In the final part of our Best of the West series, Joe McPherson takes readers on a whistle-stop tour of the spiciest, crispiest, and wickedest wings on offer across the peninsula.
In 1999, Duane Henning was in Apgujeong complaining to his girlfriend about the sad state of Italian food in Korea. The conversation then turned to wings. The recently opened Reggae Pub had some jerk wings, and the foreign franchise casual dining places had wimpy attempts, but the concept of real tangy, drippingly hot Buffalo wings was alien in Korea.
Henning opened Beaver’s Wings in Hongdae two years later, possibly the first full-fledged wing establishment in Korea. It had nine varieties, ranging from Buffalo to Thai to Jack Daniel’s. Despite its popularity, it closed its doors in 2002. Sometime later, Sh-wing opened in a tiny closet space in Apgujeong and became a legend with its “Krazy Korean” wings, where only one would make many patrons go outside to walk it off.
More foreign-operated bars opened, and more wings started appearing on menus. When Korea’s first Hooters opened in early 2007 in Apgujeong, it became the death knell for Sh-wing and pushed hot wings into Korea’s mainstream.
Ten years after the opening of Beaver’s Wings, chicken flappers have become staples of pubs. Restaurants feature their wings as main items. There are even a few places that specialize in just wings.
We recently asked our readers to vote for their favorite wing spots. I have tried all of them personally and then some. What I’ve found is that there is not much of an agreed upon standard for what comes with wings. I ranked these according to the entire wing experience and left out the well-known chains. Some got points for the little extras. There were a lot of surprises.
10. Richard Copycat’s All-American Diner Greatest Variety Heat: 8 For a restaurant boasting of its great wings and its variety of sauces, it’s a shame that they don’t allow any mixing. Their hottest wings, Volcano, gave some good fire. All the sauces I tried suffered from lack of depth. The hot sauce was like straight distilled vinegar with cayenne chile powder. Caribbean Mystery’s mystery was if it had anything to do with the Caribbean.
richardcopycats.com 02-790-0411, 56-13 Itaewon 1-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
9. The Wolfhound Blue Cheese Heaven Heat: 5 The Wolfie has a great burger and fish ‘n’ chips. The wings would be just as good if there wasn’t so much competition, even on the plate. They come with a basic Buffalo sauce, lightly applied. Their friends are some fat veggies and a tub of blue cheese dressing, which overshadow the wings themselves. wolfhoundpub.com, 02-749-7971, 128-6 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
8. Reggae Chicken Best Atmosphere Heat: 1 Reggae only has the kingstone wings. They’re breaded and juicy with herby vinaigrette on the side, along with an onion ring and fried potato slices. As fried chicken goes, they’re tasty. Reggae’s definitely aren’t Buffalo wings. But this little Hongdae haven/Bob Marley shrine brings the right laid-back atmosphere.
02-338-3438, 91-3 Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
7. Big Rock Tastiest Unique Wing Heat: 6 The regular Buffalo wings come with a tiny bit of veggies and a suspiciously sweet and herbal ranch. But the one to get is the coconut red curry, which is breaded and comes with a salad, of all things. It’s delectably spicy and gooey with the essence of a Thai beach getaway.
, 02-539-6650 B1 Yongjeong Building 818-8 Yeoksam 1-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
6. Beer O’Clock Most Classic Heat: 6 When the granddaddy of Korea Buffalo wings, Duane “Beaver” Henning, isn’t making his own batch, he goes here. Beer O’Clock is generous with their sauce. They also have a chunky housemade ranch for a little extra. These are the classic wings to eat while watching sports and are properly messy.
02-333-9733, 2F 52-53 Changcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
5. Dillinger’s Most Unique Presentation Heat: 9 Rather than serve ranch and celery, Dillinger’s serve their wings on a pile of crispy French fries. The fries soak in the sauce and become that much better. Dillinger’s hottest wings posed one of the greatest challenges in finishing because of the heat. The Thai green curry ones were also spicy and just tasted damn good. They appear in my dreams occasionally now.
02-793-7232, 72-32 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
4. Rocky Mountain Tavern The Manliest Manly Man Choice Heat: 9 Get ready y’all because these testosterone-driven wings have some kick. They aren’t kidding when they call their hottest wing “Killer Ouch.” These are some nose runners. They counter that with the creamiest coolest ranch in the bunch. They don’t serve any veggies, saying no wussy vegetables should be with their wings. But that ranch was so smooth it was crying for some celery.
010-5189-2327, 2F 736-12 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
3. 3 Alley Pub Deepest Flavor Heat: 8 The Insane wings are just that. Great heat on those monsters. The wings themselves are plump, and 3 Alley lets you mix ‘em up with different flavors. There’s this mysterious flavor that’s in the hot wings that I can’t quite peg. A good wing needs not only to be hot: it should have an interesting flavor to keep you returning.
3alleypub.com, 02-749-3336, 116-15 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
2. Scrooge Pub Hottest Heat: 10 Scrooge is playing hardball. Their hottest wing is dangerous business. We couldn’t finish the stack. Their honey garlic wings are packed with flavor and are a good reprieve from their “insane” option. They don’t provide any veggies, so be prepared for euphoric torture.
02-797-8201, 119-28 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
1. Traveler’s Bar & Grill Best with Friends Heat: 8-9 This is the closest I found to Sh-wing’s “Krazy Korean.” They put straight capsaicin in their sauce, and they give a good punch and lingering lip afterburn. The flavor is a bit vinegary, but it matches perfectly with the provided ranch and veg sticks. The garlic parmesan offers a pleasant and smooth contrast. They also are liberal with customers’ mixing and matching preferences, so you can enjoy them with friends with difference preferences. An overall great experience.
010-4591-4869 Taesung Building 3F, 265-6 Seohyun-dong, Bundang-Gu, Seongnam