Review: Authentic Chinese Dishes From Number One Yang KKo Chi in Itaewon (넘버원 양꼬치)

Yes. That's really the name of this unassuming joint found in Itaewon's Bogwandong.

I actually heard about this place from a few friends of mine who raved a few times about the tangsooyook (탕수육) here. Seeing as how they had always visited the place in the wee hours of the morning after knocking back a few drinks, I was a little skeptical about how good the food here really could be when sober...

But one day, after failing to get into a different hot dining spot in Itaewon for a friend on her last night in Seoul, we decided to hit up this joint and I finally got a taste of the fare here.

Like the scattered number of lamb skewer joints around Seoul, Number One Yang Kko Chi specializes in Chinese cuisine and specifically food from the Sichuan, Hunan, Xinjiang and surrounding regions. I'm no expert but the cuisine in these regions seem to heavily utilize things like garlic, onion, vinegar and, most famously, Sichuan peppers. Influences from Central Asian cuisine also means lamb, often grilled, is on the menu in these restaurants.

Like the neighborhood its in, Number One Yang Kko Chi (referred from here on as "Number One") is very much an older, mom and pop shop that's more a place locals (and especially local ajushis) will come in to grab a drink with friends. So it's not a place you want to bring a date or someone you want to impress probably but don't let it deter you if you're seeking some unique Chinese dishes, aside from the endless number of Chinese-Korean fusion jjajangmyun shops in Korea.

The interior is surprisingly clean and bright in contrast to its worn down exterior and neighborhood. There's at most 10 tables or so with each table equipped with a little rack and hole for grilling up lamb skewers and lamb ribs.

Even for Koreans, the menu is chock full of unfamiliar and exotic dishes and names. Probably to help, big picture menus are posted on the walls to help patrons get a better feel of what these dishes are like. Between the four of us we placed an order for the much raved about tang soo yook, an order of hyang ra yook sool (a fiery crispy pork, peppers and cilantro stir fry dish) and their corn noodles. Going with the feel of the place, we also split a bottle of Tsingtao beer.




The standard side dishes provided at Number One are basic including pickled onions, pickled chili peppers and fried and salted peanuts.

The pickled peppers are pretty dang spicy with a heat that's almost immediate so spicy food lovers will probably enjoy them very much. The fried peanuts are very addictive and we probably went through about 3-4 refills on them alone.


Tsingtao beer is your standard bottled Tsingtao coming in at 630 mL if I recall correctly. I find Tsingtao has a rather uninspired and bland taste alone but it works well with some of the spicier and greasier dishes here. They also have Harbin beer here which I'm quite interested in giving a shot next time I visit.



The first dish that came to our table was the hyang ra yook sool (14,000 won). From first glance (and sniff) you know for sure you're not in your standard Korean-Chinese joint since this dish is absolutely smothered in cilantro (or coriander as those from the Commonwealth call it). 

In this dish, slivers of spiced pork are fried quickly in high heat to give it a crispy exterior and then joined by fiery chili peppers, fragrant green onions, and fistfuls of cilantro. The pork is almost a little too salty on its own but wonderful with the fragrant greens. Just like how it looks, it's an explosion of flavors, textures, tastes and fragrances which seems like it might be too much but somehow works.


My upbringing in the States has allowed me to grow an appreciation for cilantro (although the first time I had the herb in junior high, I puked afterwards...) but in Korea, I'd say a good 80% of the locals have difficulties with it so if you or someone in your party is not at all keen on it, you probably shouldn't be ordering this dish. But cilantro lovers are in for a treat with this dish and, lest you eat one of the peppers, the dish isn't spicy so kids can enjoy it too.


As many of you may know, I'm not the biggest fan of pork but the pork in this dish is really something. Yes, it is rather salty but the spices and almost caramelized exterior is something I still think about. Just eat it with loads of the greens and with plenty of sips of your beer to help offset the savory flavors.


The tang soo yook (15,000 won) arrived next on the table. From first glance, you can immediately tell the tang soo yook is different from its standard cousins in Korea. The pork pieces are bigger and flatter and is breaded in chap ssal (sweet rice) rather than corn starch. Instead of coming doused in a sticky, gloppy sweet bath, the sauce here is thin, almost watery, and has pooled at the bottom of the plate after being spooned on the hot fried meat pieces.


Despite being thinner, the sauce in Number One's tang soo yook is much more complex with a sweetness that's much less coy and with much more tang.


Those who have been to places like the Hong Kong Ban Jeom chain will have tried chap ssal tang soo yook before and the breading isn't all that different here. But for those unfamiliar with it, the sweet rice coating gives the tang soo yook a chewier exterior. The pork pieces here are thicker than average for Korea but the coating makes the pork pieces look a lot bigger than they actually are.


You won't find cucumber slices or canned pineapple pieces in here as the sauce is given just a light sprinkling of carrots, green onions and ginger that have been julienne to give the dish some mild aromatics. It was a nice touch, especially the ginger pieces, that added subtle fragrances to the sauce.

Overall, the tang soo yook was excellent but certainly not entirely unique. A few of the OG Chinese joints in Myeongdong (near where the old Chinese embassy used to be) still serves tang soo yook in this style as does a few of the joints in the Chinese enclaves of Korea such as Guri. If I had to choose, I'd still choose the hyang ra yook sool over the tang soo yook for its complex yet bold tastes but the tang soo yook is still excellent here. You should definitely try it if you haven't tried tang soo yook made in this style.


Last to arrive was the corn noodles (5,000 won) which we all were most intrigued by when it came to our table. I've certainly never encountered such a noodle dish before in Korea and I hadn't ever imagined someone using corn as the base for noodles.

When the huge bowl of noodles arrived, we all took a minute or two to simply stare at what was put down before us. While the brown hue soup stock was reminiscent of the simple anchovy-based janchi noodles in Korea, the yellow and slightly thicker noodles, the unfamiliar fragrances, and the little mound of reddish brown stuff sitting on top didn't exactly make us jump in right away with our chopsticks. Add to that the fact the dish was only 5,000 won (while all the other dishes at least started from 10,000 won) and I admittedly was a bit nervous initially about what we were about to eat.


As our waitress explained to us, the reddish brown mound on top was simply stir fried kimchi which was to be stirred into the soup. We did so and the soup went from a brown hue to red-hued noodles. Aside from the stir fried kimchi, which I still believe isn't simply stir fried kimchi only, the corn noodles has only a few bits of chopped green onions in it, making it a truly simple dish.


After doling out the noodles between us, we dug in for our first corn noodle experience. I still have a hard time grasping to describe in full what I tasted. Despite its simple looks, the soup base is much more perplexing and complex. Its savory and certainly has depth to it from whatever soup base it's made of but in it are spices and fragrances I'm quite unfamiliar with; sometimes it tasted like exotic spices I had in dishes in SE Asia, other times it tasted like something quite new. It's not as bold and diverse as, say, tom yum goong but there are little subtle fragrant spices in it that I'm certainly curious to know what they are. I haven't had much luck finding out more about this dish online so I suppose I'll have to ask next time I visit.

The noodles itself are surprisingly chewy and I enjoyed them very much. No corn flavors were tasted in the noodles or the soup though.


Overall, the corn noodle was a dish full of surprises which managed to intrigue you to keep eating. While reviews from our group overall were slightly mixed, if not mostly favorable, we did eat all of it so I think it's generally a positive sign!


Most of the other tables around us stuck with the lamb skewers and ribs but this was a fun experience to be adventurous and give the taste buds a rest from the standard cuisines and flavors one gets used to in Korea. I'd say our adventurous spirit was certainly rewarded as we scarfed down our food. And as a further reflection of our well eating, the table next to us twice asked the waitress what dishes we were eating and they even followed suit by ordering the hyang ra yook sool and the corn noodles.

There's plenty of other unfamiliar dishes as well as more familiar Chinese fare such as dumplings, century eggs, mapo tofu and more, offered at Number One which I'm keen to explore in the future. At the very least, my visit has shown the quality of the food overall is nothing sub par so it gives me all the more confidence to continue being adventurous next time I'm here. Prices slightly on the expensive side with most dishes running between 10,000~18,000 won and rice isn't included with the dishes.

I should note that the wait time between dishes is rather long here. While we placed in our order together for our three dishes, each dish arrived one at a time and either after we had finished eating the dish before or when there was only a bit left. On one hand it's positive news showing that they make all the dishes to order but for the impatient or for those who'd like their meal out at once, this is something to take into consideration.

Also, despite its clean and modest interior, it is, like most other lamb skewer joints, mostly a drinking joint. It's mostly ajushis here who are having drinks and smokes (the smoking ban in restaurants law doesn't seem to be carried out here) so maybe not the best place for date night.

But if you're coming with close friends for a few drinks and eats and feeling adventurous, can't say there's anything much about Number One that would make me not recommend the place. If anything, go for the hyang ra yook sool. My God, I still dream of that dish time to time.


Ratings: 3 out of 4 stars
It's slightly pricey, a bit out of the way and a little dingy but if you and friends want some bold and new flavors for your palate with food that's quite good, Number One is a great place to go.

Address: 
서울시 용산구 보광동 238-56
238-56, Bogwang-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 

Map below for your convenience:


Telephone: 
02-798-6518 

Parking: Not available. There's a few paid public lots in the area or, if you're coming in after hours you can take a gamble and park on the curb in front of the closed stores.

Alcohol: Bottled beers available including a few Chinese beers. They also sell the high spirit Chinese liquor called Goryang Joo (고량주). Not for the faint of heart but will certainly put fire in your belly. 

Tip: Number One is closed on Sundays!