The Best of Seoul Mexican Food
(This article is from our guest writer Tyler, check out his blog)
One thing an American seeks out wherever he or she roams is good Mexican food. In fact, I believe the spread of Mexican food around the world has been a result of American travelers and expats more than Mexicans themselves, evidenced by where we find Mexican food and what kind. What I’m speaking of is Americanized Mexican food. So, keep in mind when I am writing about Mexican food, I am talking about Americanized Mexican, like the typical American recognizes and likes. Nachos! Americanized Mexican is pretty straight forward – meat, cheese, tortilla, beans & rice, and salsa in large portions. That is the basics. Going the extra mile with creative items and hand-made sauces are really where a place will thrive on my list.
A Note of Judging
The five points I will be scoring on are as follows. First, the basics – How are the meat, cheese, tortillas (shells), and salsa? I will consider the quality, flavor, and varieties. Second – drinks. What goes better with an enchilada than a margarita? Third – Rice. This is my pet-peeve category. Nothing annoys me more than a small, hidden bite of meat in a burrito overflowing with rice. What is the rice to meat ratio? I will judge based on that for this category. Fourth – location. This is like most lists, I will be judging on the atmosphere, comfort, and overall feel of the place. And finally, fifth – price. This will be based on bang for your buck mostly. Do you get a good amount of food for the money, or do I need to buy 7 tacos to be satisfied? That is how that will go, so let’s get to it!
Possibly trying to capitalize on the rising popularity of Mexican in Seoul at the moment, this place has opened in two locations in my area. One is next to Butterfingers near Rodeo and the other is one street off Garusugil near Sinsa. I’m still a little confused by this place. It doesn’t seem to work on many levels and I’m not sure what clientele they are aiming for. It was busy with Koreans, so I’m guessing they are happy with it, but I didn’t see the draw. They have the craft beer (Magpie) and creative ingredients (coconut shrimp, short ribs, and spicy pork tacos) of an upscale fusion place, but they serve the food like a fast food place and have self-serve “nachos” with a vat of cheese reminiscent of a sports stadium in the 80’s. The appearance is very fast food-esque, as well. Now, you might be saying, “why not have a quality, upscale food that you can eat fast?” I agree, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, but here’s the kicker at this place – It’s not that good. The coconut shrimp was buffet quality and the sauce was runny in a cold tortilla. The burritos were similarly priced to other places (10-11) but half-sized, like dinosaur eggs. They had a creative attempt at fries (a la Vatos’ kimchi fries) called Seoul Fries with bulgogi meat, but they just didn’t hit the mark. There were too many onions and the cheese was mediocre at best. If they were going for an upscale clientele then the quality needed to be better, but if they were going for a quick, cheap bite, then the prices were too high. It just didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I would have to say if you are trying to eat Mexican, don’t bother with this place when there are plenty of other options close by that are way better and not any more expensive.
Basics – 5 Drinks – 7 Rice – 6 Location – 5 Price – 6
#4 Taco Chili Chili
On the hot restaurant strip near Sinsa, one street off Garusugil, is this little Mexican taqueria. It’s almost unnoticeable unless you are looking for it. It has one medium sized yellow sign that reads “Taco” with the full name below in Korean. It’s set back behind its neighbors, so you might just walk right by it, but don’t be so easily fooled. Unlike Grill5Taco, this place isn’t having an identity crisis. It is a small, affordable taco shop with all the standard favorites of any Mexican place. It has tacos reminiscent of a house party make-your-own-taco with hard shells, crisp lettuce, shredded cheese, and anchored with a nice line of chicken or beef (unless you get the veggie option). It has soft tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and nachos. All the hits are here, none of the pretentiousness. The enchilada I had, beef, was spilling over with meat and cheese, and it was bigger than I expected. It didn’t go the extra mile with the ingredients, but it was pretty good (9-9.5). The nachos weren’t large, but there was no dry chip underworld either, each chip was taken care of with ingredients, though the meat was a little sparse and the chips were slightly stale. Overall, I think for the price it was pretty decent. I recommend the enchilada for a good filling choice.
Basics – 6 Drinks – 5 Rice – 7 Location – 6 Price – 8
# 3 On The Border
The ubiquitous Tex-Mex chain that dots Seoul has been a Mexican staple for foreigners and Koreans alike for as long as I have been in the country. They have two locations in my area, one in COEX and one just off Rodeo on the Galleria side next to Mick Jones’ PIzza. This is a straight up place with no tricks or fancy parings. If you want the more upscale and creative, I suggest you go up the list a bit. If you like the basics of Mexican food, then this is your place. They don’t beat around the bush – it’s meat, cheese, rice, and beans. It’s the Mexican food starter kit, if you will. The quality is solid. I like to get the Southwest Chicken Taco combination with extra rice and, even though it’s a little runny, sour cream (15 for 2, 18.5 for 3). They have all the comfortable amenities of Mexican back home; unlimited chips and salsa, large schooner sized drinks with Corona, and the Mexican color schemes and tile walls that look like all those random places we used to eat Mexican food with our families growing up (or at least I did). If you want to fill that craving and not have to wait in line, this is your place. They have all the favorites, including the sizzling hot plate fajitas that everyone loves watching fly around the place, steam-trail and all. They also have lunch specials until 5 pm and they have a good appetizer platter for your hosting needs. It’s a comfortable place that is regularly on my dinner routine, and I’ve got the stamp card to prove it.
Basics – 7 Drinks – 6 Rice – 7 Location – 7 Price – 7
The sensation Mexican fusion restaurant that is expanding quick. It opened awhile back in Itaewon and needed a new, larger place in no time. It has quickly spread to Apgujeong in two locations. One is on Garusugil on a second floor overlooking the famous strip of cement and fur coats with a large window to view the dressed up shopping. The second location is in the Galleria Gourmet 494 and is a Vatos Express location, but it still has the famous kimchi fries, so no worries there. What about those kimchi fries, you ask? If you haven’t heard yet, they are the talk of the town. Kimchi, meat, cheese, sour cream, and salsa on fries, how can you go wrong? You can’t. They are great. I can’t seem to get enough of them, and I’m glad I don’t have to wait in line all they way over in Itaewon to get them anymore. They also have the devilish makolita (magkolli margarita, if you hadn’t already deduced that). All that and they have really nice small soft tacos. These were the most interesting in town until recently (see #1), but now I realize the taco shells are flimsy and unexceptional. The sauces are slightly overpowering with spice, making the ingredients less noticeable, as well.
Vatos is slightly overhyped – slightly. Overall, it’s a solid place with good quality ingredients and that Mexican/Korean fusion that is getting more popular, in part because of this very restaurant. Worth a try, but not an hour wait.
Basics – 9 Drinks – 8 Rice – 8 Location – 7 Price – 6
Right at the elbow of Rodeo is the new Coreano’s Mexican Restaurant. Coming from Texas and taking on Seoul they make their own hot sauces and corn taco shells in house. The sauces, by the way, are really nice. Spicy, but not overpowering with spice, just enough to wake up your tongue and get its attention. The salsa verde has a nice creamy taste to it and I was using that all over my chips instead of the table salsa. This exciting new place is laying claim to the prize of “Americas Best Fries”. The fries they are referring to are the Three Wise Fries and they are really good, the best in America? I’m not sure about that, but really good none the less. They were piled with meat, different hot sauces, and cheese. They were like a Mexican food dream mix. The tacos in those hand-made shells were small but packed with meat. They have many flavors, I got a Galbi, a Pork Shoulder, and a Carne Asada taco. All three were bursting with flavor in each bite. The sauces seem to be designed with the utmost care to detail for each meat paring. The prices were just above 3 for each taco. But wait, there’s more – the OG burrito is as legit as it gets. This burrito is the epitome of the Korean/Mexican fusion. Bulgogi and slaw burrito, with a great flavor and packed with meat. The meat and cheese extend to the folds of the burrito making every bite flavorful, no dry edges. They have recently updated their menu and added some real nice choices with pork belly – pork belly!
Basics – 10 Drinks – 8 Rice – 8 Location – 7 Price – 7
I love eating Mexican food. To me, it’s like eating pizza, even a mediocre one is good. I am just excited to have such good options in the Mexican food genre lately. When I first moved here the options were slim. I just hope we can keep this competition alive for the benefit of all of us that love Mexican food. The options are getting better and better and I love this trend. I hope you all enjoy!
Eat up Apgujeong!
This article is from our guest writer Tyler, check out his blog