With so many good ramen places in New York, it's never seemed worth it to me to wait in the hour+ line to get into Ippudo no matter how much people raved about it, so when I found out there were THREE locations in Seoul I was both hopeful for shorter wait times and super excited to give it a try. We've gone to the original location in Sinsa-dong twice now and there has not been any sort of wait. Both times were right after Dan finished work on weeknights, so I don't know if it has busier times, but it's out of the way location makes me think it's probably always pretty low key.
Even though the ramen bowls here are HUGE, I can't resist a menu full of dumplings. This last time we went we had the Ippudo Hitoguchi Gyoza and the Ippudo bun. The first time we had the Ippudo bun and Ippudo Fried Gyoza.
Yes, I'm pretty into the Ippudo bun. The Chashu is fatty and tender, the sauce is a good balance of savory and sweet and the bun is delicious. My only complaints is that I would like half as much lettuce. I'm fine with a little bit of iceburg for texture, but a whole leaf folded up into one bun is too much. I think the first time we went when we asked for a second bun, they brought us a bulgogi bun instead. Neither of us liked it as much as the Ippudo bun but it's interesting to see how Ippudo changes the menu to fit with local food preferences.
I think our Hitoguchi Gyoza were having an off night. The pork and chive filling was delicious but our dumplings were filled with oil - not like delicious flavorful fat, like actual fry oil. I recently got around to trying the similarly prepared ones at Menya Sandaime and they're excellent, so I'm not sure I'm willing to give the Ippudo ones another try.
I think the Ippudo Fried Gyoza are just the Hitoguchi Gyoza deep fried. It could just be the quality of the preparation, but we liked this version of them better. Dan did find them a little over-salted, but I liked them fine, especially with some lemon juice squeezed on top. I never would've thought to put lemon on deep fried gyoza, but the flavor contrast worked really well.
Ippudo is know for it's incredibly rich, creamy tonkotsu broth and it's reputation is well earned. Eating a bowl of Ippudo ramen feels much more decadent to me than a bowl from Menya Sandaime, Totto Ramen or even Momofuku*. It's delicious, but for me it's a little too rich for all the time (and, let's be real, I want to be eating ramen ALL THE TIME).
In our two visits we've tried the three global ramens as well as the Korea specific Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen. The menu at Ippudo has all the names of dishes in English but the descriptions in Korean, and, frankly, my Korean is nowhere near good enough to translate them, so this last time we went, I pulled up a menu from Ippudo New York which at least has descriptions of the three global ramens (though there do seem to be some slight variations in toppings).
In our two visits Dan had the Shiromaru and the Shoyu. Both have Tonkotsu broth bases but the Shiromaru is simpler and creamier while the Shoyu has a greater complexity of flavor with a little less richness. Overall, Dan was more into the Shoyu but in both cases he really wished that Ippudo had the Schichimi Togarashi that most American ramen joints have on the table to add a little spice. You can order a side of the Ippudo Bakadan (original spicy paste) but it adds a lot more curry flavor than either of us really want.
My two orders have been the Akamaru and Karakamen, the two fancier global ramens with the addition of "three toppings" (extra chasu, nori sheets and a seasoned soft boiled egg). Karakamen has a special blend of hot spices while Akamaru has a miso paste and spice blend with a float of garlic oil. I found the Karakamen to be a lot more curry-y than spicy and it wasn't my favorite thing but if you enjoy curry ramen, this might be for you. The Akamaru was more my style, though, like Dan, I also wished there was a way to add more heat other than the Ippudo Bakadan. I was a little afraid that the garlic oil was going to be overwhelming but the tonkotsu broth is more than rich enough to stand up to it. I strongly recommend the addition of the nori sheets, I found as I ate and the broth absorbed more of their flavor, it became a more complex, better balanced broth for me.
I don't think I see myself ever standing in the line for Ippudo New York, but I'll happily keep going here in Seoul (especially since we just realized there's a location much closer to Dan's office).
*I realize this is a weird mix of Seoul and New York restaurants but since Ippudo has locations in both cities, it seems appropriate.