Finding a good restaurant in Itaewon to dine in on a Monday night is like searching for a needle in haystack. For some time now Monday nights have been hailed as the industry day off, a time when the staff all across town can rest up after a hard week’s work and let their hair down. Well that’s all well and good for them, but where are the rest of us supposed to eat?
Namu Arae or Under the Tree is a small Japanese place located not too far away from the hustle and bustle of Itaewon’s main intersection. One of my very best friends brought me here for lunch last week, and for me it’s just perfect for a Monday night, when you want something quick, comforting, and cheap after you blew all your budget on cocktails and Taco Bell at the weekend!
The tiny restaurant specializes in tonkatsu, or pork cutlet as it’s better know here. There are a variety of different types including pork neck, tenderloin, fish, and chicken. Since their were three of us we got one on each.
My pork tenderloin (7,000) came straight from the fryer and was served with a heap of finely shredded cabbage, a bowl of miso, a bowl of rice, pickled vegetables and a pestle and mortar of sesame seeds which you grind yourself before adding the tonkatsu brown sauce to. The pork cutlet is excellent, it has a light and crisp exterior while the tender juicy pork is nestled inside. While the ground sesame seeds really elevated the brown sauce, it’s by far and away the best tonkatsu I’ve ever had in Korea.
The chicken breast cutlet (6,000) is also superb. Again it’s perfectly cooked and juicy in the middle. Although their are dozens of local cutlet joints in the area, it’s generally quite rare to see chicken cutlet as an option on the menu and if it is, it’s usually frozen or over cooked just like the pork despite the prices being the same or higher. It definitely goes to show that not all mom and pop joints are created equal.
As well as the tonkatsu, the restaurant also serves a couple of other Japanese noodle dishes like Udon, and Soba, as well as a few curries which I will definitely be trying next time. In a neighborhood of skyrocketing prices, this place is definitely a gem, and one of the best meals you will find for 7,000 won or under.
Namu Arae (나무아래) is located at 10 Usadan-ro Yongsan-gu Seoul. To get there take a train to Itaewon Station (line 6) and come out of exit 3. Walk straight until you reach the large intersection then take a right and keep walking straight past the foreign food market up and over the hill. Continue walking straight down the road, you will eventually see Namu Arae on the left hand side just before you get the next intersection. For more information you can call them on 02-796-8872. They are open from 10:30 am – 9pm every day except for the 2nd and 4th Sunday of every month when they are closed.