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Category Archives: Tex Mex

Nacho Average Restaurant

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Hoo doggy!  It’s heating up in Chicagoland right at the end of summer, and today’s Mastication Monologues post is a real firecracker.  If you’re looking for a fun new bar that has a giant photobooth to document a crazy night or a beer pong table to relive old glory days in college, then check out D.S. Tequila Company!

It is a restaurant that has plenty of attitude in terms of its decor and events that are held every weekend that range from trivia to bingo.  The inside is quite modern in design with mostly metal, exposed brick, and dark wood accents.  However, my favorite part of the restaurant is the patio.  1bec1e9e3d9e3d7cfe86cc15ce343653.640x427Both times I’ve been there, it was nice weather, so it was packed with partiers and diners.  In this post, I’ll just be talking about my second time there when I went with my girlfriend for lunch.  She had been raving about their nachos there, so I couldn’t say no to a Tex-Mex and personal favorite.  We sat on the patio on the oddly humid/on and off drizzing day around noon.  Due to the precipitation, we got to see their retractable roof on the patio in action, so no worries if it’s raining.  You can still get your groove on outside.  This lunch experience  was the complete opposite of the first time I went there on a rowdy Saturday night.  There were patrons calmly talking over their meals, and we proceeded to do follow suit when the menus were placed in front of us.  We started with ordering drinks.  D.S. Tequila lives up to its name with their own homemade brew ranging from blanco to anejo which you can purchase in the restaurant if you are completamente loco for the Mexican mezcals.  I ended up getting one of their frozen mug drinks ($8 for a glass/$32 a pitcher): the black and green.  It was an intriguing drink since it came out in a large beer mug, but it looked like a root beer slushy. IMG_3879 Turns out that the darker liquid was the Negra Modelo Mexican beer, and the slush was D.S. Tequila’s original margarita.  It was like an inversion of a margarita I had at Gusto Taco in Seoul.  However, I think I preferred this inverted beergarita since the full bodied lager enveloped the sugary slush, but the citrus zest made each sip really pop.  While imbibing this innovative icy beverage, Janice ordered the regular sized Texas Trash Nachos ($9.89).  I was confused why she thought that this would suffice for someone like me with a giant appetite.  I was looking at the other options on the menu like their tacos, burgers, salads, or soups, but she assured me that this would demolish even the biggest of stomachs.  She was totally right.  The nacho equivalent of Mount Doom was placed in front of us with an ominous, heavy clunk on the tabletop.IMG_3881 I didn’t know where to start.

Guess which one of us is intimidated?

Guess which one of us is intimidated?

Dive headfirst into the ingredient-rich top layer or play it safe with the unadorned chips around the borders of the plate?  I took the bull by the horns, and rode that toro through chunks of succulent steak, chunky guacamole, cool sour cream, two layers of cheese, pickled jalapeno slices, and acidic pico de gallo.   Needless to say, that they all came together in one of the best nacho platters I’ve had.  The only problem, as with most nacho platters, is the refried beans foundation that often times results in soggy chips towards the end of the meal.  That would be my only complaint with the dish, but at that point, I didn’t really care because I was really hungry.  We ended up finished the entire thing, and it was a great bargain for less than five bucks a person.  I’m scared to think how big the “family size” nachos would be.

Overall, I’d recommend D.S. Tequila for a great patio experience or just a rocking good time on a weekend.  Their drinks are strong, and their portions are huge.  What more could you ask for?

D.S. Tequila Company on Urbanspoon

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Huge Flavors Under the Big Top

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Happy Sunday or Monday depending on where you are in the world!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today’s blog post is all about different Latin flavors coming together under one roof at Carnivale in Chicago.

While I had heard my parents raving about how wonderful the food was at this establishment, I had to try it for myself.  They told me that it was mostly Latin food which meant the name was more of a reference to the cultural practice of Carnival before Lent, not the one with clowns and little bears driving cars (or is that ballet?).  The origin of the word “Carnival” is disputed, but I will champion the Latin camp who states that it comes from “Carne vale” or “putting away meat”.  This reflects the following Lenten period where Catholics typically eliminate meat from their diet on Fridays along with other lustful and sinful pleasures.  However, Carnivals serve as the final hurrah before entering the solemn Lenten period, and boy, do people get crazy all over the world from Brazil to Germany to the USA.  So, I could only hope that Carnivale could synthesize the party atmosphere into an enjoyable dining experience.  While the outside of the restaurant looked quite average, upon walking in I could see that the interior decorator certainly had eclectic tastes.IMG_3130  From the zebra skin chairs to the many random pictures that covered the walls (the men’s bathroom walls look like a tasteful version of Playboy), it really captured the carnal and almost animalistic nature of the holiday.IMG_3131  However, it maintained its sense of class with the elegant, wrap-around bar and dark wood accents. IMG_3132

Main dining room

Main dining room

I was at the restaurant as part of a work party for a few of my mom’s coworkers, so I was privileged to sample a wider variety of food than I would have if I just went there by myself.  While it was a parade of different foods, the bill was astronomic since this is not a cheap restaurant.  The cheapest items, the sides, start at $7 and it goes up from there with the entrees averaging $30.  Thankfully, I was in the presence of doctors, so the only thing I really had to pay for was my drink.  Since we were in a Latin restaurant, I thought I should get a caipirinha ($10)to really celebrate. IMG_3138 While I have never really had good luck finding an adequate version of this Brazilian drink, Carnivale finally fulfilled that need.  A caipirinha (meaning “a person from the countryside” in Portuguese) consists of cachaca (distilled sugar cane liquor), sugar, and lime. IMG_3137 What you end up with is a sweet, strong drink that still has a potent kick but an ephemeral lime background that cuts through the alcohol. IMG_3153 It provided a perfect prologue to the culinary madness that quickly ensued.

Upon sitting down, our table was quickly covered with all sorts of appetizers.  First, there was the ceviche tasting platter ($24). IMG_3142 Ceviche is a cold seafood dish common to Ecuador, but Carnivale really took some creative liberties with the ingredients and presentation.  The Ecuadorian shrimp ($12 on its own) mini-plate was my favorite of the bunch.IMG_3147  Not only did I like it because I love my shrimp but also due to the semi-spicy pepper sauce and cool cucumber sorbet atop the crustaceans.  The salmon ($12 on its own) was ok with its coconut milk sauce and lemon grass garnishes, but it was a bit too bland for my liking.IMG_3160  As for the mixto ceviche, ($12 on its own) it caught my attention after the bland salmon due to its lemon zest and semi-chewy texture.IMG_3159  All of the ceviche was wrapped up with a tuna tiradito ($12) that reminded me of a sushi roll minus the rice.  It was probably my second favorite because of the julienned jicama that provided a crispy contrast to the tender slabs of tuna and the citrus zing compliments of the Japanese yuzu fruit.IMG_3158  After sampling these fruits de mer, I had to try the tortilla chips and guacamole ($8/$15 depending on size). IMG_3145 Both were wonderful.  The chips were light in composition and salt content, and the guacamole was chunky and slightly spicy.  Then there were the ropa vieja tacos ($12).  IMG_3140This Cuban/Mexican fusion was tan sabroso since the braised skirt steak had plantains gently integrated into the savory mixture.  The meaty mixture within the corn shell was topped off with some crumbly queso fresco and red onions to give a temperature contrast.IMG_3141 I’d highly recommend this appetizer.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, these ox tail empanadas ($13) scampered onto my plate. IMG_3144 I’ve been around the block when it comes to eating doughy pockets of meat from around the world, but these empanadas were something special.  While all the other empanadas or equivalents I’ve tried consisted of baked, chewy and/or flaky flour based dough, these empanadas had a crunchy, fried corn husk that reminded me of a little armadillo.IMG_3161  The interior wasn’t as innovative as the exterior, but the truffle chimichurri added a savory and aromatic element to a very unique dish.  After polishing off the little morsel, my attention turned to the combination platter of charcuterie and artisan cheeses ($25).IMG_3162  They spared no expense as this smorgasbord of salt and fat contained hard pecorino cheese slices, pungent blue cheese, gossamer-thin pieces of pata negra jamon, Catalan fuet sausage, a few garlic stuffed olives, grapes, and a horseradish-infused,brown mustard seed sauce on the side.  After establishing myself as chairman of the cutting board, there was a lighter appetizer placed in front of me in the form of the wild mushroom coca ($11). IMG_3163 The coca is a plate of Catalan origin but the word came from the Dutch word for “cake”.  Ergo, Carnivale’s version of a coca was pushing it in terms of being a “cake”, but it was a perfect follow-up from the heavier charcuterie.IMG_3164  I greatly enjoyed the goat cheese mixing with the fresh arugula while the mushrooms were pan-roasted that added a semi-beefy flavor.  All of which atop the sourdough flatbread made it seem more like a healthy flatbread pizza than a cake.  If you think that I’m going down the healthy route with this appetizer, think again.  The calamari ($12), albeit fried, was not as greasy as you’d find in your typical Italian restaurant.IMG_3166  Plus, each ringlet was coated in a super sweet and sour adobo sauce that harmonized with the more earthy elements like the smoked hazelnuts, carrots, and green papaya slivers.  Surprisingly, this was the end of the appetizers, and I still had room in my stomach to take on the big bad entrees.

The second act in this gastronomic epic opened with the churrasco from Argentina ($32). IMG_3172 It was a relatively simple plate consisting of succulent slices of prime sirloin sandwiched between a garlic green chimichurri sauce and a yuca puree below that tasted almost tasted like a liquefied mozzarella.  Each bit was like heaven, and the excellent asparagus spears were a mere afterthought to this symphony of masterful meat.  I followed the beef up with a little seafood in the form of paella ($32). IMG_3174 While this Spanish rice dish didn’t seem to contain saffron, the essential but extremely expensive spice in a traditional paella, it didn’t take away from the overall quality of the plate.  Each forkful contained pieces of shrimp, mussel, and squid along with a moist, tomato based rice that wasn’t exactly like what you would find in the homeland of paella: Valencia, Spain. It wasn’t a strong entry out of everything I tried.  Luckily, I ended the entree round on a high note with the arrachera ($26).IMG_3182  There was a lot happening on one plate.  While there were similar juicy skirt steak pieces topped with chimichurri sauce, the meat morsels were atop a mound of arroz moros.   While this Cuban side dish of rice and black beans cooked together is quite dry by itself, it was made more palatable when consumed with the steak.  I also enjoyed the bacon sofrito (sauce) on the sides which served a salty and savory springboard for all of the other flavors to really jump out at me.  Finally, there was the dessert.

While I was struggling with my food baby that was about 2 hours old and almost due, I managed to try one more item off of Carnivale’s menu:  carmelized sweet plantains ($7).IMG_3171  Lord, were these little nuggets the bomb diggity.  I have to make up words to describe what was going through my mind when I ate them.IMG_3168  I wasn’t sure if it was the meat sweats or the hormones from the food baby, but I was having a moment.  From the thin crust to the gooey sweet interiors, these Caribbean specialties were Jamaican me crazy.

In the end, I was lying back in the booth and enjoying the Latin beats bumping over the sound system while I digested my food.  If you’re looking for some of the best Latin fusion food around and are willing to drop some cash, then check out Carnivale!

Carnivale on Urbanspoon

Nuevo Sabor That’s No Chore

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Well, here we go again.  Another weekend, another round of posts.  Today’s edition of Mastication Monologues comes off another long week and weekend of work mixed with plenty of play.  While I have been around the block when it comes to Mexican eateries, I haven’t managed to adequately compile all of them on my food blog.  However, this past weekend provided me with a perfect opportunity to make up for lost time.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a Chicago comida mexicana institution that resides in the once Bohemian, now Latino (predominantly Mexican), and perhaps in the future solely hipster neighborhood of Pilsen.  I’m talking about Nuevo Leon located at 1515 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608.341699_iPad-Large_20120905111026.jpg.resize.768x432

After our trip to a fantastic punch class at Punch House, we were absolutely starving, and what better way to celebrate making our potent libation than enjoying some hearty Mexican cuisine?  While I had been to Nuevo Leon before and knew of its delectable selection of Mexican platters, Josah and Janice were unaware of the treasures within.  They were soon put wise.  Even at 5 pm on a Saturday, there was a line streaming out the door that we had to wait in.  Our wait was only made more interesting as I was carrying our large glass container of punch which led the diners to think that I was carrying around a special bowl of motor oil or perhaps the liquefied remains of  a deceased relative.10313748_10101613763422131_1817890989632858173_n  Either way, it was a good conversation piece.  Also while waiting, I saw the signs that alerted customers to their CASH ONLY policy.  If you’re plum out of moolah, they have an ATM inside the establishment.  I also noticed that our punch would be put to good use due to Nuevo Leon’s BYOB policy.  The only restrictions they have is that patrons cannot bring in coolers, and each patron can only drink the equivalent of three beers.  Eventually we reached the front of the line and were ushered to a table in the back.  Every seat in the house was packed as we dodged servers buzzing about like bees in a constantly humming hive.  Upon sitting down, we were supplied with a basket of tortilla chips, two types of tomato based salsa, and a bowl of pickled carrot and jalapeno pepper pieces.  While the condiments were fresh and filled with plenty of south-of-the-border flavor, the chips had a slightly funky fishy flavor which I think was due to the type of oil they used in the deep fryer.  They didn’t bother me too much, but I still don’t believe the Mexican equivalent of the bread basket should taste like the catch of the day.

Our waitress greeted us, and I took over from there when it came to communicating with her.  It didn’t seem like her English was the best when she tried to speak with Josah, so this might be frustrating for patrons who might not be able to speak Spanish.  I started by asking for a carafe of ice, glasses, and straws to imbibe our punch with our entrees.  Then I put in my order for the especial cazuela ($10.50) or literally “special cooking pot” in English.  There was a funny cultural exchange as well while ordering.  Josah asked for a chimichanga, and the waitress seemed quite confused.  I then proceeded to ask in Spanish, “Se preparan chimichangas aqui?” (Do they make chimichangas here?).  The waitress then said, “Que es una chimichanga?” (What is a chimichanga?) I described it to her as “un burrito frito” (a fried burrito), but she just shrugged and said there are only burritos.    Clearly you are not going to find certain super-Amurikanized plates you have come to love at your local Chili’s or Chipotle.  However, she was quite curious about our punch we made, so I offered her a glass.  Eventually, our meals came out, and I was a bit taken aback by the humble appearance of my dish. IMG_3078 A cazuela is a stew-like meal that in this case consisted of grilled pieces of ribeye steak, onions, poblano peppers, and panela cheese.  I was anticipating more steak and vegetables, but I quickly found out that the majority of the goodness was lurking under the peppery red broth.  When combined in a tortilla with the creamy refried beans and fluffy rice on the side, it was fantastic.  The ribeye was high quality with no fat to be seen, and the vegetables were soft but not mushy.  The cheese was an interesting addition as well since it provided a slightly salty element to a mainly savory dish.  All of these elements’ flavors really popped due to the jalapeno level spice of the aforementioned broth.  I was one stuffed and satisfied diner by the end of the meal.

So if you’re looking for a restaurant that is one of the most popular representatives of Mexican cuisine in Chicago without the frills of Frontera Grill or the prices of Topolobampo, then check out Nuevo Leon!

Nuevo Leon on Urbanspoon

London (Day 3)- Feel De Riddim, Feel De Ride, Sit on Down, It’s Eatin’ Time!

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After a rousing first and second day in London, day three would put them all to shame as I managed to try two different restaurants while going all out at night at some fun night clubs and bars.  However, let me start at the beginning.

It was a laid-back day where I mainly walked around the museum area of South Kensington.  I thought I would be able to knock out both the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in one day…how foolish I was.  I would highly recommend a trip to the Natural History Museum over the Victoria and Albert Museum since they have many great biological, geological, and astronomical displays.  The only downside was the hordes of school children that swarmed about every main display like screaming ants at a picnic.  After braving my own personal running of the schoolchildren, it really worked up an appetite.  So, I decided I would take a trip to south London, specifically Brixton.  This area has been known over the decades as a bastion for Caribbean immigrants along with scenes of brutal violence like riots and knife crime.  Naturally, like many ethnic enclaves in a cosmopolitan city, it has recently become trendy for students and young professionals to take up residence in Brixton.  With them comes the phenomenon of gentrification, but where I walked around in the neighborhood, I didn’t feel it was as widespread as in certain neighborhoods of Chicago (read:  Pilsen).  I was determined to visit El Negril that specializes in Caribbean food, but as always with my luck, they didn’t open until 5 pm.  So I walked back toward the tube station to find another eatery called Bamboula which drew me in with its vibrant colors. IMG_2221 Once inside, it was moderately full, and I was the only white person in there which seemed to come as a shock to the main waitress/hostess.  I was quickly seated opposite a guy who seemed to be either touched in the head or communicating with Jah while eating/paying for the bill which annoyed my waitress greatly.  Next to him was a Rasta tapping out a reggae beat on his plate between mouthfuls and seemed to be quite a devil with the ladies.  After soaking in these surroundings, I went for the lunch special of goat curry, callaloo rice, grilled plantains, and salad.  It also came with a drink, and there were so many things on the menu that I didn’t even know what they were.  True to form, I went for something called “sour sop” juice.  It all eventually came out with a wonderful presentation. IMG_2220 I started with the goat curry and the callaloo rice.  The goat was quite bony, but the chunks of meat were tender and tasted like a mix between beef and lamb.  The brown curry it was swimming in went exquisitely with the the rice which seemed to be made out Basmati rice and seasoned with some scotch bonnet peppers to give it a proper kick.  This starchy side gets its name from the callaloo leaves which were originally eaten by West Africans and then their ancestors when they arrived as slaves in Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago etc.  I could only describe them as having a very subtle spinach texture and taste.  The salad was refreshing but nothing out of the ordinary, and the plantains were delicious since they were savory yet had a bit of the sweetness of their banana relatives.  Then there was the mysterious sour sop juice.  It looked like lemonade and tasted like a sublime mix of passion fruit, pear, and pineapple juice.  Once I demolished all of my meal, I asked Princess what exactly a sour sop was, and she said that it’s a type of fruit that is native to Latin America that kind of looks like a green pear.  I sent my regards to the Rasta chef and was on my way to see the Brixton Market.
Bamboula Caribbean Restaurant on Urbanspoon
IMG_2225IMG_2222IMG_2226  It was an entire street and mini community of food hawkers that catered to the local populace with sour sop stalls, piles of callaloo, roti shops, tea houses, and plenty of reggae beats floating overhead.IMG_2227  It was like I was transported to a completely different world far from the pomp of Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.  Since I was in the mood of markets, I moved from Brixton Market to the more upscale Borough Market in the middle of London. IMG_2242 My friends recommended that I check it out even though it’s a bit more expensive/tourist ridden than the other central markets.  These negative attributes fell by the wayside as I was in some sort of culinary Valhalla as I wanted to try everything in sight, but unfortunately I think it would take at least a week to hit up every stall.IMG_2228 IMG_2229  It was a wondrous playground as I flitted from a cheese maker to a man serving paella and different curries to a chocolatier to a seasoning shop that had uber-expensive truffles on display to smell.IMG_2235 IMG_2234 IMG_2233 IMG_2232 IMG_2231 IMG_2230  I obliged, and the earthy aroma nearly knocked me over with how powerful it was.  I can see why they’re only served in small slivers as garnishes to dishes.  Eventually, I decided this would be the perfect place to get dessert, and I saw a bakery stall with a very long line that was moving quickly. IMG_2237

A mountain of meringues.

A mountain of meringues.

I jumped in line, and I immediately knew what I was going to get:  a monstrous chocolate chip cookie.  It was a bargain at only 2 pounds (~4 bucks), but it was quite possibly the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had.

Normal sized?

Normal sized?

Think again!

Think again!

It was semi-soft with rich chocolate slices spread evenly throughout along with some rich brown sugar that sang with every bite.  I liked this market too because it was mostly covered as I discovered it had been raining for awhile as I walked out to the tube station in the shadow of the Shard building.  At night, I went out with my friends Ravi, Rav, and Bob in Shoreditch to a restaurant called Chico Bandito which allegedly was a Mexican and Cuban restaurant. IMG_2244 Upon looking at the menu, I couldn’t see even one receta cubana, but the Mexican food all looked muy sabrosa.  I hit it off with our waitress hablando espanol, and she hooked us up with some festive hats as we indulged in the last ten minutes of happy hour.

Viva la hora feliz!

Viva la hora feliz!

IMG_2250 To start off, we got two plates of nachos, one traditional and the other with chorizo. IMG_2248 Both were some of the best nachos I ever had because the tortilla chips seemed to be lighter than the ones back in the USA and with less of an overpowering corn flavor that allowed the gooey cheese, cool sour cream, spicy chorizo, and zesty guacamole to really make their mark on our palates.  As for the main entree, I went for the chicken chimichanga which ended up being a softball-sized fried, stuffed tortilla. IMG_2251 It was expertly made with a crunchy exterior that gave way to a spicy monton de pollo.  The rice and mixed bean and green salad on the sides were delicious, but the problem was that the chimichanga alone ended up sitting like a bowling ball in my stomach for the next three hours.  I couldn’t even finish the rest of the meal.  I didn’t feel greasy, just extremely full which kind of put a damper on our night out when we went to Bar Kick.  I’d highly recommend checking out Chico Bandito though for quality Mexican food.   I eventually felt better by the time we made it to the dance club Concrete where they were having Biggie and Tupac night.    After a long night of dancing to 90s rap tracks,  we rode home on rent-a-bikes from the club at 2 am through the streets of London. I then realized It’s tough being a food critic and a gangsta at the same time.
Chico Bandito on Urbanspoon

Biggie approves this blog post.

Biggie approves this blog post.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Barato? Creo que no Vato!

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Hey everybody, and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  November is in full swing, and I have been living it up as I am slowly approaching the nine month mark in Korea and my birthday!  This weekend was no different as I managed to knock another restaurant off my culinary hit-list like the food assassin that I am.  I ended up going to Vatos Urban Tacos located at Itaewon-dong 181-8 2nd Floor, Seoul.  It’s very easy to get there:  go to the Itaewon metro stop and come out exit three; walk for a while until you pass a Nike and an Adidas store.  It’ll be a couple of minutes after them on your right hand side on a hill.  You also won’t be able to miss it because there will be more people outside of the restaurant than on free sample day at Costco.  I highly recommend you make reservations in advance because this restaurant is like Jay Gatsby’s parties, i.e. everyone and their omma is invited every night of the week.  So I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about.

The interior had a modern vibe mainly with dark wood elements and wrought iron/industrial metal elements like old spigots that constituted the table frames. IMG_1194 I had already seen my fair share of pictures of people on Facebook eating the various plates that Vatos offers like tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and their monster margaritas.IMG_1186  I was kind of sad you couldn’t mix and match their taco flavors, but I eventually settled for three braised carnitas tacos (8,000 W).  To drink, I went for their peach margarita (12,500 W) because you can never go wrong with peach flavored things.  The first thing we ate were the complimentary chips with salsa which were a bit different from any other Mexican restaurant I’ve been to because the tortilla chips were not chips. IMG_1187 They were still in their original tortilla form which didn’t make much of a difference to us, but they were good with the salsa verde and spicier salsa roja which most likely had serrano peppers in it for that smoky flavor.  We also split a basket of kimchi fries (11,500 W) which were great.

A tisket, a tasket, I went hog wild on this basket

A tisket, a tasket, I went hog-wild on this basket

Not only were the fries made to perfection, but the chopped onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, and sour cream managed to dance a perfect ranchera with the spicy kimchi that was nestled amongst the western ingredients.  When they came out, they confirmed my initial fears from my friends comments about the portion sizes.  These were the smallest tacos I’ve ever eaten.IMG_1193  I mean, I know I come from a country where a side of a cow constitutes a regular serving size, but Korea is not Lilliput either.  While they were delectable, they were not the best like back home or at Gusto Taco in Hongdae.  The meat was shredded and adequately seasoned but a bit on the dry side.  As for the tortillas, they felt very flimsy when I rolled up my taco, and I’m sure if they made their tacos any bigger, there would be meat and cheese all over customers’ hands.  I also didn’t really taste any lime that they talked about in the description on the menu, but it didn’t really bother me all that much.  My peach margarita, on the other hand, was large and in charge.

Peachy keen!

Peachy keen!

It definitely was one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had since it wasn’t slushy and filled with ice chips, and every sip was a smooth draw of rich peach flavor with a minor hint of alcohol.  As for my friends, Steph got the fajita burrito (11,000 w) which was much heartier than my tacos, and one element that really stood out to me was the chipotle mayonnaise.IMG_1192  It was an oddly pleasing ingredient to throw into a burrito, so I tip my sombrero to you Vatos.  As for her bf, Daeun, he got three spicy chicken tacos (9,000 w).IMG_1191  It was a very basic type of chicken taco, and it wasn’t even that spicy.  I personally preferred my tacos since they at least had more of a flavor profile with the cilantro and onions on top.  In the end, we were all stuffed and satisfied with our meal.

So if you want to go to one of most crowded but not the best taco restaurant in Seoul, go to Vatos, but remember it’s not muy barato (cheap).

El Gusto Es Mío (The Pleasure’s Mine)

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Hey hey hey, everybody!  It’s almost the end of October already, and I’m definitely in the Halloween spirit.  I do miss the changing leaves, football, and apple cider, but tonight I had a legit taste of home to kick-off my Halloween weekend.  Although tacos aren’t really known for being synonymous with Halloween, the ones I had at Gusto Taco were frighteningly good.  Here’s their website.  If you’re going there by metro, get off at Sangsu, and come out exit 1.  Make a U-turn to your right when you come out, and walk down the street for two minutes.  You’ll see it on your left.

Oh hey, stranger!

Oh hey, stranger!

Growing up in Chicago, I’ve had my fair share of Mexican cuisine, and I’ve chronicled it in a few of my posts (See Salsa and Nopales).  Therefore, I was somewhat skeptical when all of my friends were raving that Gusto Taco had the best tacos they’ve every tried in their lives.  So when we walked in, it was a pretty basic looking place with close to no one inside. IMG_1126  I went for the pork chipotle tacos and the pollo asada (grilled chicken) tacos.  There are two tacos to each order, and the price range of tacos goes from 5,700 Won to 8,000 for the shrimp tacos.  They’re moderately sized, but I would soon find out that the flavors packed into them were larger than life.  They also have burritos, nachos, and quesadillas if you aren’t feeling like a taco fiesta is for you.  First, there were the chipotle pork tacos which everyone in my group recommended.  Looking at the various ingredients in the taco like the pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, and a light spritz of tomatillo salsa, I could see that these tacos were something special.IMG_1122  After the first bite, I could now see why my friends were acting like these tacos were the crystal meth of foreign foodstuffs.  My friend, Danielle, who was with me, asked the Walter White or perhaps the Jesse of the operation, in reality a small Korean woman, if they made their own tortillas.  Turns out that they do, and they were the best corn tortillas I’ve ever tasted.  Not only did they have that slightly oily corn character to every bite, but they were extremely resilient amid my own personal feeding frenzy.  When the guacamole hit the water, I went full-on Jaws on those pork tacos.  As for the meat, it was a strange yet refreshing fusion of typical Mexican pork with an almost gyro-esque texture but with a bit less grease.  However, I don’t know quite where the cilantro comes in since I couldn’t really taste any of it aside from in the pico de gallo.  I was thinking that there would be perhaps some sort of cilantro rub or the like on the meat.  Just make sure you’re ready to get your hands a bit dirty with grease/juices while eating them.  They also go great with a splash or two of the complimentary Tabasco hot sauce Gusto Taco provides.  As for the grilled chicken tacos, they were great but not as amazing at the pork cilantro tacos.IMG_1123  While the meat was delicious white breast chunks, it had the same ingredients from the cilantro pork tacos.  The main difference between the two tacos beyond the obvious of having two different types of meat was that the chicken tacos let the supporting cast of condiments share the spotlight which resulted in a more even taste.  A definite contrast to machísimo puerco tacos striding out across your palate like a proud matador who just dispatched an unlucky bull.  Either way, I was thoroughly satisfied with my food and service.

So if you’re looking for one of my top three places for food in Seoul (I’m not kidding), go to Gusto Taco.  If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about.  If not, remember this old saying, “El perro que no anda, hueso no encuentra” (The dog that doesn’t wander will not find a bone), so wander on down to Gusto Taco.  Vale la pena! (It’s worth the effort!)

Tomatill-Oh So Good

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Hola a todos!  So I’m still living the foodie thug life while on summer vacation here in South Korea, and it is still hotter than a mother-father gentleman.  However, that doesn’t mean that this heat is stopping me from enjoying my free time before second semester starts at the end of the month.  Today I visited a new Mexican restaurant called Tomatillo which is located in Itaewon.  To get there, come out of exit 1, and then make the left you see that doesn’t go into a parking lot.  Then turn right, and it will be there on your left hand side.  Here is their website.IMG_0636IMG_0637

Originally, I was planning on trying some Paraguayan food at Comedor in Itaewon, but since it is Korean Independence Day, not only are the Koreans celebrating their liberation from the Japanese but also their ability to close down their restaurants whenever they want.  Long story short, not many restaurants were open, so we ended up at Tomatillo.  That is not to say that it was a terrible experience.  Quite the opposite.  After scanning the menu, I saw that they served Tex-Mex standards like nachos, tortilla chips with salsa, tacos, burritos, and chimichangas.  I hate to break it to them, but they were calling a taco salad a “tostada”.  Tostadas being one of my favorite Mexican dishes, I was slightly perturbed by this.  At the same time, I realized we were in Korea where they refer to guacamole as “avocado sauce”, so I can’t really be annoyed with them.  I got a barbacoa (braised beef) burrito (9,000 W), a glass of horchata (5,000 W), and a side of chocolate churros  for dessert (4,500 W).IMG_0638

The wait wasn’t too long for my food to come up, and I was quite excited to see this banquet set out in front of me.  I started on the burrito, and it was pretty damn good for Mexican food in Korea.  I mean, I still think even Chipotle would beat it in terms of overall flavor diversity though.  They also asked me if I wanted it spicy, and I replied in the affirmative.  Yet when I bit into this substantially sized burrito, I didn’t taste one hint of spice.IMG_0641  I don’t know if they just don’t have the ingredients to make it really spicy, or are just giving into their natural assumptions that Western people can’t handle spice.  Lack of supposed spiciness aside, the ingredients in the burrito were well made.  The beef was definitely well seasoned and was not too juicy/too dry.  The tortilla was soft and pliable yet held together at the height of my feeding frenzy.  I really enjoyed the Mexican rice along with the beans that were nestled in every gentle fold of the white tapestry that brought this little bundle of food together.  I think if they actually used some sort of chili sauce and more chipotle, their burritos could really go to the next level in terms of tasting like Mexican food you can get in Chicago or L.A.  Moving on to my horchata, it was really refreshing since it was ice cold and creamy but slightly different to the horchata you can get at any taqueria in Chicago.  The Korean version still had the cinnamon-notes that reminded me of home, yet it seemed too thick to be the real deal.  Oh well, just another variant just like how the original horchata in Spain tastes different from the Mexican version.  Finally, there were the churros…best part of the meal. IMG_0640 Not only did I get a good amount for my money, but they were liberally doused in cinnamon and sugar.  The chocolate was lightly drizzled on them which was different than the Spanish churros I’d get down the block from my apartment in Barcelona, but these Korean ones were perfectly fried.  They were slightly crunchy, but not overly so, and had a soft, almost creamy dough center that was still warm.  Too good.  Overally, I liked it better than Taco Cielo since it seemed not as over the top and trying hard to adopt to develop syncretic cuisine to please the locals.  So if you don’t want to battle it out with the crowds at Vato’s Tacos down the street, check out Tomatillo!

Before I finish, I just want a quick Fell and Cole blurb about two new ice cream flavors I tried:  red wine/Sichuan chili pepper and Love Potion No. 6.  For other flavors, see Nosh Pit and Where Everyone Should Bee.

So hot yet so cold

So hot yet so cold

First off, the red wine/Sichuan chili pepper ice cream was very novel yet disappointing in certain aspects.  While it had a strange tartness that persisted after each spoonful, I was crestfallen that it didn’t fulfill its potential to be a really spicy ice cream.  The chili element seemed to have been neutralized and instead used for textural support as I could feel the crunchy chili flakes running over my tongue as I slowly savored the cold wave passing over my palate.  Perhaps the cold neutralized the signature Chinese heat.  As for the second flavor, Love Potion No. 6, it was made of black rice, black beans, black sesame, and kelp.IMG_0643  Why all the black stuff you ask?  Well, this ice cream is supposedly referring to a Korean belief that ingesting these foods can roll back the years.  Hence, your grey hairs will turn black again.  I’d personally prefer more hair on my head, but I was genuinely surprised by this flavor.  I was expecting it to taste like garbage, but instead, it had a sugary taste peppered with earthy notes.  I could only liken it to the conservative flavor of a sugar cone, but every so often I could detect the light caress of the salty kelp.  If I had to choose between the two flavors, it would be hard, but I’d go with the Love Potion because its flavor wasn’t as intense as the bold combo of alcohol and crunchy pepper flakes.

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