Hongdae's Sophisticated Cousin
A stone's throw away from Hongdae lies Yeonnam-dong. It is a quiet, sleepy residential area that also houses a burgeoning restaurant, cafe, guesthouse, and independent shopping scene. Most of the restaurants and shops are non-franchise. At present, it strikes a perfect balance. Businesses have popped up, but they have been built in a way that maintains and even enhances the old-school character of Yeonnam-dong. Whether this will be the case in five years is irrelevant. At the moment, Yeonnam-dong may just be the best place to spend an afternoon or evening in Seoul.
Whereas Hongdae has a wilder, younger, and cheaper vibe, Yeonam-dong is its sophisticated cousin. Although restaurants and cafes have always been in the area, the newer businesses that have given Yeonam-dong this chic vibe, only arrived in the past two years. All the new businesses have something in common: they are not a franchise. There is also an international flavor to a lot of these businesses. They are owned by Koreans who lived abroad and brought what they learned back to Korea.
You could say Yeonam-dong’s coming out party occurred with the opening of the Gyeongui Line Forest Park (outside of Hongik University Station, Exit 3). This park is built around a path that runs all the way to Gajwa Station. There are seats and lawns throughout the park. In the summer, the park is filled with picnickers, a few local musicians, dogs, and conversation. In contrast to Hongdae Park, the vibe is classier and calmer. Restaurants, patios, and shops surround the park.
An old adage for restaurants is, "The smaller the menu, the better the restaurant." This applies to Tuk Tuk. Tuk Tuk is a Thai restaurant that has a very limited menu. Their main dish is a noodle beef soup. They also serve a Thai salad and spring rolls. Although the menu is limited, the food is of high quality, especially their beef soup. The interior is very spartan. The best seat in the house is the front lawn patio. Prices are very fair. They take a break from 3p.m. to 5 p.m. The restaurant does tend to get crowded so you may have to wait in line. If you want to avoid a line, try coming around opening time.
De La Casa is one of the best unknown Mexican restaurants in Seoul. The chef speaks Spanish fluently. The food is fresh and delicious. Seating is limited as the restaurant is quite small. This only adds to the experience (along with the great Spanish music). Prices are fair. There isn’t much to say. If you like good Mexican food, this should be your first option.
The French brought the concept of a sandwich to Vietnam. The Vietnamese suited it to their own tastes. Now a Korean has brought the Vietnamese sandwich to Seoul. They have four options: vegetarian (tofu), pork, chicken, and cold cuts. All four are 5,000 won. The ingredients are fresh and the baguettes are baked in-house. If you don’t like cilantro, tell him to take it out beforehand. The interior is very unique and interesting. Seoul in general lacks good sandwich places. If you are a fan of good sandwiches, this place is a must visit.
Yeonnam-dong has a high concentration of Chinese restaurants. A Chinese favorite is lamb kebobs. They essentially put lamb on a stick, and then you grill it yourself. It is a tasty snack. Wash it down with some Tsingtao and you’ll be on your way. This place has great service and great meat if you like lamb.
Although Hongdae has a number of galbi restaurants, most of them are overpriced and low quality. If you are heading out for a night of partying in Hongdae, you should think about coming here for some galbi first. The service is excellent and the meat is marinated well. The sides are fresh. If you’re looking for quality galbi that is priced fairly, then you can’t go wrong with Best Harvest Galbi. Actually, you can’t go wrong with any place that is called Best Harvest.
Coyote Saloon is one of the few franchises in Yeonam-dong. They have another, poorer location in Hongdae. The Yeonam-dong location has a great ambiance. Once again, seating is limited. Their specialty is a wood-burning pizza. All their pizzas are above-average, as are their prices. Even more surprising is their drink selection. They serve up a mean Godfather. This is a great place to start the night.
Ground H serves an all day brunch, along with burgers and sandwiches. The food is adequate. However, you don’t come here for their food. You come for their fresh juice. They have an extensive juice/smoothie menu which includes: Hangover Breaker (pineapple, orange, beet, wheatgrass, lemon, hovenia dulcis extract), Wheatgrass Bongbong (whitegrape, wheatgrass, kohlrabi, nutmeg), and Green Pine (pineapple, kale, apple, mint, lemon). This isn’t ‘Smoothie King’ or your random coffee shop smoothie. You can truly taste each and every ingredient. They are using a high-quality juicer. They also have a nice patio. Try to come before seven as they tend to close early.
Mellowa is a hidden gem. From Thursday to Sunday they have live music. From Thursday to Saturday it begins at 8 p.m. On Sunday it begins at 6 or 7 p.m. Depending on the night, they have jazz, indie, and instrumental artists. All artists are local. They do sing foreign songs and occasionally have a foreign artist. Mellowa has a great ambiance and the drinks are high quality (all foreign liquors). Since there is no cover fee, the drinks are a little pricey (a gin and tonic is 9,000 won). Like most places in Yeonnam-dong, the seating is limited. If you are in Yeonnam-dong to eat, you should head here for a night cap.
Yeonnam-dong also hosts one of the livelier salsa scenes in Seoul. They offer classes in Korean on Tuesdays from 8:00-9:00 and Sunday evenings. If you’re just looking to just dance, they host Salsa nights on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. They usually charge a small cover fee. The salsa scene is very underrated. Everyone who frequents Turn Salsa Bar is a salsa enthusiast and closely follows salsa etiquette. If you are a salsa enthusiast this should be your first stop.
The name is misleading. This is not a typical bookstore. All the books are published by small publishers. There are limited copies of each book. There are number of genres. The selection includes photo essays, comics, picture books, historical books, fiction, kids fiction, coloring books, abstract art essays, and more. The authors range from undergraduates to graduates to normal individuals. You will not find these books elsewhere in Seoul. They are truly unique and very affordable (we haven’t come across any books over 15,000 won). Next door to Books Pinocchio is a similar bookstore, but The Seoul Stop prefers Pinocchio and his nose.
On the weekends Yeonnam-dong hosts an excellent independent artisan market. The market is indoors and could be labeled as ‘hipster’ or ‘chic’. Goods include homemade perfume, handmade bags, handmade jewelry, handmade candles, handmade wallets, paintings, clothes, handmade food, and more goods…that just might be handmade. The market also hosts some performance art. The prices vary. You can find good deals, but you also have to pay for the quality goods. It is worth a visit.
Yeonnam-dong also has a smattering of art galleries scattered around its back streets. Most of the galleries have free admission.
Yeonam-dong along with Hongdae has also become the guest-house capital of Seoul. The beauty of the guest-houses in Yeonam-dong is that they’re located within a typical Seoul neighborhood.
Yeonnam-dong holds a number of guesthouses and hostels. The Seoul Stop cannot legitimately review each hostel or guesthouse, but we have listed a number of them on our map and have provided any known information.
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