good place to start your journey. First opened in 1946 by a veteran of one of Pyongyang’s finest naengmyeon restaurants, Woolaeok has deservedly remained one of Seoul’s most famous restaurants among locals and tourists since its inception. Woolaeok’s naengmyeon broth is free from fussy extras and purely infused with beef, giving it a taste to die for. This simplicity lets the buckwheat noodles really shine through, even when covered with delectable garnishes like sliced beef, pears and radish kimchi. Go all out and order a portion or two of their beloved bulgogi too before ordering your naengmyeon. Marinated in their famous 70-year old soy sauce recipe, it’s undoubtedly another reason for Woolaeok’s enduring popularity.
As with all good Pyongyang naengmyeon spots, this second-story restaurant is normally jam packed with silver-haired citizens. In testimony to its legacy, however, you will find flocks of younger self-declared foodies waiting for tables too. Want to get in on Woolaeok’s naengmyeon action? Get your timing right! Woolaeok sells around 1,500 dishes a day during summer, and lunch hours are always buzzing with fans. But don’t lose faith. Once you get your name down on the waiting list, you can wait inside in the cool. The turnover rate is thankfully pretty quick. There’s also another branch in Samseong-dong.
Jinmi Pyeongyang Naengmyeon
A rising star in the Pyongyang naengmyeon scene
Most of the old Pyongyang naengmyeon restaurants are concentrated in Euljiro, on the northern side of the river. Luckily, for Southsiders who are tired of trekking northwards to satisfy their naengmyeon cravings, Jinmi recently set up shop in Gangnam. Their credentials are impressive. The restaurant’s founder worked for over twenty years in another famous Pyongyang naengmyeon spot before setting up shop here. And thanks to their premier broths and noodles, this place has quickly become the new go-to for local naengmyeon enthusiasts.
The clear broth served up here is on the subdued side. Still, there’s a salty kick running through it, so take a test-sip or two of the broth before adding your vinegar and mustard. Mix up the noodles in the broth to enjoy the perfectly harmonious medley of flavors. And missing out on the eobokjaengban would be a huge faux pas. A North Korean family soup dish, it’s a bowl of vegetables and mushrooms encircled in sliced beef, all simmering gently within a light broth. Each bite will literally melt in your mouth, so don’t worry if you wolf the whole plate down in one go. The friendly servers will happily top up your plate with more soup and vegetables. So grab that ladle, pour yourself a shot of soju and get to work munching through all these goodies!
A taste of spice for Hamheung-aholics
On the lookout for the spicy and in-your-face taste of Hamheung-style naengmyeon? Ojangdong Heungnam-jip is where it’s at. The Ojangdong area has long been home to a community of North Korean defectors, and as such has been home to first-rate naengmyeon since 1953. Ojangdong Heungnam-jib was one of the first naengmyeon establishments in this neighborhood, and continues to be loved by locals over generations.
Eat this naengmyeon up with your eyes (and cameras) before digging in. The sight alone of the black sweet potato starch noodles topped with bright-red garnishes will have you salivating! Their signature is the raw fish bibim naengmyeon, a big bowl of cold noodles with fish on top (contrary to the name, it’s actually seasoned with salted fish). A cup of meat broth (yuksu) is also provided to help your tongue keep up with the heat. The mixed bibim naengmyeon, complete with fish and boiled beef slices, is also a real crowd-pleaser. Still haven’t had your fill? Extra noodles are provided for just 4,000 won extra. A little tip: the scissors provided for easy eating are for rookies. Real naengmyeon junkies never cut up the noodles!
Come once for the distinctively delicious naengmyeon: come again to try everything else
Naengmyeon is a DIY dish: the mustard and vinegar are always right there if you want to give the broth a little extra kick. But don’t underestimate the magic of the muted flavors served up at this joint. Before adding any garnishes, we’d recommend taking a bite in its pure mul style broth and get lost in the dish’s delicate and delightful aroma of beef. Chances are, you might soon find yourself joining the fanclub that believes this ‘bland’ broth is actually a sea of subtle flavors.
The delicious noodles served here are perfect – made in-house from dusk till dawn (there’s a mill inside the shop), they burst with buckwheat flavor and are just the right consistency. Pyeongyang Myeonok offers up a number of other must-try North Korean delicacies too, ranging from boiled pork, to bulgogi and mandu. You’ll also be served a cup of buckwheat broth from the noodles instead of water (if you want regular water though, just ask!) Additional branches, all family-run, are located in Nonhyeon-dong and Dogok-dong.
A diamond in the rough
Eulji Myeonok is run by the daughter of a family who ran a legendary naengmyeon restaurant in Gyeonggi Province. Located amid a sea of industry hardware stores, taking a trip to Eulji Myeonok is almost like taking a trip through history. Once you venture down the eerie old alleyway, it’s not easy to miss this little restaurant. Though frequented by middle-aged male customers and secluded from the main streets, Eulji Myeonok bustles with life all day, every day.
Like all real Pyongyang-style naengmyeon, the restaurant’s broth is clear and mellow. Thanks to the dash of red pepper flakes added, however, the dish has a charming tang to it not easily found elsewhere. You’ll be licking the bottom of the bowl before you know it! The boiled pork slices (known as pyeonyuk) are also a hit with regulars. Tip: dip each slice into the pickled shrimp seasoning to get the best taste combo. Take it a step further and knock it back with a shot of soju for the ultimate pyeonyuk experience.
Food service is always snappy and turnovers rates are speedy, so don’t be intimidated by the queues common during peak hours.