The changing of Noksapyeong-Daero
Istanbul, Thunder Burger, Namsan Kimchi Jjigae. RIP. You are missed. They were fixtures on Noksapyeong-daero for years, but they are no more. Anyone who ever had a bowl of Namsan Jjigae is probably still lamenting the loss of that Yongsan staple – that kimchi was just… something special. The good news is new and different restaurants have come along to take the places of those that left, and some of them are pretty good. Here’s a look at three newcomers to Noksapyeong-daero, the short street that connects Haebangchon and Gyeongnidan with Itaewon.
Trevia, M Burger and Buttercup Coffee and Bakery are all located on Noksapyeong-daero, the short street between Gyeongnidan and Itaewon. To get there, go out Noksapyeong Station, exit 2, and cross the street.
With its wood floors and furniture, matte gray walls, and simple wire fixtures, this pizzeria is as artfully decorated as its pizza is constructed. Maybe the best restaurant to move onto Noksapyeong-daero — well, ever — Trevia is legit.
Trevia pizzas are made with dough that has been left to proof for 48 hours before baking. It’s oblong and thin — more like Indian naan than the pizza dough most are familiar with. Their pizzas are Roman style — the thin, crispy dough comes out of the oven literally smoking hot. It’s brushed with a little tomato sauce and covered with mozzarella. With a few basil leaves, it becomes Margherita. Of course, Trevia has more Korean twists on the Italian staple: bulgogi, shrimp or sweet potato.
The most impressive slice served up at Trevia is the “fresh mozzarella.” It’s loaded with romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes and chunks of fluffy, unmelted mozzarella cheese, drizzled with olive oil. The “quattro formaggio” pizza is topped with brie, gouda, gorgonzola and mozzarella. The owner, Hwang In-suk, studied the art of pizza-making in Italy, and it shows.
Trevia also does lasagna, mozzarella salads and panini sandwiches. They have a small deli section, where they sell Italian cheeses, sausages, olives and capers. They sell pizza by the slice (5,500 – 6,300 won) and by the whole pizza (16,500 – 18,900 won). A whole pizza is more than enough for a couple. Trevia also serves Italian beer and wine.
Maybe the only place in Korea where you can get a “Juicy Lucy,” M Burger is a solid addition to the list of burger joints in and around Itaewon. Owner Michael Ahn has done his best to make M Burger a funky, cozy spot to enjoy a big burger. The restaurant is decorated with bits of Americana — a stainless tub of Miller Genuine Draft here, a vintage sign there (“Take-out food service — you may place your order with mom.”). The kitchen is partially exposed, so you can watch the chefs fry up your burger on their massive griddle.
Now back to that Juicy Lucy. It’s one of their custom burgers, and its defining feature is cheese — are you ready for this? — inside the burger patty. It’s the burger equivalent of stuffed-crust pizza. We didn’t try it, opting instead for a chili burger and a plain cheeseburger. Both were hefty, but the chili burger was almost like two meals in one. By the time I’d finished eating it, a little pool of bean-chocked chili had gathered on my plate. The best things about the burgers at M are the soft buns, baked for them by nearby Mira Bakery, and the fat onions that sit on the patties. The onions are cooked on the griddle until they’re caramelized.
M Burger also has fries, onion rings, draft beer and a whole fridge of Red Bull. Burger sets are priced at 11,000 – 14,000 won.
Buttercup Coffee and Bakery
Buttercup is the best kind of coffee shop — comfortable and quirky, with some really good coffee. The 22-year-old Une brews espresso there with aplomb, decorating the brown créma on top of each cup with little animal faces. Buttercup has some seriously good-sounding drinks on the menu, along with some seriously odd-sounding ones. Chief among the good-sounding drinks is the maple latte. We tried one, and it was as good as it sounds — sweet and rich, with a subtle maple-syrup taste. Une served us the coffee in an oversized red mug. The thick foam on top had been sculpted into a rabbit’s face (her favorite animal).
Then there are the odd-sounding drinks, such as “coffee-ade.” Apparently it is espresso mixed with carbonated water or cider (the sweet, fizzy kind). Sounds interesting, but I think I’ll stick with the maple latte.
Buttercup is decorated with all kinds of random knickknacks: cat statues, German beer steins, a little carousel and ethnically ambiguous baby dolls. One wall of the place is covered with screen shots from various movies and concerts. On another is a framed painting of a Pokémon-like creature. Soft Korean ballads play in the background. The place is so small you’ll feel like you’re sharing a living room with friends while you sip your drink.
Buttercup also has cupcakes in interesting flavors. We tried a mint chocolate one. It came to the table with a tall candle sticking out of it. I don’t know why Une put it there, but now I don’t know why all bakeries don’t do it. That combined with the rabbit face just gave me a special feeling.
Photo: Melissa Hubley