Forget flying across the Pacific: Mexico is a subway ride awayY.C. Kim fell in love with tacos after frequenting the taquerias around Parque Hundido, literally “Sunken Park,” a couple of meters below street level in downtown Mexico City.
After three years in the apparel trade there, Mr. Kim (who declined to give his full name) returned to Seoul, bringing his love of tacos to the fortunate few who can find his humble grill, Chili Chili, in the back of the underground shopping arcade at the Hongik University station on line No. 2 of the metropolitan subway.
“I think the taco is one of the most attractive and fun foods,” Mr. Kim says.
Those unfamiliar with this Mexican specialty will likely agree, and can thank him in English, Korean or Spanish ― he speaks all three languages ― for grilling up spicy, satisfying and inexpensive tacos, quesadillas and fajitas.
Just like at any other food stall, taste comes at a price: comfort. Seating consists of four little stools. To your left is a noodle stand, to your right a fried rice joint. One wall of Chili Chili is plastered with a few posters depicting Mexican volcanoes and beaches.
But enough talk. Let’s eat! The tacos (2,000 won or $1.60) are flour tortillas generously stuffed with your choice of chicken, beef or roasted pork. The meats swim in chunky salsa, alongside Spanish black olives, jalapenos and a crisp lettuce leaf. The whole thing is held together, taste wise, by a river of sour cream, and the cilantro gives it that distinctive Mexican flavor. Though Mr. Kim says he regrets having to reheat frozen tortillas, which he buys from a Korean supplier, he grills them just fine in my opinion, lightly and without oil.
The quesadillas are a heavier, richer package, but cost the same as the tacos ― and shrimp is an additional option. The chunks of meat are buried in gooey white cheese along with onions and slivers of bell pepper, but the taste is less intense and creamier than the tacos.
The meats are boneless and succulent, but the toppings can overwhelm the experience. You can adjust the formula, however: Just ask Mr. Kim to lighten up on the salsa, sour cream or other condiments.
Your last option, also just 2,000 won, is a fajita. A plump packet of rice, cheddar cheese, grilled veggies and your choice of meat, a fajita can be a meal.
Cash-poor wanderers of Seoul’s subterranean reaches or those storing energy for a night out on the town cannot go wrong at Chili Chili.
Theme: Mexican street food
Telephone: (02) 3142-7759
Location: At the rear of the Food Zone arcade near Exit 6 of Hongik University Station on subway line 2.
Hours: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily, closed 1st and 3d Sundays each month. Credit cards: No
by Joel Levin