Despite my preference for makguksu, I’m not gonna lie and tell you it’s the quintessential summer dish in Korea. That title belongs to naengmyeon, or more specifically Pyongyang-style naengmyeon. Where do you get the best one? A pretty strong consensus shows these five iconic places do a righteous bowl of chilled buckwheat noodles. Not only have they been in business for decades, but they also draw long lines from people who expect only the best.
Here is my two cents about each place.
📍 WOORAEOK 우래. Rich, flavorful, beefy broth. No need for extra seasoning (ie. spicy mustard and vinegar). Noods are on the chewy side but not annoyingly chewy. Nice ratio of noods to julienned radish and baek kimchi and meat. Deceptively large and filling. Attentive service. Spacious, clean, and classy. Expect wait times during peak hours. Bulgogi is exceptional as well, ideal for larger groups for sharing. Perfect place to treat special guests, especially people who’ve never experienced Pyongyang-style naengmyeon before. Open for over 70 years.
Address: Jugyo-dong 118-1, Jung-gu, Seoul | 서울 중구 주교동 118-1 | 02-2265-0151 | Open every day 11:30 am ~ 9:30 pm except Mondays
📍 EULMILDAE 을밀대. Waited an hour in the scorching heat, ate too quickly and got brain freeze from the icy broth. Thicker noods. Slightly starchy. Great texture with noticeable flecks of buckwheat(?) Not enough meat. Must-order bindaetteok (aka nokdu jeon) for solo dinners; suyuk (boiled beef) for groups. Excellent old-school vibe but terribly busy with long wait times. Bring an umbrella. Would visit regularly if I lived in the vicinity. Located down the street of Sogang University, my old workplace. Open for over 40 years.
Address: Yeomri-dong 147-6, Mapo-gu, Seoul | 서울 마포구 염리동 147-6 | 02-717-1922 | Open every day 11:00 am ~ 10:00 pm
📍 NAMPO MYEONOK 남포면옥. Refined broth. Equally beefy and tart/sour from house-made dongchimi (radish water kimchi). Springy noods with some bite. The bibim (spicy mix) and mul (broth) are equally delicious. Go with another noodle lover and swap bowls as you can the best of both. Date stamped traditional pots containing dongchimi is pretty cool. Don’t order bindaetteok. Mealy, lifeless. Beautifully decorated hanok interior. Spacious. Clean. Great service. Minimal wait time but does draw a crowd during peak hours. Love the newly constructed brick building in the back alley of Jongro. Open for over 40 years.
Address: Dadong 125, Jung-gu, Seoul | 서울 중구 다동 125 | 02-777-3131 | Open every day 11:00 am ~ 9:00 pm
📍 PYONGYANG MYEONOK 평양면옥. Mellow broth with little to no taste. Noods were soft with pronounced buckwheat flavor. Much preferred the bibim (spicy mix) over the mul (broth), as did my local guest. The broth had similar flavor profiles as Eulji Myeonok, which is considered the most authentic style. Machine on display showing they grind buckwheat in-house. Patrons consist mainly of senior citizens, which is a good sign. Spacious and clean but pretty drab interior. Service was fast and efficient without being rushed. Minimal wait time even during peak hours. Open for over 60 years.
Address: Jangchung-dong 1ga 13, Jung-gu, Seoul |서울 중구 장충동1가 13 | 02-2267-7784 | Open every day 11:00 am ~ 9:00 pm
📍 EULJI MYEONOK 을지면옥. Beef and pork broth with a complex and unforgiving aftertaste. Visible fatty oil shimmers on top. Cold but not chilled broth. Noods were annoyingly thin. Slightly rude staff who didn’t look happy working there. Least favorite among the five. Like walking through a naengmyeon museum when entering through the main hall. Never seen so many happy elders. What do I know? Word is that the area will be set for demolition due to renovation projects. A worthwhile visit to a place considered to be the top Pyongyang naengmyeon restaurant in Seoul. Open for over 30 years.
Address: Ipjeong-dong 161, Jung-gu, Seoul | 서울 중구 입정동 161 | 02-2266-7052 | Open every day 11:00 am ~ 9:00 pm except Sundays