1) Take a trip to Sanchon (산촌) in Insadong (인사동) for some wonderful temple-inspired vegetarian eats. Grab a seat on the floor and dig into 20+ fresh and naturally seasoned dishes. The experience alone is worth it - but be sure to bring your appetite.
#2) Stir fry some chicken (닭갈비), then make some bokkum bap (볶음밥) not because you're hungry but just because you can (and everybody else does it). If you have easy access to LA/NY, feel free to skip over the Korean fried chicken - while amazingly delicious in Korea, Kyochon in the US is just as yummy (the power of franchising!) - and opt for some tasty jjim dak (찜닭) or bul dak (불닭). Both pack enough spice to keep you glued to your water bottle (part of the six lbs will undoubtedly be water weight).
#3) Korean BBQ. This place in Apgujeong (압구정) is quite popular, but unfortunately I don't know what it's called (I know, I know, must work on this). Just look for a restaurant with a crowd and waiting list, packed somewhere within the "Rodeo Drive" area, and I'm sure you'll be on your way to some delicious (albeit a bit $$) BBQed beef. ^^;;
#4) Grab some cheap take-out from one of the 24/7 kimbap (김밥) stores with the bright orange signs, and have an indoor picnic!
#5) If you're feeling a bit more fancy, try some "Korean fusion" at Gaon (가온) in Apgujeong (located near all the other ambiance-first eateries around Dosan Park). MC and I personally thought it was over-rated and under-creative, but I'd give it another shot just because I enjoyed the modern, serene atmosphere - very opposite of what you'd normally find in a regular shikdang. Here's an excerpt from the Financial Times' "How to Spend It" (October) -
The Gaon is across the street from Gorilla [in the Kitchen] and serves a great contemporary take on traditional Korean dishes. Opt for a set menu and the kitchen will roll out dish upon dish of the freshest tasting Korean fare: pan-fried pumpkin and acorn jelly; steamed abalone; grilled pork in red pepper paste... And, of course, kimchi - not so much a national dish as a national treasure.
The Gaon may serve kimchi, but the presentation is anything but traditional. The restaurant, with its colourful linear acrylics and tightly stacked paper walls, has been designed by avant-garde architects Super Potato, also responsible for the Park Hyatt opposite the Co-Ex Centre in Gangnam-gu.
#6) For the food-curious at heart, bulgogi sandwiches, bulgogi flavored KFC, rice burgers, and other random finds off the street may be worth indulging in... well, not really, but it's just one of those things you have to experience for yourself to realize, "Eh. I could've lived without it but I guess it was fun."
#7) If you really want "fast food" as in burgers and fries, check out Kraze Burgers. MC placed it at a very respectable No. 2 on his "best casual dining burger joints" list, squeezed between the No. 1 ranked B.Good (Boston) and No. 3 Kua'aina (Hawaii).
#8) If you need a break from jjigaes and rice, why not try a Korean-made pizza? Loaded with all kinds of unimaginable crap, I mean toppings, it's every non-traditionalist's dream (and likely every Italian's nightmare). You might start off with Mr. Pizza (guys, don't be turned off by their "love for women" campaign) - just don't order the "Sweety Pizza" (pictured below) - it's definitely not their shining star. In fact, I think they should just take it off the menu.
#9) MC's a huge fan of omurice, so of course we made a special visit to Omuto Tomato. While not particularly fantabulous in the taste department, there are so many choices on the menu that you'll feel compelled to go back just to try them all! (According to MC.) A cream sauce selection is probably your best bet.
Part 2 coming up!