The Pancake Epidemic
The Pancake Epidemic Seoul is a fusion of creative agencies based in Los Angeles. They’ve joined hands with Kasina (a Korean Fashion Distributor) and Stumptown Coffee, an extremely popular roaster that started in Portland and roasts in Seattle and LA as well. The café/restaurant, boasting an industrial minimalist vibe, is situated on the second floor above the their clothing store.
Even with a recent scaling-down of their menu due to supplier issues with their American franchise, the flapjacks served up at The Pancake Epidemic are arguably the best in Korea. Perhaps even a bigger draw is the fact that they serve Stumptown Coffee, a favorite among coffee connoisseurs and brew snobs. They have their in house cold brew available as well.
UJ Recommends: Like most people, we can’t resist Nutella, and these will satisfy even the sweetest of the sweet toothed. However, we recommend the original stack, 3 fluffy pancakes drowned in maple syrup with a huge dollop of creamy butter proudly perched on top. They might even be worth double the price for a weekend warrior with a serious craving. We at UJ have come across our fair share of crappy brunches and shite coffee in our travels, but you won’t find either of those at The Pancake Epidemic.
Where: Apgujeong Rodeo Station Exit 5, 42, Apgujeong-ro 46-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Social media: IG: @tpe_seoul
Hours: daily 10:30am – 10pm
Price: pancake stacks from 6,500 won
The Libertine Bar & Kitchen
Hit up Itaewon on a Saturday night and you might find yourself in a warzone of cultural diversity mixed with rampant public drunkenness. There are, however, many hidden gems populating its’ alleys and outskirts. Just a short stroll away from the madness, you might come across The Libertine Bar & Kitchen. Dressed in a décor that screams Old New York, The Libertine is spacious and sleek with a general mood that always feels like a special occasion. They’re also equipped with a very nice bar and ample seating if you are merely in the mood for a cocktail, which are splendid by the way. The LBK Lemonade or an expertly made Bloody Mary might be the perfect catalyst for a relaxing afternoon, or if you need something hard yet refined, grab a cocktail made with their lemongrass infused gin. The service is on point, albeit a bit slow during their busier hours. Regardless, The Libertine is a great place to treat yourself and escape the hustle and bustle of Seoul.
UJ Recommends: Their assortment of traditional brunch items is where it’s at, from Eggs Benedict (with bacon made in-house and legit hollandaise) to Spinach Florentine. Those coming later in the day should try their Jeju organic free-range roast chicken, an item you surely can’t find anywhere else than The Libertine.
Where: Itaewon Station exit 3, 112-3, Bogwang-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: Tue-Sun 11:30am–3:30pm, 6pm–10pm
Price: around 16,000 won per dish
This fine establishment is the place to go if you think brunch is more than just a meal. There’s something about the place that just has flare, from the décor to the food, but without trying too hard. Situated inside is a spacious and attractive bar, surrounded by quirky and cool urban graffiti chic lining the walls, with comedic rewards for the keen eye. They’ve got a beautiful patio for the warmer months as well, equipped with heaters for chilly days. But the real star here is the food, even if the place is only open for brunch on the weekend.
The mac and cheese is a deceptively good dish, coming out in a cast-iron pot with perfect consistency. Aged cheddar, bits of pulled pork mixed throughout, truffle oil…it’s savory and at the same time has some bite to it. Highly recommended. If mac and cheese is too “lunchy” for you, fear not. You might need water wings for this one, because the Bourbon French Toast with caramelized bananas and homemade bacon maple syrup will have you drowning in flavor. Speaking of flavor, did we mention the scrambled eggs are cooked with truffle oil? They are surprisingly fluffy and simply delicious. Get the Duck Prosciutto & Scrambled Eggs if you don’t believe us.
UJ Tip: If you can’t decide on a singular dish, opt for the Brunch Platter, which will cover the entire gamut of flavors with eggs and bacon, biscuits and sausage gravy, plus pancakes and blueberry cream. The diet starts tomorrow. Today, we opt for Guilty Pleasures.
Where: Itaewon Station Exit 4, 1F, 2-10 Itaewon-ro 20-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 6pm – midnight, Weekend brunch hours Saturday Sunday noon - 3:30pm
Price: brunch dishes around 12,000 -17,000 won
Guilty Pleasure on Facebook
The Baker’s Table
The Baker’s Table is a hybrid German bakery that doubles as a café and restaurant, serving up a wide arrange of brunch items and savory sandwiches. The bakery has an impressive selection of bread, from homemade sourdough to focaccia, including German pastries and butter cake for those with a sweet tooth. They’ve also got a wide array of deli sides for you to take home, including hummus, cilantro pesto, jams and homemade muesli.
If you plan on dining in for brunch, make sure you arrive before the breakfast menu closes at 1pm. We recommend the Maffioso (focaccia with ham, cheese and a balsamic-olive oil dip). If you’re a late riser, they still have a long list of paninis and sandwiches to choose from, and in true German fashion they even serve schnitzel and curry wurst. The Baker’s Table boasts an impressive beer selection for a bakery/café, with Bitburger and Smithwick’s Irish Ale on tap, plus a half dozen bottled beers from Maisels Weize to Indica IPA. We were coming off a rough night that ended with a trip to the noraebang, so we opted for the iced ginger honey lemon tea, which soothed our sore throat had a nice bittersweet kick to it.
UJ Tip: This place fills up on weekends, so be prepared to wait during lunch rush. The seating is also limited, so we wouldn’t recommend coming here with a party of more than 4 people.
Where: Noksapyeong Station Exit 2, 244-1, Noksapyeong-daero Yongsan-gu Seoul 140-861
Hours: daily 8am – 9pm
Price: breakfast and sandwiches around 6,000 – 10,000 won
Find The Bakers Table on Facebook
The Royal Food & Drink
Brunch is meal meant to be shared with friends while shaking off the questionable decisions of the previous night. Chances are your willpower waned at some point, whether it was it was that extra IPA or a 4am stop at Taco Bell (shame on you). Luckily, at The Royal Food & Drink you can indulge yourself a bit without the attached guilt of a 48-hour cheat day. The vibe is always laid back and friendly here, and the ingredients are so fresh and so green! Try the Green Breakfast, a healthy plate stacked with spinach, avocado, mushroom, tomatoes, a fried egg and a few slices of “where the hell did they get this bread” toast.
Let’s not forget the drinks, because like their all-day brunch, owners Patrick and Bomi really know what they’re doing. If hair of the dog is your kinda thing, they make a mean Irish coffee and a very on-point Bloody Mary. If you had a really rough night and swore off drinking for the foreseeable future, The Royal also has some interesting smoothies, like the banana beet (better than it sounds) or pineapple cinnamon. Best of all, brunch here with a couple drinks won’t break your bank. If you find yourself at the top of the hill in HBC with an empty belly, The Royal Food & Drink will hit the spot.
UJ Recommends: Another favorite of ours is the Guacamole Breakfast, a bagel piled high (like, Snoop Dogg level high) with guacamole, bacon, tomato and a fried egg. They seem to share our opinion that you can never have enough avocado.
Where: Haebangcheon Ogori, 37 Sinheung-ro 20-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Social media; FB @theroyalfad
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 9am - midnight
Price: brunch from 10,000 won
Flying Pan Blue
This cozy little Western eatery has been around Itaewon for a hot minute. Unlike many restaurants that have an initial surge of popularity and then die down (often because stellar cooks get recruited and stolen from more reputable spots, or cost-cutting measures leads to lower quality ingredients), Flying Pan Blue remains a favorite brunch spot with perhaps the freshest ingredients in town. Perhaps a little too popular. If you’re dining on the weekend, expect to wait upwards of an hour to get seated. At least you can give them your cell number and peruse the area until your table is ready.
The interior may come off as a bit ‘girly’, but fellas don’t let that deter you from eating here. Their menu opens up after 5pm to include some pasta dishes and others, but the real star here is the all-day brunch. We’ve heard a few complaints about the eggs benedict not being legit (improperly poached eggs), but that may have been an isolated incident as they were definitely up to par on our visit. Other favorites include the French toast and the “Itaewon Breakfast” with fried eggs and bacon, grilled tomato, spinach and hummus. They’ve also got well-made salads if you’re trying to eat light. With other long-time Itaewon brunch favorites such as Suji’s closing their doors recently, Flying Pan Blue isn’t going anywhere and is still worth the wait.
UJ Recommends: There are too many good dishes here to put one up on a pedestal, but we recommend changing things up and trying something new to drink. Their Canadian Maple Latte is treat worthy of our brothers to up north. Just give it a try, eh?
Where: Itaewon, 123-7 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Hours: 10:30am – 10pm (11pm Fri – Sat)
Price: meals around 15,000 / drinks 6-7,000
Queens Park is the place to see and be seen if you are south of the river and need a late brunch that will be worth the price. It’s run by Paris Croissant (one of Korea’s bakery giants) and offers an upscale bakery section with a gorgeous dining area reminiscent of something you would see in London, complete with high ceilings, sheik design and a wonderful terrace if you can manage to grab a table. Go ahead and sleep in because they serve brunch until 5:30pm. Many brunch spots in the Gangnam area don’t live up to hype in terms of food; you’re essentially paying for the privilege of being surrounded by Seoul’s elite. Queens Park is also good under the hood, with their brunch menu including a solid spread of waffles, French toast, pancakes and more (stay away from the British breakfast…someone please tell them French fries aren’t a breakfast staple in the UK). We tip our hat to the American pancakes with seasonal fresh fruit, complete with fresh cream, fruit compote and maple syrup. Unfortunately, there is no Bloody Mary on the menu, which might be a deal breaker if you are a brunch elitist. They do have beer, though.
UJ Likes: The atmosphere alone is worth the visit, and we really like the attached bakery. Make sure to grab one of their fresh muffins on your way out if you still have room.
Where: Cheongdam, 22, Apgujeong-ro 60-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Hours: 10am – 11pm (closed on holidays)
Price: blueberry pancakes 21,000 won
There are breakfast atrocities being committed all over the city. Overpriced American breakfast with poorly cooked eggs and bacon that can barely pass itself off as ham. Stacks of pancakes that would be better off used as Frisbees. Syrup so overly-processed you’d think the Maple tree had gone extinct. Well, prepare to stand up and salute because Uncle Sam’s is making breakfast great again. We definitely won’t call it the best brunch food in the city, but it is consistently good and not over-priced like many spots in Seoul. They use real maple syrup and don’t charge you extra for it (shots fired at the Original Pancake House). Uncle Sam is clearly a morning person, because they open at 7am, a few hours before most restaurants in the city. If you manage to get there before 10:30am you can order the breakfast set for only 8,000 won, which includes 2 big pancakes, 2 pieces of bacon, 1 sausage, 1 fried egg and your choice of coffee or orange juice. Two thumbs up, one for taste and another for value. For a few dollars more they’ve got bigger sets that include everything from chicken and waffles to omelets and fried potatoes. Try the Nutella waffle if you need something sweet to end your breakfast on. That said, Uncle Sam’s is more of a straight up breakfast spot as opposed to brunch, seeing as their entire menu is breakfast fare and they don’t serve cocktails. Still, it may be the best bang for your buck if you are looking for quality American breakfast food.
UJ Recommends: Coming hungry and ordering big! Our personal favorite was probably the chicken and waffles, with some extra bacon on the side (because we all know brunch isn’t brunch if bacon isn’t involved).
Where: Kyungridan – Noksapyeong Station exit 2, 47 Hoenamu-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Social media: IG: @unclesamspancake
Hours: weekdays 7am – 3:30pm, weekends 7am – 6:30pm
Price: breakfast from 8,000 won
The Original Pancake House
If you’re the type who favors a Sunday trip to IHOP to eat away that hangover, then The Original Pancake House might press the right buttons for you. The portion sizes are absolutely huge, enough to justify the fairly hefty price tag. They offer traditional American brunch fare with a large menu and plenty of variations of omelets and pancakes, and are one of the only places around town that does chicken and waffles. They may or may not be running a chicken sweatshop in the basement to pump out the amount of eggs needed to make their omelets. Seriously, they are HUGE. And all the non-pancake dishes come with a stack on the side, so bottom line: you ain’t leaving this place hungry. It’s got a cute 50s retro diner feel to the interior, and the service is friendly and quick. Throw in a bottomless Americano for 4 bucks and your hangover will be gone faster than you can say “I can actually hear myself getting fatter”. Gluttony aside, if you have an American-sized hunger and want some American-sized portions of Americanized brunch food, The OG Pancake House is a solid choice.
UJ Likes: The giant portions are always a bonus, but we really like the old-school diner atmosphere. It's well done and for some reason it just makes the meal better.
What: Brunch / Classic Diner
Where: Itaewon Station Exit 1, 153 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-Gu, Seoul
Hours: Monday – Thursday 8am – 10pm, Friday – Sunday 8am - midnight
Price: around 15,000 won per plate
If you are wandering around Itaewon looking for a place to eat and come across Cote Jardin, it will surely catch your eye. The charming entrance leads to an outdoor terrace that is something to marvel at; it feels like you’ve been transported out of the busy city and into classic French cinema. There’s a giant tree hanging over the courtyard, gently swaying in the breeze as you sip on a glass of wine. It brings a calming, therapeutic element to the meal that seems to help you forget, if only for a few moments, that you are smack dab in the middle of a city with 20+ million people. The renovated three-story house in the back just adds to the charm. The peculiar thing is their reservation policy. Often times the terrace is quite empty, but only a table or two available with the rest being reserved. With any luck you’ll be able to walk in a get a good spot outside.
Onto the food. Full disclosure, around the time they opened in 2015 we heard whispers about the food being less than stellar, most notably that the poached eggs were often served cold. We’ve also heard several rave reviews since then, and therefore decided to get the low down for ourselves. We’re happy to report that the Oeuf Benedict avec Saumon et Asperge met our expectations, with both the poached eggs and salmon being spot on. They might also have the best crouque Monsieur in Seoul. Many of their brunch items fall under 15,000 won, which is surprising considering the location and environment. All in all, it’s worth it just to sit in their garden and sip wine, but we also think you’ll enjoy the brunch (which is served until 5pm, by the way).
UJ Recommends: Come here on a day when the weather is just begging for you to get outside. There’s nothing quite like having a slow meal with good friends on a crisp early autumn day in this kind of atmosphere.
Where: Itaewon Station exit 3, 120, Bogwang-ro Yongsan-gu Seoul
Hours: Brunch served until 5pm
Price: brunch items from 13,000 won
There are plenty of legit breakfast and brunch options around Itaewon, but find yourself hungry and hung over in Hongdae and your choices are limited. Thankfully there is Travel Maker, serving up delicious yet unpretentious stacks of pancakes, hash browns, waffles, eggs, sausage and breakfast burritos at prices you just won’t find in other parts of the city. It’s tucked away on a quiet street in Hongdae, nowhere close to the University playground and trendy club area that makes Hongdae the most popular choice for expats and Korean college students to party. Travel Maker can be found outside of Hongik Station exit 3, an increasingly popular area with backpackers, as several hostels have opened up nearby and the selection of cafes and restaurants is steadily growing alongside a very chill-worthy park. If you are traveling through, it’s a solid area to set up camp while you explore the city. If you aren’t quite ready to try standard Korean breakfast fare (rice, kimchi and seaweed soup, anyone?), Travel Maker will keep you company in the meantime. They open earlier than most places, have very affordable meals (many under 10,000 won), and most importantly the food is on point. As an added bonus, they live-streamed the NBA Finals during our visit. You definitely won’t feel homesick here.
UJ tip: Their coffee is straight up brewed off the pot (and bottomless with a meal), so if you need a latte with your meal just get take out and bring it in with you. After your meal, if you fancy hanging in the park with a beer, you’re in luck. The best bottle shop in Korea is just a couple buildings down from Travel Maker.
What: American Breakfast
Where: Hongdae – Hongik University Station Exit 3, 37, Yanghwa-ro 21-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Hours: 7am – 11pm
Social media: IG: @cafetravelmaker
Visit Travel Maker on Facebook
That guy Bill knows how to scramble an egg. After wild success with their restaurants in Sydney, Bills has opened up locations in London, Hawaii, and now multiple spots in Japan and Korea. In Seoul, you can visit Bills at Lotte World in Jamsil or Gwanghwamun. They open early and we recommend getting there early if you can. The breakfast/brunch menu shuts down at 11am, and by that time there is usually a queue to get a table.
Worth the wait is an understatement. It may seem sacrilegious to pay upwards of 20 bucks for flapjacks, but the ricotta pancakes with banana and honeycomb butter have a ‘died and gone to heaven’ quality to them. Another popular choice is the full Aussie, a breakfast platter starring Bills famous scrambled eggs, with a supporting cast of bacon, sourdough toast, miso mushrooms, cumin roast tomato and pork and fennel sausage (21,000 won).
UJ Likes: The scrambled eggs are really something special: smooth, creamy and they just look perfect. Maybe it’s because they use free-range organic eggs, but we’re pretty sure Bill has some other secrets he’s withholding to make them so damn good. So. Damn. Good.
Where: Gwanghwamun Station exit 4, 17, Jong-ro 3-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03155
Price: Ricotta pancakes 19,800 won.
Visit Bills on Facebook
Social media: IG @billsgwanghwamun
Coffee Libre is an independent coffee shop with a simple concept and dedication to quality. They began in a small hole-in-the-wall in Yeonnam-dong in 2012, and have since expanded to several other locations around the city. You could call them coffee purists; you won’t find any frappuccinos or sugary concoctions on their menu. Choose between espresso, Americano, café late, or brewed coffee (all of which are 4,000 won) from various single-origin bean sources, which they purchase from coffee plantations around the world. The shop is run by Korea’s first licensed Q-Grader, Seo Pil-hoon. If you really want experience the unique characteristics of their coffee beans, order a coffee brewed by AeroPress, their preferred method. The slow-pressured extraction gives you a rich cup of coffee without the bitterness present through other methods. One member of our UJ team has an AeroPress at home and he swears by it. Try a cup and if you’re impressed, take home a bag of their specialty beans for as cheap as 15,000 won.
UJ Likes: We like how they stick to the basics and keep their menu simple. Quality coffee is the focus and they always deliver.
Where: Hongik University Station exit 3, 198 Seongmisan-ro Mapo-gu Seoul 121-865
Hours: 12pm – 9pm, closed Monday
Price: coffee 4,000 won
Coffee Libre's website
Sometimes when you are in the world’s most wired city, you need to unplug and get away from it all. It’s not always that easy, and sometimes a bit of escapism will have to do. The thought of going camping usually sounds great, but for a Seoulite, its definitely more trouble than it’s worth. Hanok Terrace will give you the illusion of camping, with beer in place of s’mores and wifi in place of mosquitos. Fair trade by our standards.
They’ve got a nice little indoor section of the café, but the real draw is the huge wooden outdoor deck, surround by a wooden fence and trees hanging over the entrance, covering the outside street and making you forget for a moment that you’re in the middle of the city. The café itself is modeled after a hanok (traditional Korean home), giving it a nice touch. The deck has seating for about two dozen, with Coleman camping chairs and tables scattered about to add to the camping feel, and a few wooden picnic tables as well, topped with cute gas lamps to further the effect. Even better is the huge two-room tent set up along the exterior, with room inside to seat another 8-10 people. The whole concept is fantastically executed, evidenced by a steady stream of selfies taken from various angles by the female patrons. It’s also pet-friendly!
In terms of beverages, they’ve got your standard coffees and teas on the menu, along with about a half dozen really good smoothies served in giant mason jars. If a nightcap is more your thing, they’ve got a decent selection of bottled beer as well, including Blue Moon.
UJ Likes: The atmosphere is the real draw here. Hanok Terrace is a great place to “escape” city life for a few hours, especially in the perfect late spring and early fall weather.
What: Outdoor Cafe
Where: Bomun Station exit 4, Seongbuk-Gu, Dongseon-dong 2-ga, 54-1
Hours: open daily until 11pm
Price: coffee and beer 4,000 – 7,000 won
Thesis is smack dab in the middle of Gangnam’s coffee district, yet finds a way to separate itself from others through its variety of brewing methods and brilliant fusion of legit coffee with dessert drinks. Their brewing station in the center of the café allows you to choose your preferred method, whether it be Aeropress, hand-drip, Chemex or Cold Brew. The atmosphere is dark and cozy, with different sections of the café giving off different yet similar vibes. It’s a great choice for an after dinner coffee.
What we recommend: The Tiramisu latte is in a class all by itself. Most novelty coffee drinks in Korea are straight up sugar bombs, but the Tiramisu latte is the perfect blend of light and creamy with a mild sweetness to it. They brew it through a French press and use actual mascarpone cheese mixed with the milk and then dust it with a thick layer of cocoa powder. We haven’t come across anything quite like this outside of Thesis.
What: Café & Roastary
Where: Gangnam, Gangnam-gu, Gangnam Dae-ro 102-gil 32, Seoul
Hours: 11am – 11pm
Price: Tiramisu Latte 6,500 won
Visit Inspiring Coffee's website
SOCIAL MEDIA: IG @thesiscoffee
Alver Coffee & More
Like many places in Gangnam, Alver Coffee is a place to see and be seen. This big, beautiful three-story café is located in the heart of Gangnam and often holds art exhibitions or flea markets on the basement floor. The third floor is quite spacious and has ample seating, although it still may be hard to find a good seat on the weekends, as many Seoulites spend hours here studying, chatting and lounging away their afternoon. The coffee is just decent but they have a nice selection of baked goods and treats to compliment your drink order. It’s a really good spot for a date or to simply rest and recharge after shopping and eating your way through Gangnam.
What we like: We like the “& More!” This place feels like more than just a coffee shop with the various events they put on downstairs. It seems to create a sense of community despite its location in the extremely commercial district of Gangnam. Kudos to Alver for that.
What: Café and art space
Where; Gangnam Station exit 11, 34, Gangnam-daero 102-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Social medai: IG @alver_coffee
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11:30am – 11pm / Friday – Saturday 11:30am – 3am
Price: coffee and drinks from 6,000 won
In a city starving for elbowroom, Anthracite sets themselves apart with their giant space located on Hongdae’s south side. The building is a refurbished shoe factory that still contains aesthetic elements of its industrial past, from the spacious rooms and high ceilings to exposed cinder block and even a conveyer belt converted into a coffee bar. The coffee itself is also on point. They roast and sell their beans in house, and actually grind up your cup’s beans on the spot when you order them, resulting in the freshest possible cup. An impressive selection of beans also means you can choose a roast that fits your taste, from dark and nutty to light and lemony. Their bakery is also special, serving up desserts that you won’t find in your average shop in Seoul. At Anthracite, their goal is for you to appreciate their coffee rather than just enjoy it.
What we like: We appreciate just about everything this place has to offer. The space, the little details, the variety of beans, and the unique desserts all collectively make Anthracite one of our favorites.
Where: Sangsu Station exit 4
10, Tojeong-ro 5-gil 10Mapo-gu Seoul 121-883
Hours: Daily 11am–11pm
Price: drinks from 7,000 won
Visit Antracite Coffee's website
Anthracite Coffee Roaster on Facebook
18: Kaffee Klatsch
Most Universities in Korea are surrounded by cafes, and many can get by with less than stellar coffee if the atmosphere is comfortable enough to draw in students cramming for exams. Kaffee Klatsch is the one café near Sungshin Women’s University that will impress even the snobbiest of coffee connoisseurs. They roast and sell their own beans, which often give off that heavenly scent as you walk through the door. The coffee is just fantastic and all the latte drinkers out there will marvel at their Instagram-worthy latte art, which is only possible when the milk is properly steamed. You’d be surprised how many cafes in Seoul just don’t have the skills to pull off a proper latte. Klatsch offers discounts for take-out orders, but it’s worth it to hang out and drink slowly as the mix of smooth jazz and French music plays in the background. This café holds a special place in our hearts, as many of the entries for UJ Seoul were written here!
UJ tip: If you’re feeling a bit peckish after your coffee, head down to the basement next door and have a bite at Mun Hwa Bistro, another UJ favorite.
What: Roastery Café
Where: Sungshin Women’s University Front Gate
Seongbuk-gu, Bomun-ro 30 Na-gil 37, Seoul
Hours: Monday – Saturday 9am – 9pm
Price: Coffee from 3,000 won
SOCIAL MEDIA: IG @kaffee_klatsch
Garosugil in Gangnam might be Korea’s coffee mecca, as its popularity as a hangout for Korean hipsters brought with it a slew of talented baristas and roasters eager for their specialty brews to stand out above the rest. Ikovox coffee roasts its own beans and sells a very decent espresso. Their pours are strong and rich, much like their small but solid selection of desserts. Treat yourself to one of their brownies to counterbalance that strong and bitter brew. They may not top the list of best cuppa in the city, but Ikovox is definitely not an imposter.
UJ tip: If you are north of the river you can pop into their 2nd location in Itaewon.
Gangnam-gu, Apgujung-ro 10-gil 37, Seoul
Hours: 10am – 2am
Price: 5,000 won
Takeout Drawing is for the artsy-fartsy at heart, offering a rotating interior display of art exhibitions from local artists and drinks that are just as unique and creative. The space itself is quite minimalistic and bare, expect for the artists’ pieces on display. Their menu is cleverly printed on a newspaper that doubles as a quarterly newsletter, offering articles and tidbits about what’s happening around their four locations in Seoul along with quirky and poetic descriptions of their menu items. When it comes to the drinks, expect to pay a little extra for that artistic touch. A customer favorite is Paul’s Meringue Factory, a latte piled high with spikes of house-made meringue. The Storming Ant has organic black sesame foam towering high above the rim and the Iceberg Macchiato has a Titanic-inspired mountain of ice milk protruding from a sea of espresso.
UJ Likes: The creativity of everything here is fantastic, from the menu to each of the specialty drinks. If you are in a particularly whimsical mood, try the ã…‹ã…‹-presso (basic translation is LOL-Coffee) and leave your order up to the barista, who will add a quirky touch that is different each time and varies based on their mood.
What: Art café
Where: Hangangjin Station exit 2
Itaewon-ro 252-gil Yongsan-gu Seoul 140-892
Hours: 11am – 11pm
Price: 10,000 won
Visit Take Out Drawing's website
Dutch & Bean
Good things happen to good people. Lee Ju-seong, founder of Dutch & Bean cafes, is proof that with the right combination of attitude, passion and hard work, it really is possible to compete with the big boys. Dutch & Bean first opened its doors in 2012 with a modest shop nearby Bucheon University, a satellite city of Seoul. The dream began with Ju-seong roasting and distributing his own beans and serving the best coffee in the area. He was one of the first baristas in Korea to specialize in cold-drip Dutch coffee, long before it was trendy. Today, Dutch & Bean cafes can be found in 34 locations in and around Seoul, with the Daechi café in Gangnam being the most popular location according to Ju-seong. While we highly recommend the cold-drip Dutch Americano, the menu has expanded to cater to those with a sweet tooth and even the health conscious with their line of Tru Juice options. Peach and plum juice and Strawberry Ade are great ways to cool off in the summer, while the Kale Apple Grape Detox will have you feeling green (in a good way).
Why we like it: Good coffee, good atmosphere and a hell of a friendly owner.
UJ Tip: Take a bottle of the cold-drip Dutch coffee home with you.
Where: Seolleung Station exit 1
Hours: 9am – 11pm
Price: coffee from 4,000 won
Dutch and Bean's website
Paik’s Coffee (ë°±ë‹¤ë°©)
It’s not our M.O. to include many of the bigger corporate coffee chains on our list, but chances are you haven’t heard of Paik’s if this is your first time in Korea. Every busy neighborhood in Seoul is likely to have one or more Starbucks, Tom n’ Toms, Angelinus, Ediya, Café Bene and probably a Coffee Bean. While these branches are very popular with Koreans, you’ve likely tried several of them and have already formed your opinion of their coffee. About two years ago, we started noticing people all over town carrying these giants iced coffees with yellow cup holders. It wasn’t long before we found the source, as dozens of Paik’s coffee shops started opening in little crevices all around the city. Their motto essentially translates to “Big! Cheap! Delicious!” and it’s fairly accurate. The coffee is by no means transcendent, but if you are exploring the city and need your coffee large and to go, Paik’s is a good bet and won’t hurt your wallet.
Why we like it: Perhaps we call it a “poor man’s Coffee Bean” because they use crushed ice instead of big cubes, which for some strange reason is just better. A giant Ice Vanilla Latte will only set you back 3,000 won (compared to 6,000 at Coffee Bean).
What: Local Coffee Chain
Hours: vary by location
Price: Americano 2,500 won Lattes 3,000 won
Paik's Coffee website
The churro revolution has made its way to Seoul and won’t take no for an answer. Even with Churro shops popping up all over the city, the most popular ones have ridiculous lines on the weekend. Strolling along Garosugil, or any neighborhood in Seoul for that matter, you are bound to pass a dozen cafes on every block. Café Chu is a good choice as a cheap date spot, with a cute interior and nice patio for days when the sun is shining. They’ve got a nice selection of desserts, coffee and snacks, like the Churro Sundae, with freshly fried churro dipped in thick chocolate fudge. This definitely isn’t the place for coffee purists who are looking for Seoul’s best cuppa. In a city with multiple coffee shops on every block, it’s clear that cafes in Korea are much more than just a place to get coffee. They are a place to catch up with friends, to be seen and to enjoy a tasty beverage, whether it’s caffeinated or not. While many of us may not share this sentiment, it does make the quest to find good coffee in Seoul more challenging, and therefore more rewarding when you find that hidden gem amongst the onslaught of Starbucks popping up left and right.
UJ Recommends: Don’t overthink it; get that Churro Sundae.
What: Café and dessert
Where: Sinsa Station Exit 8
Seoul Building, 535-23, Namhye, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu seoul
Price: Desserts from 4,000 won
Café Able in Sinsa is a breath of fresh air (keyword here is fresh). Their whole concept is quite unique to Korea, but we really hope the trend catches on and more farm-to-table places pop up around the city. Able is in a two-story renovated house, with a modern rustic interior and a rooftop garden where they source their own fruits and vegetables. While the fruit juice on the menu is a bit pricey at 9,000 won per pop, it’s absolutely fresh and delicious with no added fillers or sugar. Try the Red Field and marvel at the bright, delicious combination of apple and beetroot. In terms of food, they’ve got several paninis on the menu, including the scrumptious vegetarian-friendly Brie Eggplant Panini, made with sun-dried tomatoes and a balsamic sauce that really sweetens things up and ties the rest of the ingredients together. They do pizza and pasta as well, but the real star is the French toast, which is piled high with their seasonal fresh fruit (like, so high you can’t even see the toast). It’s their most popular dish for good reason.
UJ tip: Seats fill up fast, so make a reservation if you’re popping in for weekend brunch with bae.
What: Café/Brunch/Dinner – Farm to table bistro
2F 547-6 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Social media: IG @able_cafe
Hours:: Mon – Sat 10am – 11pm, Sun 10am – 10pm
Price: juices 9,000 won, coffee 6,000 won
Café Droptop gained popularity amongst Koreans because it is often used as a filming location for K-dramas. We don’t gush over that kind of stuff, though. The reason it makes our list is simple: the interior is super comfortable and spacious, with ample outdoor and open-air seating and they stay open 24/7, unlike most cafes in Korea. If your project deadline is approaching and you need to pull an all-nighter, grab a table nearby an outlet, connect to their free wifi and let the grind begin. If you are there during the wee hours of a Saturday night, you’re likely to see groups of slightly drunken college kids waiting to catch the first subway. There are definitely less comfortable places to wait it out. The coffee is nothing to rave about, although they do have a large menu that has some decent teas, as well as date-worthy dessert items like Bingsu (ice flakes with red bean and other sweets) and honey bread piled way too high with whipped cream. All in all, Droptop isn’t a terrible choice in the right situation.
UJ Likes: As mentioned, the chill atmosphere and 24/7 accessibility are the main draws to Café Droptop.
Where: (multiple locations) Euljiro 1-ga Station Exit 6
Jung-gu, Myeong-dong 1-ga 10-1, Seoul
Hours: 24 hours
Price: coffee from 4,000 won
Cafe Droptop's website
Hipsters and coffee snobs rejoice, the talented baristas at coffee lab are mad scientists when it comes to coffee extraction. They are all expertly trained by the owner, 2005 Barista champion Bang Jong Koo, who sources the beans from a fair-trade farm in South America and roasts them at the nearby Coffee Lab Roasters. The baristas are also well dressed and take their job seriously, and it shows. They are meticulous about every detail, from brewing times to pouring technique. The vibe of the café is also particularly cool, with a simplistic modern décor that basks in low-lit ambience behind impressive playlists (you won’t hear the rotating top 20 K-pop hits here, thank God). They used to have chairs hanging from the ceiling, but have since redecorated and now dozens of portafilters hang there instead. They use two different blends of espresso depending on if you order a straight shot or something with milk. Their straight espresso shot comes out in a shiny gold demitasse, which stands out against the dimly lit background of the café’s interior (a nice touch). If you’re in Hongdae and need a serious coffee, this is the place to go. Good luck getting a seat in the evening, as it’s quite a hot spot for the locals. Down the street they have a Coffee Lab Express if you’re looking for a quick brew to go.
UJ Tip: Coffee Lab has a generous 2,000 won discount for takeout orders.
UJ Recommends: Try their “Adult Menu”, boasting fantastic blends of booze with their quality coffee. The Kahlua coffee, Irish coffee and “Man’s coffee” (espresso plus rum and foamed milk) are all safe bets if you need a little extra kick.
Where: Hongdae, Hongik University Station exit 8
327-19 Seogyo-dong, Mapgo-gu, Seoul
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11am – midnight, Friday – Saturday 11am – 1am
Price: coffee from 5,000 won
Coffee Lab's website
Social media: IG @coffeelab_hongdae
Fritz Coffee Company
Fritz Coffee is a must visit if you find yourself in the vicinity of Gongdeok station. Hell, it’s worth the journey if you aren’t nearby. The café was converted from a large traditional Korean home, with a wooden gate and beautiful garden entrance that you pass through on your way up to the shop. The feeling throughout the café maintains a consistent mood: rustic, earthy, slightly dark yet traditional. It’s a perfect place to slowly sip a coffee on a rainy day.
The baristas are friendly and chatty, happy to make recommendations and talk you through the process and they prepare your coffee. They also sell spectacular baked goods. This shop rose to popularity quickly, as it was founded by a Korean Coffee Super Team of sorts: Korea’s 2014 Barista Champion Park Guen-ha, Coffee Libre’s Kim Byung-ki, El Café’s Song Sung-man, skilled roaster Kim Do-hyun and expert pastry chef Heo Min-su.
What we like: From the flavors to the interior, we get all kinds of warm fuzzy vibes every time we visit Fritz. It really is a café like no other in Seoul.
Where: Gongdeok Station exit 8
Mapo-gu, Dohwa-dong 179-9, Seoul
Hours: 8am – 11pm
Price: coffee from 4,000 won
Visit Fritz's website
Alegria Coffee Roasters
Alegria makes our list because simply, they know what they are doing and do it well. With hundreds of wannabe cafes around Seoul that pass the eye test but not the taste test, Alegria won’t let you down. The baristas are particularly friendly as they prepare your preferred coffee with meticulous care. From grinding the beans right as you order to making sure the water temperature is exactly right, the care they put into each cup has helped solidify their reputation as consistent quality coffee providers. The menu is quite extensive, including a long list of single origin beans, a few house blends like the popular Jungle Espresso, hand drip options and some interesting specialty coffees (WTF is a candy pop latte? We weren’t brave enough to find out). We suggest letting one of the knowledgeable baristas recommend a blend that suits your taste. Alegria’s flagship cafe is in Seocho, although they’ve opened up new locations including a small shop in Common Ground (said to become the world’s biggest pop-up shopping center).
UJ Recommends: If you are in the mood for some caffeinated dessert, try the café con Helado, a delicious double shot iced latte with a mound of cocoa powder topping a scoop of ice cream. It’s the perfect way to melt away a summer’s day.
What: Café and roastery
Seocho-gu Seocho-dong 1344-13
Hours: 11am – 11pm
Price: coffee from 3,500 won
Coffee Conhas is another mandatory destination for quality coffee and atmosphere in Hongdae. If you are in the neighborhood it is hard to miss, considering the entire space is constructed of shipping containers stacked several stories high. The wooden and metal tables and chairs complete the industrial urban décor, yet the vibe is very hip and pleasing. Every container, floor and corner of the café has its own unique charm. It’s definitely a space that you’ll be in no rush to leave. As an added bonus, the shop has a friendly yellow Labrador retriever named “Heart” who wanders the café, greeting customers and stealing the attention of just about everyone. It’s almost easy to forget that they serve fantastic coffee from their Slayer espresso machine and Hario dripper, paying careful attention to every step from bean selection to machine maintenance to extraction technique. An interesting caveat about Conhas is that they don’t have Americano on the menu, easily the most preferred kind of coffee in Seoul. I guess they are really passionate about their hand drip coffee and urge the customers to give it try. Another nice touch is that they offer a 2,000 won discount for takeout orders. A good deal but not recommended. We really like the atmosphere and we’re pretty sure Heart will be sad if you pop in without saying hello.
What we like: The shipping container shtick is great, but it’s all about Heart the dog. We heart Heart. Can there be a new rule that every café needs to have a friendly and adorable dog on site?
Where: Hapjeong Station Exit 2
105, Jandari-ro Mapo-gu Seoul 121-842
Hours: Daily 11am – 11pm
Price: 5,000 – 7,000 won
Tailor coffee is another fine addition to our list. Not transcendent coffee by any means, but very, very solid. You might see their beans at other places around town, which is usually a sign that they’re doing something right. The shop is located right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Hongdae. The interior has a sharp and classy vibe to it; a nice place to people watch or kill a few hours with your laptop. Dutch coffee and a long list of pour overs round out the menu along with a few nice desserts (we were disappointed to find out they no longer sell vegan cake). Their Purple Rain blend is quite popular around town. There are a few other places in Hongdae that we prefer over Tailor, but it’s still in the 90th percentile of quality coffee shops in Seoul.
UJ Recommends: We aren’t always in the mood for specialty coffees, but we find their Cream Mocha to be particularly delicious. The café mocha is dark and rich and the added fresh cream gives it really smooth finish.
Where: 46, Wausan-ro 33-gil Mapo-gu Seoul 121-836
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 12pm – 11pm
Price: drinks 5,000 – 7,000 won
Tailor Coffee's website