Just as it is rich in history, some of Seoul’s oldest restaurants have survived major events such as the Japanese colonial period and even the Korean War! Though some of the restaurants featured today have changed locations or ownership, they still have the distinction of being the oldest in the capital so here’s a look at them if you’re curious!
The first restaurant on this list, “I”-mun Seollongtang, is more than a decade older than even the second oldest restaurant on this list, having opened, quite astonishingly, all the way back in 1904! By this year’s standards, that makes this restaurant in Jongno District 118 years old and nearly 120 years that this restaurant has been boiling ox bones for hours every morning to produce the milky-white smooth soup of seolleongtang. The restaurant was even said to have been a favorite of Kee-chung Sohn, Korea’s first medal-winning Olympian.
Occupying number 2 and 3 on this list is “H”jae Chueotang and Yong”G”mok which both serve the, said-to-be, stamina-inducing dish of Chutang, or loach fish soup, made Seoul style. Having opened in 1926 and 1932 respectively, the two are considered among Seoul’s best for chutang, not to be confused with chueotang which has the loachfish usually ground, and having been favorite haunts of politicians and leaders in the past.
Number 4 is “E”hoshikdang which began as a street stall in Namdaemun Market in 1932. Three generations from the same family have cooked and served the oxtail soup here though their ox knee soup is also a popular draw. Number 5, “J”baeok opened in 1933 also serves seolleongtang but was temporarily closed when it was bombed down during the Korea War. It moved to its present location near City Hall Station where it remains a popular fixture today for the many nearby office workers. Another restaurant popular with office workers is number six “C”jinok which is associated almost synonymously with the beloved haejangguk, or hangover soup. Since 1937 this restaurant has been cooking up its soup that is said to take some 24 hours to simmer and is full of iron-rich ingredients such as congealed ox blood, tripe, and intestine which generations have attested to be just the thing after a soju-heavy night before.
Number 7, “H”dongkwan is one of the best known restaurants on this list as it’s been serving its simple but deep gomtang, or clear beef soup, since 1939. Sought by countless celebrities and politicians for decades, you can get a bowl for yourself in Myeongdong but just be sure to get there early- “H”dongkwan has always closed by 4PM since it first opened!
While most of the restaurants on this list have been simple, comfort meals, “H”ilkwan, opened in 1939 and number 8 on this list, is known as an upscale restaurant that’s credited with introducing Seoul-style Korean royal cuisine to the public using innovative cooking techniques and styles that doesn’t sacrifice taste. Former presidents, in particular, have been well-known frequenters of this restaurant which is particularly known for their flavorful bulgogi and chilled naengmyeon noodles.
Rounding out the top ten is “O”cheonok coming in at number 9 having served its seolleongtang since 1941 and is well known for being softer and smoother in taste than other seolleongtang restaurants. “W”raeok at number 10 began its business in 1946 and countless generations have come to this elegant house for their Pyongyang-style naengmyeon and bulgogi. Their bold and beefy naengmyeon isn’t cheap but many consider it the best in Seoul.