The only restaurant I visited twice on my recent two week trip to Korea was Bada Sikdang 바다식당 in Itaewon. Yes, it is that good! Budaejigae 부대찌개 which means “army stew” is a hybrid Korean American food that was invented after the Korean War by combining American ingredients brought over by the US soldiers with traditional Korean stew. A popular spot to eat this in NYC is at Pocha32. Another name for this popular dish is Johnson Tang 존슨 탕. The popular dish goes down well as an accompaniment to drinking and commonly has a combo of fun ingredients such as spam, sausage, American cheese (think Kraft singles), ramen, pasta, tteok, tofu, kimchi, scallions, and other vegetables.
What makes this version of the famous Budaejigae so special is the beef bone broth as the base of the stew. Normally the stew is just made with chili powder, ramen broth packets, and other less labor intensive/sophisticated methods. Because this version starts with an incredible beef bone broth it can only end in greatness when layering all the flavors from the cheese, sausage, seared ham, and bacon.
I came to this restaurant on a Monday and had to go back on a Wednesday to show friends how good it is. Each time I went during off peak times, was the last one to sit down in the restaurant, and saw a line forming outside quickly thereafter. Most of the customers looked like locals and I only saw 1 or 2 groups of tourists. I heard many of the patrons saying “this is so delicious” or “I need extra rice for this stew.” You could tell they were locals who really enjoy frequenting this restaurant. Every party that left completely emptied out their large bowl of budaejigae. No one left a drop behind.
In addition to the amazing depth of flavor, this stew is pretty inexpensive. You can order a small pot for 2 for ₩20,000 ($17) or a larger size for ₩30,000 ($25). The first time I went with one other person and really regretted not getting the larger size. The dish comes with standard Korean banchan. The restaurant also serves grilled sausages and bbq meat dishes.
This is a great Korean travel experience because it is in the older part of Seoul in a traditional 1 story building. You eat sitting on a mat at a low table and can see the burn marks on the wood tables from so many hot bowls that have been previously served on them. You eat amongst locals who really love the place. And so far it does not feel overrun by tourists (yet). I visit Seoul each year, and am shocked by the increasing number of tourists and longer lines that are resulting at my favorite restaurants due to tourism. It’s also great because you can walk around Itaewon and visit the cute and charming little shops in the Hannamdong side streets nearby.
English Address: 18 Itaewon-ro 49-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea, Google English Map Link
Korean Address: 서울특별시 용산구 이태원로49길 18, phone 02-795-1317, Korean Map Link
Open: 11:30AM-10:00PM everyday
Directions: 4.5km/2.8mi, about 15min taxi ride with no traffic from Myeongdong, ₩1,250 ($1) subway to the line number 6, Han Gang Jin station (한강진역) exit #1, 602 meters away