Review: Johnny Dumpling (쟈니덤플링)

Itaewon is known for many things including its infamous weekend nighttime revelry but it also attracts foodies at all hours who are attracted by the variety of international offerings. Ironically however, if you do a search on Itaewon restaurants, today's featured restaurant consistently lists in numerous results. And of all the wide variety of international cuisine and dishes found in this area, it is the humble dumpling that is famed here. Lines are common at all three (yes, three) branches of Johnny Dumpling- all in the Itaewon proper area and within a .5km radius- but picture the surprised looks of visitors to the 'Twon when they see that people are lining up for dumplings of all food. Some may scoff that Johnny Dumpling is another restaurant that gained a "lemmings" type of following from the locals (and, granted, most of the diners there are Koreans) but that still can't explain away the fact that the restaurant has been in Itaewon now (and absolutely thriving still) for more than 10 years.

The original store, located in the side street just south and parallel to the main Itaewon street, first opened in 2007 and, aside from the prices, nothing has changed about it. It still is the tiny store that can seat about 10-15 with its simple wooden interior and small kitchen. As Itaewon is known for the range of dining establishments started up by Seoul's various expats, the simple dumpling is probably the last thing you would think would succeed so well but succeed Johnny Dumpling has and to the point that it opened a second store near the Hamilton Hotel and a third merely 50 or so meters away from the original branch in Bogwangdong. Lines are a foregone conclusion for peak lunch and dinner times but even at off times you may encounter a queue although turnaround times aren't as long as a traditional restaurant.

The dumpling variety here are the northern Chinese-based ones which many hold to be less aesthetically pleasing as their delicate and thin counterparts from the south. But while the variety here may not be the looks of the mandu family, they have the robust hearty flavors that must be doing something right to still draw the lines after more than a decade in business. Of the six menu items available, five have mandu in them (it is a dumpling restaurant after all).

Steamed shrimp and meat wonton (8K for 13), half fried shrimp and meat wonton (8K for 10), wonton  soup made from mussel base (8K), eggs and chives steamed wonton (8K for 10), eggs and chives fried wonton (8K for 10), mapa dubu (8K). 
Tsingtao is 7K for the larger 640ml and 6K for the 330 ml (which... economically only makes sense to get the larger bottle...) while Cass is 5K a bottle, soft drinks 2K. 

They also sell bags of their wonton frozen for 13K with the option being 26 of the shrimp wonton for steaming or 20 for the fried variety. 

Very simple sides of only danmuji (pickled radish) and the zha cai (pickled greens) with soy sauce at the table for dipping.

The steamed shrimp and meat dumplings.

The visually more attractive fried cousin. This one is the "signature" mandu of the restaurant which comes with the dumplings steamed and then fried on one side with a bit or cornstarch drizzle for the pretty (and tasty) "branches".

The shrimp and meat filling isn't the delicate kind but more a flavor wallop with the juicy filling, plump meat just a well-matched balance of protein from the land and sea. The thicker consistency of the wraps works as another equalizer to the hearty filling. Though the filling is the same with the half fried kind, the expert cooking of both sides adds a delightful new dimension to the overall dish much like the toasting of certain sandwiches would add depth to it. With equal bits of crunch and chew, it's no wonder this mandu is the most popular variety.

The mapa dubu is a big ol' plate of rice and simply savory/spicy mapa tofu.The sauce and tofu quantity is generous and should easily satiate most appetites. The flavors are nice although I feel it's much subdued not only in the spicy level but the variety of spices for perhaps the mostly Korean clientele. I'd had better and I've had worse.

For comparison with the shrimp and meat kind, we got an order of the fried eggs and chives wonton which also comes similarly looking as the fried shrimp and meat kind albeit fried more in pairs and trios.

The fantastic match between eggs and chives is found in many cuisines, including Western ones, so their meeting in this dumpling form is not unusual. I am a big fan of chives in general but in this case its overabundance drowns out the subtle flavors of the eggs making it taste, essentially, like a chives dumpling. The texture and wrap thickness here is the same as the shrimp and meat variety but the overall combination of the latter just couldn't be beat.

Final thoughts: 

The variety of dumplings at Johnny Dumpling are certainly on the expensive end of the mandu scale though, particularly as their star shrimp and meat fried dumpling shows, the restaurant knows a thing or two about mandu making. Though certainly lacking the delicate poise and grace of hign-end mandu such as Jaha Sohn Mandu, the flavors and textures are much direct making Johnny Dumpling a great spot for either an (expensive) snack or a (cheaper) meal for the Itaewon area. 

서울특별시 용산구 보광로59길 5
5, Bogwang-ro 59-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

From exit 4 of Itaewon station, immediately turn around and hug the corner to walk down the main Bogwang-ro for 20 meters and turn right at the first street (Bogwang 59-gil). Johnny Dumpling is the 3rd or so store. 

Note that B and C on the above maps are the second and third branches of Johnny Dumpling 

11:30AM-9:30PM everyday. 
They close on not only every national holiday but the day before it as well.




Beer and some Chinese liquor available

Check out the second or third location if the first has too many people in line.