All in the tortilla

By Korea Herald

Paco Loco builds tacos from the tortilla up

  • Published : Jan 24, 2014 - 19:27
  • Updated : Jan 24, 2014 - 19:27
(Clockwise from top) Paco Loco’s carne asada, tripas de res and camarones a la diabla tacos come draped in tomatillo-avocado salsa and salsa roja. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

For Paco Loco owner-chef Kwon Si-hyun, a good taco begins with the tortilla.

Every morning, Kwon and his culinary team of one craft their own with corn masa flour and water.

“We make them every morning, about 100,” said Kwon, 28.

To make their tortillas, corn masa flour and water are kneaded into dough. The dough is then hand-cranked through a rolling tortilla press and the resulting flat circles of dough are tossed on a griddle.

Fragrant with that mouthwatering, nutty scent characteristic of corn, Paco Loco’s tortillas are slightly rough, grainy, not too malleable or stretchy, and hearty with a little heft.

Those tortillas form the backbone of the small Mexican restaurant’s cuisine, serving as a conduit for Kwon’s own experiences earned living in Jalisco, Mexico, where he learned how to make authentic Mexican food.

While there, he witnessed how tortillas were made, from husk to griddle, before tasting the fresh, warm, toothsome results himself.

“When I ate it, it tasted so good and so nutty,” he recalled. “I realized that the tortilla was most important.” 

At Paco Loco, corn masa flour dough is hand-cranked through a tortilla press to create the eatery’s toothsome tortillas. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Kwon brought that philosophy and his own culinary know-how back to Korea to reopen the restaurant he ran for a year before he left for Mexico.

He drew from his six months in Guadalajara, four of which were spent taking an intensive private cooking program, to create the menu for his small, 16-seat eatery in Itaewon, which opened in its new location less than a month ago near Noksapyeong Station.

At Paco Loco, beef tripe tacos emerge redolent of cinnamon and nestled in those supple housemade tortillas. Camerones a La Diabla are dressed with succulent, chipotle-spiced shrimp.

Al pastor surprises with its hint of clove and creamy pineapple-infused sweetness, while carne asada is straightforward, boneless rib beef seared to molten outer crispness for a juicy bite.

All tacos come topped with refried beans, lettuce, onions and cilantro and draped with a tart avocado-tomatillo salsa and a salsa roja.

Sides of avocado slices can be ordered and added to tacos or the same fillings can be ordered as taquiquesos, which are essentially tacos whose additional star ingredient is cheese that has been crisped on the outside for a simultaneously crunchy and gooey eating experience.

Then all one has to do is dig in, cradling each taco, trying to prevent all those precious juices and sauces from tumbling out with every bite.

Patrons can also order up burritos and nachos, along with Kwon’s take on the Mexican dish, molcajete mar y tierra, a stew-like concoction of cheese, salsa, meat and seafood.

Kwon revealed plans to possibly feature chiles rellenos and other Mexican staples on special days, and has already started to whip up some cinnamon-infused horchata when game, dishing it out as a complimentary refreshment to patrons.

“I am thinking of doing tinga de pollo,” he added. 

Paco Loco

713 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

(010) 7313-6445

Open Tuesdays to Sundays from noon to 10 p.m., closed Mondays

Tacos cost around 6,000 won to 9,000 won for two, 10,000 won to 12,000 won for three

By Jean Oh (