One of my favorite things to do in Korea, especially right after payday, is head into Itaewon (In Seoul, Subway line 6, exit name is Itaewon) and just spend a few hours walking around taking advantage of all the area has to offer. Itaewon has tons of things to do any time of day: shopping, restaurants, bars, foreign markets, etc. Here are 5 reasons why you should travel over to this area (links included!):
One of the most exciting parts of Itaewon (for this girl at least) is the food! There are a ton of amazing restaurants and many of them are foreign. So, if you’ve had your fill of kimchi and bulgogi for the week, you can pop over to Itaewon and experience the Mediterranean or some Chinese. From what I myself have experienced and heard from friends, these are just a few of the places everyone should visit:
Vato’s Urban Tacos: I honestly don’t think I can recommend this place enough. It is literally amazing. Coming to Korea one the things I missed most was Mexican food, but Vato’s has helped to fill that void. Their food is a fusion of Mexican, Tex-Mex, and even Korean that is always bursting with flavor. In addition they’re the home of the Coron-A-Rita (a beer within a margarita) and the Makgeolita for all you Makgeolli lovers out there. The food at Vato’s is always delicious and the service is on point every time we go, these guys know how to keep customers coming back. The menu is constantly adding more delicious and unique dishes so it’s almost impossible to get bored. Also, since they’ve opened in their new location, the setting itself is gorgeous.
The overall atmosphere is very relaxed and everyone seems to be having a good time, even the wait staff. I might as well just say it, I’m in love with Vato’s and I’m sure that once you stop in and sample what they’re offering, you will be too. If you go I highly recommend: The I’m Rick James Peach margarita, the kimchi fries, and the Cowboy Queso. You’ll never look back. Just be aware the Vato’s is an EXTREMELY popular restaurant and depending on the time you plan on going there will be a wait, especially on weekends. You can call ahead to make dinner reservations but get on it quick, they fill up fast! (Prices: 10-30$)
Santorini’s: Before living in Korea I had spent a few months studying in Greece, so when I heard that there was a Greek restaurant in Itaewon, I was more than a little skeptical. Santorini’s proved me wrong. Santorini’s is set down the street, a little past Vato’s (on the other side of the road), on the second floor. But don’t worry; it’s hard to miss the sign if you’re looking up.
The menu itself is impressive; they have everything you’d expect to find in any restaurant on Santorini (trust me, I’ve been there) and it actually tastes like it! There’s souvlaki, tzatziki, HUMMUS (I can’t contain my excitement over fresh hummus, I’m sorry), fresh pita bread, etc. If you’re not familiar with Greek cuisine don’t fret, the menu comes in English with detailed descriptions and pictures of almost every dish. The atmosphere is very quiet and laid back, perfect for a nice meal and some good conversation. Also the portions are big so I recommend splitting an entre, if you know, you’re into that kind of thing. (Prices: 15-30$)
9 Timo: It’s relatively easy to find pizza in Korea, but it’s usually a fast food-esque Pizza Hut style pizza, which believe me, I have no problem with, but sometimes you want something a little more authentic. That’s where 9 Timo comes in (yes, I’m just as baffled by the name as you are). Timo’s is set almost directly behind the Hamilton hotel and it sits on the ground floor. This is the closest thing I’ve had to authentic Italian food since I’ve been teaching English in Korea that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. They have multiple pizzas, classic pasta alfredo, seafood risotto and a lunch menu full of sandwiches that are all delicious. Just like Nonna used to make. So if you want to sit, enjoy a glass of wine and some impeccable Italian food, stop by 9 Timo. They also have great wine and drink choices (I recommend the martini) that will only heighten your experience. The setting itself is much like Santorini’s, quiet, relaxed, and low key. (Prices: 15,000-25,000W)
High Street Market: While there are many foreign markets in Itaewon carrying many of your favorite Western groceries, High Street is without a doubt the BEST. Set almost on the complete other end of the street from Vato’s and Santorini’s, on the second floor is this miraculous place that carries little pieces of home. High Street has so many of the things you didn’t even realize you’ve been missing that once you’re inside, you honestly feel like a kid in a candy store. There’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch, cheeses from around the world, great beer, Reese’s Cups, Arizona Iced Tea and even some Beefaroni for the 12 year old in you. Just an amazing selection of American and Western items that you will be so happy to lay your eyes on.
But the best part of High Street? They have deli meat. I have missed turkey sandwiches relentlessly since being here so when I saw that they sold not only turkey, but smoked ham, prosciutto, and salami it was game over. Girl was hooked. They also have an awesome array of homemade dishes including vegan baked goods, pizza to go, hummus, and lasagna that are just what the doctor ordered when you’re missing that home cooked feeling in your gut.
Overall just an awesome place to check out. I can guarantee that everyone can find something they’ve been missing at High Street.
A few other places worth checking out:
Prost: Set next door to 9 Timo behind the Hamilton, a lively and energetic restaurant/bar with some great American style food. The third floor is a nightclub too, so if you want to party after your meal it's very convenient. I recommend the steak-tip salad and the calamari. They also have some killer mixed drinks and tons of delicious beer (they are after all a "beer garden").
But a warning, typically very busy on the weekends so you might have to stand or wait a while for service, if you can’t get down with that this might not be the place for you. You can reserve a large table for a special occasion with a flat rate of 30,000W per person, but from what I’ve experienced it’s worth it! (Prices: 20,000-30,000W)
Ben’s Cookies: A tiny little window shop on the street that sells all types of freshly made, warm cookies (yes!). They have your standard chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, etc. and even some more exciting choices like their coconut cookie. It’s about 3,000W per cookie or a bag of 7 for 20,000W but it’s definitely worth the money if you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth after a nice meal.
Upon arriving in Korea you have to get a lot of things in order. Where should I get my hair cut? Where can I find the best makeup (everywhere and anywhere in Korea)? Where can I get a decent eyebrow wax or mani/pedi? Well allow me to help you with that last concern.
Coco Lounge: Coco is set on the opposite side of the road from the Hamilton Hotel; you leave the exit, walk down a bit away from the main road and take your first right. Then you follow this road down until you see Coco on your left (across from a GS convenience store). Coco is amazing, really. I was very nervous about getting my eyebrows done in Korea, but they take care of you and do excellent work.
Even my sister, who’s an aesthetician herself, couldn’t help but notice them. Everything is very clean and comfortable just like a spa back home and from what I’ve experienced there’s always an employee there that can speak English. They do pretty much anything you would want: waxing, manicures, pedicures, tanning and massages. They are reasonably priced and extremely professional. It’s a soothing atmosphere and the staff is so nice and accommodating, you’ll never go anywhere else. There usually isn’t a wait for eyebrows, but obviously that isn’t the case all of the time. I’d suggest for any other services calling ahead to make an appointment or just checking availability.
Expat bars in Korea are pretty standard, (typically if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all) but in Itaewon there are a few foreigner bars that I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy more than others.
Sin Bin: Located up the street from the Hamilton Hotel (opposite side of the road) on a side street. Sin Bin doesn’t look like much from its outward appearance but Mama always said it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The first floor of Sin Bin contains the bar, some TVs, darts, and pool, plenty of things to entertain yourself with should you stop in. But the best part of Sin Bin? The upstairs bar.
Once the weather gets nice you can go to the rooftop and enjoy the awesome view it has to offer while ordering your drinks from the seasonal bar they set up. It’s a pretty big area set up with picnic tables and depending on the night, beer pong as well. Overall it’s just a great time, a nice fun atmosphere, a great view, and strong drinks, is there anything else to want? (Prices: 7,000W-10,000W)
Sam Ryan’s: This is an Irish Bar (obviously) that’s in the same area behind the Hamilton Hotel as Prost and 9 Timo. It’s rowdy, crowded, and very fun. There’s always a rugby or soccer game playing on the TVs and the energy is always high. A great place to sit, have a beer, and just socialize with your friends or even strangers. On the weekends it’s typically crowded so once again, if this isn’t your scene you might want to reconsider. (Prices: 5,000W-7,000W)
If you live in Korea you know that you can buy anything anywhere and Itaewon is a prime example of this. Lining the streets in between the restaurants are hundreds of little shops that carry everything you can imagine. Clothes, handbags, hats, jewelry, custom made suits, complete leather outfits (for the Tobias Funke in you) etc. and directly outside of the shops, are carts with much of the same things.
One of the best parts of Itaewon are the cheap souvenirs for your family and friends back home. The carts are always carrying the “Gangnam Style” socks or I <3 Korea tees (which is what everyone I know got for Christmas) along with other more traditional gifts and postcards. There are even some fun inappropriate tee shirts (once again, for the 12 year old in you). Everything on the carts is fairly cheap, but the stores can range from cheap gift shops to more boutique-like expensive clothing. Regardless, if there’s something you need, you can find it in Itaewon and usually for very cheap.
For those of you who haven’t crossed over into the convenient albeit sad world of e-readers, I present an English bookshop nestled in the heart of Seoul with that amazing old book smell and some other surprises.
What the Book?: On the same side of the road of Vato’s (in between the subway stop and Vato’s itself) is What the Book? located on the second floor of it’s building. It’s an English bookshop that has thousands of new and used titles for you to peruse. As an English major my excitement upon entering was embarrassing.
They have the newest American bestsellers and all of the old classics that you’ve been meaning to read since high school. In addition they have English board games (Apples to Apples anyone?) and magazines (Cosmo, InStyle, Sports Illustrated, etc.) for you to get all of the hottest gossip you’ve been missing out on since moving to Korea to teach English. They also have various other items such as world maps, stickers, and my personal favorite, deodorant right next to the register (you laugh but it’s hard to come by in this country). The books are reasonably priced and it’s a great little store for the times you’re too broke to go out or The Walking Dead is over for the season.
Well that’s it, those are my most favorite spots in Itaewon, though I know there are definitely more places worth checking out. The beauty of Itaewon is that you find something new every time you venture in, so make sure you stop by and see exactly what this little area has to offer.
A recent graduate of University of Massachusetts Amherst, Kara Jameson has always loved traveling and being able to discover new and exciting things everyday. After living abroad in Greece, Kara decided it was time for her next adventure, this time even further from home. After being introduced to Aclipse, she knew exactly how she wanted to spend her post-graduate days before going back to school. Kara now lives in Incheon working for the Yeonsu branch of Chungdahm. The months have flown by and every day is another opportunity to learn something new about this vibrant and amazing culture! To learn more check out her blog on the Ning page!