01. Jil’hal Bros
Talk about chicken and rice to any New Yorker and they can whip up stories of the famous Halal Guys cart on 53rd and 6th. I, myself, can tell you how after four years of living in Seoul, the first place I visited as soon as I dropped off my bags was 53rd and 6th. The cart is not just food, but a legend amongst the millions of people who visit there – including Woosik John Kim, who once studied in upstate New York. “When people go abroad, they talk about how they want this and that in Korea. Chicken and rice was one of those infamous dishes.” After having scoured every corner of the city for even close knock-offs, I didn’t let myself get my hopes up when headed to Jil’hal Bros in Chungdam-dong. At the small yellow-colored restaurant, my combination platter equated to slices of grilled cuts of spiced chicken and lamb over turmeric yellow rice and a bed of lettuce and tomatoes topped with its signature white sauce and red sauce. The white sauce is normally concocted with variations of Greek yogurt, miracle whip and mayo while the red sauce has variations of chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, cumin and olive oil – with Woosik’s particular recipe being secret. Unlike its New York muse, the dish isn’t Halal certified, doesn’t drip with oil and the spices (cumin and chili pepper) are nowhere as strong. Yet, dinnertime fills with expats and Koreans (lots of Korean-Americans) alike wolfing down one plate, and taking one to go. One preppy looking twentys-something (possibly former study-abroad student) next to us tells his friend “I came here yesterday, too” and someone else comments “it’s finally here!” I give Woosik my real opinion. “It’s almost as good.” And even though that word “almost” can be offensive, we both understand cumin’s an acquired taste for most locals and the spices doubly difficult to come by. Magical’s a word I use sparingly but I gotta give it to Woosik, he’s pretty much made something out of nothing. So when I say “almost as good,” I really mean that it’s pretty damn magical.
Venue name: Jil’hal Bros
Address: 32, Apgujeong-ro 79-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Opening hours: 02-542-1422
Transport: Cheongdam Station (Line 7), exit 10
Price: Combination platter 7,000 won
When pitted against other Arabic restaurants in Itaewon, Petra has consistently come up on top. Jordanian owner Yaser Ghanayem stresses that Petra's dishes hail from Levant, near the East Mediterranean on the Arabian Peninsula. The falafel, hummus and smf tabouli all get the thumbs up here when it comes to authenticity. The tabouli salad, consisting of parsley, tomato, onion, couscous, lemon juice, olive oil, and the eight-piece falafel are the restaurant’s best sellers. However, our personal favorite is the lamb rib. The halal lamb steak is a perfect combination of gaminess and charcoal, and the meat is tender to the bite. It has even the harshest of critics, young children, fawning over its taste. Petra's integrity lies in the ingredients that it uses. The halal meat here is imported from Australia, while the basmati rice and other ingredients are sent to Yaser every two months by his father who resides in Jordan. It’s no wonder His Highness General Sheikh Mohamed, while on his visit to Korea, ordered from Petra for three consecutive days.
Venue name: Petra
Address: 33, Noksapyung-daero 40gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Opening hours: Sun–Fri 11am–10pm, Sat 10:30am–10pm
Transport: Noksapyeong Station (Line 6), exit 2
Price: Taboly Salad 7,000 won, Falafel 11,000 won, Lamb Sirloin Steak Kebab 22,000 won
03. Vertex Chicken
When you hear that an amazing new teriyaki chicken place has just opened, you go expecting something more than… a smoky kitchen with a few plastic tables on a side street in Haebangchon. It’s not very aesthetically pleasing. You can’t blame them though because they’re mostly a delivery and pick-up service that caters to businessmen and large companies. It wasn’t until recently that their delicious taste started to make its way to major social networks. Steven Kim’s really confident (borderline cocky) about the food. In their first month, they guaranteed that if you liked their Facebook page, you could get a dish for free. The menu’s simple, it’s chicken or shrimp available in two sizes with either the pepper sauce or the teriyaki sauce and a side of slightly stir-fried vegetables. “Free? Are you sure?” I ask, feeling bad but Steven’s firm response of: “Try it once and I’m sure you’ll be back.” Defiantly, I take a bite… and it is the most delicious teriyaki chicken I’ve ever had in Seoul. The meat (the chicken’s surprisingly Halal) is cooked first with a slight char around the edges giving it an accent of smokiness and then the savory Teriyaki or pepper (a spiced up Teriyaki) sauce is poured on afterwards. Steven’s particular recipe avoids the two pitfalls that make for poor Teriyaki—tough meat and greasiness. Both the chicken and the shrimp are tender and juicy. Also, who knew that Teriyaki sauce could somehow feel light without sacrificing the taste? It’s free delivery to anything located in Haebongchon, Itaewon or Gyeongridan, but feel free to go for a sit-down meal. The permitted attire’s not actually “dressy,” as their Facebook page would suggest, but Steven’s not joking about one thing—the food will definitely have you coming back for more.
Venue name: Vertex Chicken
Address: 62 Sinheung-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Opening hours: Mon¬–Fri 11am-8pm, Sat–Sun 11am-5pm.
Transport: Noksapyeong Station (line 6), exit 2
Price: Chicken platter 7,700 won
04. Salam Bakery
Though originally located on Usandanro, this beloved bakery moved closer to Itaewon Station this past year. Best known for their Turkish sweets made with halal ingredients, most customers come in search of the baklava. Their baguettes, however, are almost as popular and supply some of Itaewon’s most established restaurants (including Casablanca Sandwicherie). For a dessert on the nuttier side, try Salam’s warbat loz—a thin, crispy baked good made with phyllo (unleaved dough) crust and filled with sweet honey inside.
Venue name: Salam Bakery
Address : Bokwang-ro 60 gil 22, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Opening hours : 10am–10:30pm
Price: Warbat loz 2,500 won.