Last week, a coworker and I finally–after months of grumblings–ventured out to find Seoul’s gastronomical masterpieces. Our wish list is primarily garnered from restaurants featured on Seoul Eats, including Memphis King (a rib joint in Bangbae), yukhwae (raw beef topped with a raw egg), and Lee Chun Bok Chamchi (a tuna buffet in Sookmyung).
On Thursday night, we chose to follow up on a tip from yet another ex-pat teacher and headed to Itaewon for what was heralded as the best chili in Seoul. Simply put, Chili King did not disappoint.
The night started as most nights in Seoul, a few cans of shitty, cheap, shitty beer while waiting for the troops to gather. In this case my coworker and I “enjoyed” a few Hites at the subway station exit, taking in the balmy weather until his friend arrived.
The three of us locked arms, sang “Ease on Down the Road,” and skipped up one of the many hilly and terrifying alleys of Itaewon. Unlike most alleys, however, we did not find any hookers. Instead, we found the tiniest hole-in-the-wall restaurant I’ve ever seen. I’m talkin’ about the size of holes that keep you up at night, brimming with rage when your landlord tries to take your security deposit on account of them: tiny. Chili King can comfortably seat 8 hungry guests or 6 full guests.
Chili King’s menu includes a variety of hot dogs, sandwiches, and burgers, with chili and french fry dishes also available as sides. Main dishes include fries and coleslaw and are priced from ￦7,900 for the simplest hot dog to ￦19,900 for the “King Kev” burger, a loaded triple-bacon-cheeseburger. For ￦8,900 you can get a bowl of chili, a plate of chili cheese fries, or a plate of poutine. You read that right, POUTINE! Of all the things I expected to find in Korea, the last would be a restaurant that flew a Canadian flag and served fries with melted jack cheese and gravy.
Needless to say, a plate of POUTINE was ordered to share at the table, and we each got a chili cheese burger (￦8,900). The chili burgers were ungodly delicious, and I would put them up against any chili dog/burger back home. The burgers were served with a healthy ladle of chili atop the patty, a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, and a few pickled jalapeño slices to sweeten the deal. The patty, despite being 1/3 lb, was completely outshone by the chili. It was almost a non-factor except that the bottom bun probably would not have withstood the power and ooze of this chili mess without the patty standing in as a makeshift levee. Obviously, these were knife and fork affairs. I chose to leave my top bun off to pick up any left-over chili, while my colleagues placed theirs on the chili mountains to get the complete burger experience.
The chili was hefty, with substantial amounts of beans and ground beef. This ain’t no soupy chili. It was a nice combination of sweet, savory, and just the slightest heat. Of course, if you like your chili burn-the-taste-buds-off-your-tongue spicy, Chili King has an impressive array of chili and hot sauces. Highlights included the only bottle of Siracha I’ve seen in Korea and “The Hottest Sauce in the Universe,” which made my coworker cry. The intensely friendly and English speaking staff also informed us that far hotter, unnamed sauces also existed behind the counter for the most daring individuals.
The chili was worth it’s dense weight in gold, but the poutine was the surprise hit of the evening. The fries were crinkle-cut, meaty, with crispy exteriors that held up to the weight of the cheese and gravy smothered across them. As I stared at the maple leaf on the wall, I could feel my grandmother cheering me on with every fat-covered fried potato that slid down my esophagus. My Cali co-eaters had ne’er heard of this mythical dish and eagerly consumed the artery clogging goodness from the frozen north. Plans are already in the works to spread the hibernation inducing plate back to the west coast.
A second trip is a must and may very well happen within a week of our first visit. I plan on attacking a simpler burger to see how the burgers stack up without the namesake chili.
For a peak at the full menu and one of the worst web designs in use, head to Chili King’s Website.