Review: *CLOSED* Headlock (헤드락 샌드위치)

Edit: Unfortunately. This little place is closed and is, from what I recall passing by a few weeks ago, a ddeokbokki joint or something. :/

I've lived in the Noksapyeong vicinity now for about 4 years and, specifically, about 3 mins walk from the Kyunglidan main street which has suddenly exploded in popularity in the last 2.5 years or so. That little street used to be mostly mom and pop shops- especially the more you go up it towards the Hyatt- but is virtually unrecognizable now from when I first moved to the area. On a purely gastronomical level, it's been good with its influx of eclectic and diverse food and drinking options. On the other hand, while there's been an undeniable rise in variety, overall  my opinion on the vast majority of the establishments that have sprung up here in the last few years has been underwhelming.

I form my opinion in my dining reviews on essentially two major criteria: one is the quality and taste of the food in general and the second on the overall value. In the best case, both criteria is met; the food is not only excellent but well worth the money. Even if the price of the meal is much higher than what I'd pay on average for a meal, if it's good food I'm willing to pay for it.

Then you get into the gray areas such as when the food is overall great but its price is so exaggerated that it's not worth its pricing. Worst is if both criteria is off the mark- food is underwhelming and its price value is nowhere even close what it should be. Unfortunately, I've found a majority of places to be in this latter two category. With gentrification and the quadrupling of land prices overall in this area, on one hand I can understand the hard dilemma owners face in setting an understandable price point on their food and drinks.

With that being said, today's place is one of the very, very few gems I can confidently say is not only excellent in value but also delightfully tasty.

Named whimsically as headlock, as in the wrestling move, this joint is literally a hole-in-the-wall that's conjoined in the back with an old butcher shop in the old market area, somewhat parallel to the main kyunglidan street. Headlock itself faces the main kyunglidan street with its open window. It's super tiny, I mean like 4 or 5 seats inside tiny. The kitchen is entirely open showing the guys doing their grilling and prepping.

I remember at one point it was actually a hot dog place. I'm not sure if it's the same owner but the hot dogs were grilled-to-order but crazy expensive... like 8 or 9K for a hot dog. I remember shaking my head and thinking if I'm paying that much for a wurst, it better be freaking made of angus steak and saffron.

But thank God, that's no longer what's on the menu. Instead, intriguingly, this place is all about shrimp. Shrimp, shrimp, shrimp, in sandwich form. In fact, there's only four options- a spicy wasabi mayo, a beef chili, original, and a cheese version. Now, let met get Headlocks' first merit out of the way: the price.

Choose whichever sanders you want and no matter your decision, you'll be set back a mere 4K. 4K! I think the chain kimbap stores sells instant ramen for like 4 or 5 K a bowl nowadays but this is a real sandwich you're getting for 4K!

Now, the second draw of this place: all dishes are made to order. After getting past your dilemma of choosing and going past the point of no return (ordering), the two friendly guys will get to work on your sandwich. Chances are they'll already be scrambling around working on other orders. Because of their value, Headlock has risen quite a bit in recognition and popularity so at busy times you may find yourself having to wait a bit.

It's fun to watch them working on your sandwich while you wait from the open kitchen as they grill up the bread, scoop up the chili, mix the shrimp with the wasabi mayo, etc.

Third merit: value value value. Now price is always a good start but the important thing is always value. You can pick up a cheap 1.5K or 2K sandwich from a convenience store around the corner but who hasn't opened it up to find a soggy, sad little guy with the filling sorta bunched up in the front to look like it's a packed sandwich?

The shrimp is aplenty at Headlock and they are plump and tasty. Give a squeeze from the wedge of lemon provided to amp up the flavors.

The chili and shrimp is my personal favorite but that's probably because I'm a huge chili fan and I do love me my shrimp. The chili is spicier than it looks but it's also packed with beefy goodness. The downside of the ample ground beef is that this is also quite oilier than it looks. Initially I found it odd that they served forks with their sandwiches but for these packed sandwiches, and especially this messy guy, is a necessity. Be careful cuz that oily goodness will spill everywhere as you eat. This is basically the protein 'wich.

The original is a dressed up mayo version with a sweeter edge. Those who like a bit of the animal style sauce or Thousand Islands dressing will like this guy.

The wasabi mayo was my second favorite. Plenty of wasabi quite a lot of mayo. Note the bit of radish sprouts sprinkled atop. There's quite an abundance of mayo but there's quite a bit of wasabi in it too.

Granted, I certainly don’t consider Headlock a meal by any means. A really hungry person with a big appetite would probably have to throw back at least 2 or 3 of them to be satiated. But for those looking for a snack or something in between meals, 4K is a small price to pay for these guys and especially considering the average prices around this part of town.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Sure, the seating is limited and it’s nothing fancy (a lot of the ingredients are probably Costco-based) but Headlock has one of the best deals in the Itaewon vicinity. The price in itself is inexpensive but they don’t skimp out on main ingredients like shrimp or chili and in a fraction of the time it would have taken you to make it from scratch. Making it a sort of “value meal” by throwing in some fries or chips with a drink and tacking on 2 or 3 wonners isn’t a bad idea either. Nevertheless, here’s to hoping and praying that the continually rising rent costs around won’t affect them in the long run…

서울 용산구 회나무로 15
15, Hoenamu-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea

I'm going to assume most will know how to get to kyunglidan. Simply come up kyunglidan (Hoenamu-ro) for about 60 meters and you'll see Headlock on the left side between Seoul Salon and a Korean barbecue restaurant.




Bottled beer, such as Corona, example

The weather is nice lately. Sit on the steps next to the church across the street to do some people watching while you munch.