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Taco trailblazers: Seoul's must-try Mexican bites

'A good taco starts with a good tortilla'

By Ali Abbot

Published : June 17, 2023 - 16:01

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Beef barbacoa tacos served at El Pino 323 (Courtesy of El Pino 323's Instagram) Beef barbacoa tacos served at El Pino 323 (Courtesy of El Pino 323's Instagram)

One of the best ways to beat the summer heat is with a dash of spice, a squeeze of lime and perhaps, a sip of creamy horchata. Whether you are looking for comfort food or fresh flavors, Mexican cuisine ticks all the boxes, offering homestyle favorites and deceptively light bites that never fail to pack a punch.

The Korea Herald visited three Mexican spots across Seoul, all of which delivered on their promise of delicious food without a drop of canned salsa, tinned sweetcorn or processed guacamole in sight.

Villa Guerrero

Tucked away in a quiet corner near Samseong Jungang Station, this unassuming taqueria has the potential to knock you off your feet with its authentic, bold and down-to-earth flavors.

Owner and head taquero Lee Jeong-soo has crafted a pleasantly minimalistic menu with only two types of taco -- carnitas (braised pork) and Tolucan-style chorizo -- both served on warm, homemade corn tortillas.

The handmade chorizo, a type of ground sausage, is spicy and deliciously pungent, pairing perfectly with the nuttiness of the tortilla and generous helpings of fresh onions and cilantro.

A selection of meat carnitas and Tolucan chorizo tacos served at Villa Guerrero (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald) A selection of meat carnitas and Tolucan chorizo tacos served at Villa Guerrero (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald)

For the carnitas tacos, you can choose from four different cuts of pork -- meat, stomach, skin and tongue -- or you can mix them together and enjoy a harmony of different textures. The meat carnitas tacos were succulent, with an unbeatable, deep savoriness that will keep you coming back for more. Pair the carnitas with Villa Guerrero’s homemade spicy salsa and a squeeze of lime for the perfect bite which hits all the right notes. Wash it all down with some cinnamon-y horchata to complete a truly satisfying meal.

Villa Guerrero, which opened in 2015, proves that simple can, in fact, be the best, succeeding in their mission of providing good, honest food and a respite for busy Seoulites in a quieter area of Gangnam.

Villa Guerrero is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Villa Guerrero's homemade corn tortillas (Courtesy of Villa Guerrero's Instagram) Villa Guerrero's homemade corn tortillas (Courtesy of Villa Guerrero's Instagram)

Crispy Pork Town

Crispy Pork Town, located near Noksapyeong Station in Yongsan-gu, is all about the tortilla.

“Just like good jeyuk bokkeum (Korean stir-fried pork) needs good rice, a good taco starts with a good tortilla,” says Shine, owner and chef at Crispy Pork Town. Their yellow corn tortillas -- one of the hardest types to make, according to Shine -- are all homemade.

“Flavor is more important than adapting to local preferences,” says Shine, who grew up in South America and worked for several years at a 3-Michelin star restaurant in Spain.

Indeed, Crispy Pork Town does not compromise on much, especially when it comes to their top notch flavors and quality ingredients. Shine’s fastidiously curated menu successfully encapsulates the vibrant, earthy flavors one expects from truly authentic Mexican cuisine.

Crispy pork tacos (Courtesy of Crispy Pork Town's Instagram) Crispy pork tacos (Courtesy of Crispy Pork Town's Instagram)

Crispy Pork Town serves everything from quesadillas and tacos to nachos and creamy guacamole. Try their eponymous crispy pork tacos, which are juicy and tender. The suadero tacos, with their rich and ropey beef brisket filling, and the crunchy chicharron (fried pork belly), are also not to be missed.

The beef birria quesadilla, where the tortilla is coated in a fragrant and subtly tart adobo sauce, is cheesy and spicy, with a welcome hit of freshness from the pico de gallo (a chopped tomato-based salsa) and limes.

Complete your meal with a thirst-quenching frozen margarita, Crispy Pork Town’s signature paloma cocktail or an ice-cold Mexican beer.

Crispy Pork Town is open every day, except for Tuesday, from noon to 10:30 p.m., with a break from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Beef suadero tacos served at Crispy Pork Town (Courtesy of Crispy Pork Town's Instagram) Beef suadero tacos served at Crispy Pork Town (Courtesy of Crispy Pork Town's Instagram)

El Pino 323

Chef D, owner of El Pino 323, is a Korean American adoptee who was taken in by a Mexican American family in East Los Angeles. Upon his return to Korea, he found himself craving his abuela's (grandmother's) recipes, but couldn’t find anywhere he liked, so he decided to start his own restaurant instead. Starting off as a pop-up store in 2015, El Pino 323 is now situated in the heart of Gangnam-gu, just a five-minute walk from Exit No. 6 of Sinsa Station.

Chips and homemade guacamole served at El Pino 323 (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald) Chips and homemade guacamole served at El Pino 323 (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald)

El Pino 323 boasts a diverse menu with larger portions that stays true to its culinary influences in East LA. Start your meal with their chips and fresh homemade guacamole, which goes well with their tangy selection of homemade sauces: salsa verde, avocado hot sauce and chipotle hot sauce.

You can choose between corn and flour tortillas for your tacos, both of which are homemade and well worth a try. Their al pastor tacos -- spicy pork marinated in a pineapple salsa -- were delightfully savory and sweet, while the carne asada (grilled beef) tacos had a pleasant charred taste.

El Pino 323 also serves tortas (a Mexican-style sandwich), wet burritos and saucy enchiladas, which come with a side of rice, onions, cilantro and a moreish elote creamed corn.

El Pino 323 is open Tuesdays to Sundays, from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with a break from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

El Pino 323's beef brisket enchilada is served with a side of rice, onions, cilantro and elote creamed corn. (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald) El Pino 323's beef brisket enchilada is served with a side of rice, onions, cilantro and elote creamed corn. (Ali Abbot/The Korea Herald)