L.A. tacos, with a side of Seoul
L.A. has become a taco mecca. Enthusiasts dedicate websites to rating taco stands and mapping taco trucks in the city. Taco-related laws have become hot topics in local politics. Taqueria favorites like El Taurino, King Taco and El Chato have become legendary. People are always trying to figure out where the best taco place in the city is. There are too many good choices in L.A. to narrow it down to one. But in Seoul, that’s easy — Vatos.
A far cry from your piñata-filled Tex-Mex burrito joint, Vatos Urban Tacos delivers authentic L.A. tacos. The flavors of the diverse city are reflected on the menu, a mosaic of classic tacos and quesadillas with a touch of Korean flair.
Their bar offering includes a selection of margaritas and makkeolitas. You’ll have to visit yourself to see how Corona is served Vatos-style.
The Taquero (taco chef), Kenny Park, stays true to his Angelenos roots. When asked why he started an “urban tacos” restaurant in Seoul, Park replied, ”I was really interested in bringing the L.A. taco experience using quality and fresh ingredients. It’s the one thing I miss most in Korea and it is also the one thing my friends here miss most.”
But Kenny didn’t just recreate the L.A. taco.
He wove the energy and creativity of the L.A. taco scene and the unique flavors of Korean cuisine to create a new tapestry of taste.
So exactly what kinds of dishes make up this food fusion? Start by taking the best-selling item at Vatos, the kimchi carnitas fries. Originally skeptical of such a concoction, I found the resulting flavor profile delicious.
This meaty appetizer (really more of a meal) gets its name from the distinct solo notes of the sour kimchi matched with the savory pork carnitas. With a dollop of cool and slightly sweet sour cream and some fixins’, the fries bring all the flavors into a harmonious balance. It is definitely worth a try.
They hold to their Latin souls without wavering. Did I mention that some of the best tacos aren’t even on the menu? Don’t worry, the shrimp and fish tacos are now a standard and will not being going away.
So what dishes make the list as the taquero’s top five? Our top-secret intelligence unit revealed these findings: 5. Galbi Taco; 4. Steak-Carne Asada Taco; 3. Fish Taco; 2. Carnitas Taco; and, in the top spot, 1. The Shrimp Taco.
Now you know, so when the hunger for something savory hits you, think tacos, or better yet, think Vatos Urban Tacos, L.A. style with a serving of Seoul.
Galbi short rib and Korean-style pork belly tacos also grace the menu. I was expecting little more than galbi in a tortilla but could not have been more wrong. These dishes, although of Korean inspiration, are executed in classic Mexicali style.
Location: “Lower” Itaewon. Walk down the street from Wolfhound, toward Noksapyeong Station. It’s behind (down the stairs from) Dillinger’s.
Vatos is open for lunch and dinner (closed 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for prep) with a set menu and rotating specials changing monthly.
Address: Itaewon-dong 66-8 2F, Seoul, South Korea 140-200
Owners: Kenny Park, Juweon Kim and Sid Kim