Hello, folks and happy Tuesday to all you sidewalk swimmers in this fine rainy summer. Today, I want to make an attempt at giving some concise directions to an often hard to find but frequently sought after piece of Gwangju that is tucked away so neatly you’d almost think the world didn’t want folks to find it. What I’m talking about are two fabled restaurants known simply as the Thai Restaurant and the Chinese Restaurant. I won’t give a full food review (I can’t make food as interesting as Jen; totally not in my wheelhouse) of either restaurant but after the directions, I’ll tell you a bit about pricing and atmosphere. Regarding the Chinese Restaurant, you can actually check out Jen’s article from a little while back here. Alright, here goes.
The easiest way via mass transit to find these two restaurants, which reside across the street from each other in a small alleyway in the Songjeong district of Gwangsan gu, is via subway. Though there are two stops in Songjeong and both will bring you reasonably close to these restaurants, we’ll be looking at the shorter of the two walks which starts at the Songjeongri subway station(this is the Songjeong train and KTX station out a bit west of Gwangju Airport). Let me clarify: if you are coming from anywhere east of the airport, such as downtown, this is the second stop with Songjeong in the title, the first being Songjeong Park. If you are not close to the subway line, simply hop on any bus which goes to the Songjeongri station stop. These include bus numbers 19, 29, 98, and many others. So you are standing outside the Songjeong KTX station. What next?
First, you should be across the street from the KTX station, not directly next to it. From here, turn so that the station is on your left hand side such that your left shoulder is facing it. Look forward and head in that direction, which will be more or less east heading back in the direction of downtown and Sangmu. After a block or two, you’ll see on the same side of the street the KTX station is, opposite the side of the street you should be on, a multicolored high rise hospital with a name that starts with two non-Korean characters followed in Hangeul by the name No-se-yo-yang-byeong-won. This hospital is effectively across the street from the one we’ll be turning on to reach our destination. At the corner across the street from this hospital, you will see a restaurant called Gwangsan Naju Gomtang. The side street immediately before this restaurant, again across from the hospital, is where we will be turning so when you turn, the Gomtang restaurant will be on your left and you’ll be facing effectively south.
Next, follow this street about another block. It will wind a little bit but there won’t be any difficult forks or anything so just keep on going. After a couple minutes, you’ll come to a spot where the street opens up a bit and the cross street changes from asphalt to winding ornamental brick. The most recognizable landmark here will be a store named U.G.I.Z. on your left before you cross the brick street. Once you cross over the brick street, continuing south along the paved road and the Thai restaurant, painted mostly in green with the words in English ‘Thai Restaurant’ along with a Thai flag, will be maybe another minute’s walk. The Thai Restaurant will be on your right and often has bicycles in front of it in the evening and also has a small wheelchair ramp. The Chinese Restaurant that I referred to earlier, with your back to the Thai Restaurant, is across the street and one or two buildings to the right with a red sign with white Chinese characters. There is another Chinese restaurant directly next to and on the same side as the Thai Restaurant but I cannot speak to its quality as I haven’t yet had the chance to eat there.
If at any point you get lost in the Songjeong area, an easy way to get grounded again is to find the Baskin Robbins on the ornamental brick road across from the Mini Stop. If you wind up by the KB or Lotteria, you’ll need to follow the brick road west back toward the KTX station and you will see the Baskin Robbins on your left. Continue one road west past the Baskin Robbins and Mini Stop, passing the Mini Stop after the Baskin Robbins, and turn left at the next street. Again, you will see the U.G.I.Z. store on your right this time.
If these directions come off a bit patronizing or simple, I do apologize and mean no offence as these two restaurants alone, not to mention this charming district, are totally worth the trip but they can be very hard to find without a guide who has been there previously physically with you. Trust me, I accidentally found it the first time and it took me four more visits to get it set in my mental map so do not be embarrassed if you have a bit of trouble finding this spot. It should speak to the quality of the Thai place that I continued to pursue it even without exact directions more times than I can count now.
Both restaurants have their good and bad points and I’d like to quickly go over some highlights. First, regarding service, both restaurants tend to have consistently decent service with the Thai restaurant being a little bit homier but often slower as it is almost exclusively managed and operated by one person (that’s serving, cooking, and handling the cash register – color me impressed). In both restaurants, Korean is fully understood and spoken though if you know Thai or Chinese, these can be used in their respective shops as they are owned and operated by fellow transplants. The menu in the Thai restaurant has English but don’t be afraid to simply point at pictures and tell them how many dishes you want in either restaurant (for the Thai place, look for the dishes with an egg on fried rice with a pile of saucy delicious meat next to it and simply tell them what meat you want: I will accept your thanks later).
The Chinese Restaurant is more group oriented regarding their dishes so bring at least one other person. Four is really the prime group size for this establishment and I recommend ordering three entrée size dishes, egg drop soup, and fried rice for a group of four (again, you don’t have to thank me now). The Thai Restaurant, while gladly serving groups (but please don’t show up with more than 6 and expect it to go at the pace of Kimbab Nara), is unique in that you can go alone and still be served no questions asked as most dishes are meant for a single patron. The food at both restaurants is excellent and equally as authentic and more importantly delicious as anything that could be expected outside of its home country. Regarding price, expect the food cost to run between 5,000 and 12,000 per person at the Thai Restaurant with the average dish running around 7,000 won whereas the Chinese Restaurant will run a little higher at between 10,000 and 20,000 per person after splitting the bill, however that increase in price often leads to somewhat heftier portions.
Well, I hope this helps clear up things for everyone trying to find these culinary delights. Be warned that these restaurants are very small and family operated, only holding a maximum of about 20-30 people each but they will usually work to accommodate where and however they may. Though in the past, the Thai Restaurant has had issues holding regular hours, this seems to have stabalised recently so go with a bit of caution but don’t be afraid to trek down anyway. Both restaurants tend to be open noon until 9 pm most days. For more information on the Songjeong area, check out the Crooked Trail’s article from a few months back here. Enjoy the food and cheers to you all.