Congdu, 116-1 Deoksu Palace-gil Junggu; +82 2 722 7002; lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., cafe, 2-5:30 p.m., dinner, 5:30-10 p.m.; courses from ?35,000-?62,000 ($32-56) for lunch; ?55,000-?110,000 ($50-99) for dinner
Maam, B/2 SB Tower, Dosandaero Gangnam-gu; +82 2 515 0112; Monday-Friday, lunch 11:30 a.m.-1:50 p.m.; dinner 5:30-9 p.m.; weekends, lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner 5:30-10 p.m.
Connected to the only black and white photography printing press in Seoul, Dabang is a throwback to old Korea.
Dabang (a name that refers to old Korean coffee shops) is sparsely decorated with vintage furniture from Korea and the United States.
The owner's inspiration came from poet Yi Sang and the kind of dabang that the poet might work in.
"I kept thinking about what kind of writing, what kind of emotions, what kind of work came from Yi Sang in that place," says owner Kim Hyun Sik about the coffee shop's aesthetic.
The food is also simple, and Kim hopes to pare back the menu even more.
Dishes include typical Korean fare such as kimchi fried rice (?7,000/$6), as well as items such as yookjeon (beef pancakes), which are reserved for special occasions such as the anniversaries of deaths.
Coffee is hand roasted on site.
Dabang, 84-3 Jongno-gu Gyedong-girl; +82 2 318 0008; 11 a.m.-midnight; closed on the first and third Mondays of each month
Mexican food -- real Mexican food -- has made finally made it to South Korea.
While the quest for Mexican food often stops with Korean-American takes on Mexican food, or pale interpretations of Mexican food, Don Charly is the real thing -- no frills, no kimchi.
Owner Carlos Molina, a Mexico City native, earned a masters in Spanish cooking in Seville, Spain.
Don Charly is a one-man show -- Molina preps, cooks and runs the business.
The line goes out the door most days, not only because so many people crave authentic Mexican food, but because there's no space to mingle indoors.
The menu features tacos and tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches), tequila and beer.
The favorite among ethnic Mexicans is chicharron en salsa verde (?7,000 or ?9,000), tacos with deep-fried pork rinds with green sauce.
Locals veer toward the camarones a la crema de chipotle ( ?8,000 or ?9,000) with grilled shrimp and spicy chipotle sauce.
When Don Charly's runs out of the fresh ingredients, Molina closes the kitchen, usually around 9 p.m.
Don Charly, 225-10 Itaewon-dong Yongsan-gu; +82 70 8754 4475; Tuesday-Saturday, noon-10 p.m. (closed 2:30-5:30 p.m.), Sunday noon-7 p.m., closed Mondays
East Village is the latest modern Korean restaurant on Seoul's upscale dining scene.
"When I was living in New York City, I really liked East Village because it seemed to embrace freedom," says chef and owner Kwon Woojoong, on the story behind the restaurant's name.
With working experience in New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo, Kwon focuses on traditional Korean dishes, upgrading home comfort foods to luxury dishes.
"The perception of Korean food is that it should be cheap and have high quantity, but we're going a different way," says Kwon.
"We take the best parts of Korean food, ones that should be cherished, keeping that alive, but removing the inferior parts, and using different techniques and methods to upgrade the food."
Unlike the milk supplements used in other restaurants, the broth in Kwon's cold bean-soup noodles (kong guksu) is made from pure ground soybeans. His labor-of-love tteok-galbi is made with finely chopped rib meat that's been marinated and shaped in the form of round rice cakes, rather than the more commonly used ground beef.
The result is a diverse menu. Lunch ranges from ?37,000 to ?68,000 ($33-61); dinner from ?66,000 to ?110,000 ($59-98).
"Normally, in any nation, the food that is considered 'the best' is its the native cuisine, but not in Korea," says Kwon, lamenting the dearth of great fine Korean dining establishments in South Korea.
With East Village, he hopes to change that.
East Village, 626-70 Sinsa-dong Gangnam-gu; +82 2 790 7782; Monday-Saturday, 1:30.-3 p.m., 6-11 p.m., closed Sundays
Fast, loud and unabashedly modern, Garage 107 is the wacky brainchild of Ferrari race car driver Tacksung Kim.
"In the beginning, it really was just a garage," says Kim. "I just meant to put in one coffee machine, and then it suddenly became something bigger."
In the traditional area of Bukchon, Garage 107 is a standard cafe by day, but it's one of the area's only lounges open till late (1 a.m.). It's become a place for locals to head out at night without having to trek to Gangnam or Hongdae.
The garage is decked out with disco balls, trophies and a good sound system.
Garage 107's open terrace is a draw -- on sunny days, movies or concert films are projected onto a large white wall.
Food is American-style diner food with dishes from ?5,000 ($4.50) to ?12,000 ($11).