A Guide to Veg Dining in Itaewon, Seoul
Though a large part of South Korea’s population is Buddhist, it’s surprisingly difficult to find vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Seoul. After emerging from years of poverty, Koreans firmly believe that meat is essential to their diet. Even if food, such as dumplings, is labeled as “vegetable,” don’t be surprised to find minced pork or seafood incorporated into the filling.
The international district of Itaewon is your bet to finding something plant-based to eat. The expat influence yields more culinary diversity for herbivores and most businesses here cater to English speakers (which makes it easier to ask for special requests). Below are some of our favorite eats found in Itaewon and its surrounding neighborhoods, Hannamdong and Haebangchon (HBC), both a 10-15 minute walk from Itaewon and Noksapyeong subway stations.
Photos from Plant’s FB page
Plant happens to be vegan, but also just plain makes delicious food. Its the place where even my meat-eating friends request to go. The café has an eclectic, chill atmosphere perfect for lingering. The menu offers wholesome, brightly-flavored dishes like a burrito bowl, West African peanut stew, and tempeh rainbow wrap. We recommend sharing the chili cheese fries as a sinful starter. Finish up your meal with an assortment of unique home-made cakes from the dessert counter like earl grey and ginger pumpkin spice. There’s plenty to drink too. Opt for locally brewed beers and kombucha on tap or a host of other comforting drinks like lattes, green smoothies, and cider. Plant has two locations: a full restaurant a block from Itaewon Station Exit 3 and a cozy bakery hidden on a side street just a few blocks away. Closed Sundays
Plant Café & Kitchen
2nd Floor, Bogwang-ro 117, Yongsan-gu, Seoul Phone: 02-749-1981
Hours: Mon thru Thurs 11am – 9pm, Fri thru Sat 11am-10pm, closed Sundays
Plant Bakery Café
Itaewon-dong 63-15, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: Mon – Sat 11am-8pm, closed Sundays
Jalapeño pepper cheeseburger photo from Huggers FB page
Huggers is tucked behind the Seoul Central Mosque but well worth the effort of seeking. Open Friday through Sundays, this cozy establishment’s specialties are vegan burgers and desserts. Creative patties include bulgogi, basil pesto avocado, and jalapeño pepper cheeseburgers. It’s also one of the only places in Seoul where we’ve encountered veg ramen. Visit Hugger’s Facebook and Instagram accounts to scout out specialty menu items and decadent desserts like raw blueberry cheesecake, s’mores bars, and chocolate blueberry muffins. Owner AJ Garcia is also the director of CARE, the only organization actively rescuing, rehabilitating, and re-homing animals in South Korea.
686-22 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays 11:00 am – 10:30 pm
Photo from Vegetus FB page
Vegetus is located in funky HBC where many young expats live and socialize. The menu regularly offers a variety of nutritious vegan dishes that range from salads, pasta, pizzas, burgers, rice bowls, and desserts. The establishment also serves gluten-free dishes, which are clearly marked, plus a choice of coffees, teas, Belgian beers, and soft drinks.
59 Sinheung-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Hours: Tues 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm, Wed thru Fri 12:00 – 9:30 pm (break between 3–5pm), Weekend 12:00 – 9:30 pm (no break)
There are a lot of businesses that include some veg-friendly items on their menu. Below are some of our top recommendations broken down by cuisine. Locate even more restaurants on our Google map.
Sandwiches and Salads
While salad and sandwich shops are staples in Western society, they’re a little harder to come by in Seoul. The following serve innovative fare beyond the usual standbys:
A bright, second-level cafe in Hannamdong near the Leeum Samsung Museum that prepares fresh salads bowls with flavorful dressings, sandwiches, and sushi. It has several veg choices, meat can often be substituted with tofu upon request. Arrive early for lunch, the small space can fill up quickly. Closed Tuesdays
741-19 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Bliss bowl with hummus and vegan Violife cheese
Fat Cat Neighborhood Bistro
A chill bistro in HBC that serves hummus sandwiches and Bliss Bowls These salad bowls start with a base of lentils, squash, dried cranberries, and greens that can be customized with an order of avocado, hummus, feta, or Violife vegan cheese. It also has Lumi kombucha on tap and serves soy-based lattes. Closed Mondays
46-8 Yongsandong 2(i)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Photo from Salad Seller Instagram page
A communal cafe in the heart of artsy Hannamdong that focuses on fresh, health-conscious salads, sandwiches, soups, and juices. The menu uses seasonal ingredients and they sometimes offer soup and sandwich deals for lunch. Visit its Instagram page for weekly specials. Closed Mondays
684-24 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Other than Taco Bell, Mexican restaurants are few and far between in Seoul. These two are sure to have something meat-free on hand:
Green enchilada photo from Taco Amigo FB page
Taco Amigo has been serving filling, Tex-Mex cuisine in Itaewon for over 10 years. The menu caters to vegans with sautéed soy meat and vegan Violife cheese substitutes. Rice, beans, and guacamole are free of animal-byproducts as well.
130-34 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Vegan taco photo by Vatos
Vatos Urban Tacos
This Itaewon hotspot specializes in Korean-Mexican fusion cuisine. Burritos, bowls, and tacos can be made vegetarian or vegan upon request and a mushroom and spinach quesadilla is listed on the menu. Vatos prepares monster margaritas that can also be mixed alcohol-free.
1 Itaewon-ro 15-gil, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Mediterranean and Indian
Itaewon is home to the Seoul Central Mosque. Numerous Middle Eastern, Turkish, Indian, and Pakistani restaurants are congregated around it on the hilly streets of Usadan-ro. There is also a slew of of businesses east of the Hamilton hotel on Itaewon-ro. Most of the falafel joints are cheaply priced and are usually a solid fall-back option:
Photo from Chakraa’s FB page
Chakraa is a no-frills Hannamdong restaurant that serves Indian homestyle cooking. There are vegetarian appetizers and curries on the menu. Check its Facebook page for lunch and buffet specials that almost always include vegetarian options.
28-9 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Vegetarian sandwich photo from Casablanca’s FB page
Casablanca Sanwicherie & Morococo Cafe
Located across the street from each other in HBC, these two Moroccan restaurants are run by the same owners. Casablanca has veg side dishes and a hefty sandwich of veg croquettes stuffed in a home-baked baguette (that’s vegan without the mayo) as well as comforting shakshuka: a dish of poached eggs and veggies bathed in a cumin spiced tomato sauce. Morococo Cafe offers a carrot salad with caramelized plums and toasted almonds and a vegan rice dish with grilled tempeh, eggplant, veggies, and a soy-based cream sauce. Closed Mondays
Aside from Vegetus, we have yet to discover vegan-friendly pizza around Itaewon. Most shops have higher prices than back home and cater to a Korean palette with tomato sauces are spicier or sweeter than Western-style pie with toppings like corn, sweet potato, and mayo. If you’re looking for something more traditional, stick to these choices:
Pesto Primo pizza photo from Gino’s FB page
Gino’s NY Pizza
Gino’s whips up New York style pizza with dough and tomato sauce made from scratch with numerous veg toppings. Partner and owners Eugene Kim and David Kim are in fact former NYC residents who obsess over creating the perfect crust and pie. Closed Mondays
457-3 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Spinach and cheese pizza photo from Magpie’s FB page
Magpie Brewing Co.
Magpie is one of the first craft beer companies to pop up in South Korea. Its laid-back Itaewon branch not only carries specialty brews, but decent pizza as well. Diners can order cheese or veggie pizza from the basement bar.
244-1 Noksapyeong-daero, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
This quaint HBC spot offers several meat-free pies like Margarita, Fiorentina, and Funghi as well as some vegetarian pasta dishes. Closed Mondays
41-1, Sinheung-Ro, Seoul, South Korea
- Insadong is another vegan-friendly neighborhood. Diners can choose among meat-free buffet, casual, and fine-dining restaurants centered around Jogyesa Buddhist Temple. Delve deeper into Buddhist culture and take a vegan cooking class conducted in English on Saturdays at the Temple Food Center next to Anguk station.
- Invest a few dollars in the Happy Cow app to easily locate nearby restaurants in Seoul and around the world. Absolutely worth it.
- Just because a dish is labeled as “vegetable” does not guarantee it’s meat-free.
- It’s not customary to ask for special orders at Korean restaurants; asking to modify a dish to be veg can sometimes be very confounding to the staff.
- Most kimchi is fermented in fish or shrimp paste.
- There’s a high and quick turnover rate for restaurants in Seoul, faster than apps like Google Maps can track. Double-check if a restaurant is still in business by verifying recent activity on their social media pages or review sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor.
What vegetarian finds have you discovered in Seoul? Share tips for other travelers below.
Lara was infected with the travel bug at an early age. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of discovering the world. She recently relocated to Seoul, South Korea, for her husband’s job and hopes to explore much of Asia while there. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as a freelance graphic designer. In her spare time, she contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR,is an ambassador for FIG Clothing, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, practices yoga, dabbles in photography, and of course, travels as much as possible.