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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).

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This Mary’s No Virgin

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Hello to all far and wide to another edition of Mastication Monologues.  Today I am going to tell you all about an interesting hamburger place I went to in Andersonville that has a lot of a personality.  It’s called Hamburger Mary’s, and it’s located at 5400 North Clark Street  Chicago, IL 60640.  It’s a pretty modern part of town, and there is plenty of street parking which means that this eatery is quite easy to reach.

It all seems so quaint and Swedish

Now I already mentioned that this place has a lot of personality, but what exactly could that mean?  Well,  what I’m referring to is the fact that this place has a constant subtle nudge at sex at every turn.  First, my then girlfriend at the time mentioned that they had cabaret and drag queen shows there every so often, so I was a bit wary about what I was getting myself into.  However, when I arrived, it didn’t seem too offbeat from the outside.  On the inside, it’s very kitschy in its choice of decor that ranges from their abnormally busty statue of their mascot, Mary, 1950s Americana items, and even the occasional rainbow flag to represent the large LGBT community on the north side of Chicago.  Plus, there are various sexual puns throughout the actual menu like loaded ta-tas (tater tots with cheese), Chik’n Wangs (chicken wings in a southern accent), and the guacamole BJ (Bacon and Jack cheeseburger).  Sexuality aside, I’m here to judge the food.

I went to this establishment two different times and got two different types of burgers.  In general, I was impressed with how many different options you could have in terms of bun (gluten-free, brioche, wheat, or lettuce cups), meat (anything from blackbean patties to Wagyu beef), and sides.  The first time I went there, I got the lamb gyro burger with a side of the tasty seasoned ta-tas.  It was going to be interesting to see how they were going to transform one of my favorite Greek/drunk foods of all time into burger form, and I was pleasantly surprised.  It was served as a lamb patty with onions, tomatoes, pita chips, and a typical Tzatziki sauce.  The lamb was cooked just the way I liked it, and the vegetables were very fresh.  As for the pita chips, they added a much welcomed texture change with their crunch enhanced by the (cool as a) cucumber sauce.  With the seasoned ta-tas, they were basically tater tots that were seasoned with Hamburger Mary’s special blend of spices.  Personally, these tater tots were pretty good but nothing mind-blowing.  Overall, I’d give round one to the Gyro Burger since it’s Zeus sized flavor made the side look like a mere mortal.

The second time around, I decided to go with the Fiesta Burger which consisted of a beef patty stuffed with chorizo and spices, topped with pepper jack cheese, pico de gallo, chipotle ranch, and tortilla strips.  I’d normally be happy with the stuffed beef patty alone, but this sandwich was a fiesta sin igual.  The spices brought out the hotter bits of the cheese which normally didn’t happen with other similar Southwest burgers at other restaurants.  These spicier tones and the flaming hot patty were then cooled by the homemade pico de gallo that was quite flavorful and chipotle filled.  This is where I think the chipotle ranch wasn’t really that necessary.  If one has chipotle already in their pico de gallo, then I think it’s kind of a waste to use it on the same burger.  Given this opinion, I believe that the chipotle ranch did not make any sort of impact on my palate.  The tortilla strips were in the same league as the pita chips on the gyro burger since they offset all of the chewier portions of the burger with a much-needed firmness like a strong shot of tequila reposado.  As for my side, I got the bacon-potato salad which I was a bit wary about, but I think my love for all things bacon must have subconsciously influenced me when I was ordering.  I should have listened to my head instead of my pork loving heart because I can only eat potato salad in small portions before it loses its appeal.   However, I was pleasantly surprised since this side was one of the better potato salads I’ve had because it was creamy, had generous pieces of bacon lurking under its white mounds, and the potatoes were slightly firm but at the same time quite tender.  Unfortunately, I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach because I was stuffed after finishing this side and the burger all in one sitting.  Oh bacon, you greasy temptress!   At the end of the meal, they gave us the check in a high heel which was an interesting touch, but just made me think that only in this place would this seem normal.

Overall, Hamburger Mary’s is a good burger place to go for a good time, but the only downside is that I think it’s slightly overpriced for the food.  I think it’s just a way to counter the cost of offering so many different products for different types of eaters.  Nevertheless, spend an afternoon with Mary and see that this girl next door is more than just a pretty face.

I guess Mary thinks everything bigger is better

Hamburger Mary's on Urbanspoon

Hamburger Mary's on Foodio54

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