The Five Korean Taco Joints in Chicago

This list is from our upcoming issue, Lumpen #125: The Placemaking & Placetaking issue.

From Chicago Agashi

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credit: Chicago Agashi

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credit: Chicago Agashi

Del Seoul in Lincoln Park is probably the most well-known Korean street taco joint in Chicago. It opened in 2010, after the California wave of Roy Choi’s Kogi Taco trucks, but at the forefront of casual Korean dining in Chicago. During a recent visit to the joint, my pal and I enjoyed the sambal fish taco, blackened tofu taco, and the bulgogi taco (all pictured above). Their fish tacos are pretty popular and lived up to the hype. The blackened tofu is a flavorful option for vegetarians and carnivores alike, and the bulgogi taco is great for meat lovers. We also had to get their amazing kimchi fries (also pictured), covered in gooey, melted cheese, caramelized kimchi, scallions and a cream drizzle.  I love, love, LOVE their kimchi fries.  Although Del Seoul started as a street taco joint, they are gradually adding more and more traditional Korean dishes such as bossam (pork belly wrap), steamed mandoo (dumplings), and soondubu jigae (spicy hot tofu stew) to their menu.

The first time I saw the storefront La Tacorea on Belmont, I rolled my eyes and automatically labeled it a Del Seoul wannabe. However, just as you can’t always judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a Korean taco by its shell. La Tacorea and Del Seoul are as different as night and day. The most obvious difference is that the tacos at La Tacorea are bigger in size and made with flour tortillas, whereas Del Seoul tacos are small and made with corn tortillas (unless you specifically ask for flour tortillas). If you prefer the corn tortilla, order the “Muy Yum Taquito,” which is rolled up, but not deep-fried.

The set-up is similar to Chipotle or Subway, where the food assembler adds the ingredients you want as you move along the stations behind the glass shield. I ordered the Spicy Sweet BBQ Pork Bowl, and had all the available fixins added: cilantro, lettuce, cheese, red onions, and hot sauce. (For cilantro-haters who stay away from the cilantro lime rice at Chipotle, you can do without the cilantro!) To drink, I had a fountain horchata, a spiced Mexican rice milk. I was impressed and thrilled that they had this. I really liked my bowl, although the meat was slightly tough–I was anticipating a tender pulled pork. I will definitely go back to La Tacorea for its other offerings–perhaps the Bi-Bim-Bop Burrito, Bulgogi taco, or the Kalbi taco.

Taco Chino, in Albany Park, is owned by a Korean immigrant and has Mexican employees and cooks. They serve authentic Mexican fare such as tacos, burritos, nachos, huaraches, quesadillas, tortas, sopes, enchiladas, chilaquiles, flautas and tamales. They also serve many of those traditional items with Korean flare, incorporating kimchi, bulgogi, marinated pork, and chicken. Other Korean fusion items on the menu include a Kimchi burger, Kimchi fries, and a Korean spicy noodle soup. I ordered and thoroughly enjoyed the kimchi taco, bulgogi taco, and kimchi quesadilla.

Taco Chino has the most expansive menu of all the Korean fast food fusion dives I’ve been to–possibly combined. This best-kept secret is located near the Kimball Brown line stop, right by Lawrence Avenue, which was dedicated long ago as Seoul Drive. Taco Chino fully embraces the phenomenon of food unifying people from various backgrounds and cultures. Perhaps that’s why it was featured on an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods,” a show on the Travel Channel. That same episode, which aired February 15, 2011, also featured Alinea.

Last summer, TaKOs KOreanos opened up on Foster, in the Andersonville neighborhood. I expected it to be like the other Korean taco joints in the city with the pay-first and self-busing model, but it is actually a full service sit-down restaurant. We ordered the kimchi fries, which, with its shoestring fries, set it apart from the thicker cut kimchi fries at other joints. We also ordered a taco plate including kalbi, kalbi barba”Korea” and honey chili tilapia tacos. I’m not a huge fan of corn tortilla tacos, but I actually enjoyed the kalbi barba”Korea”. The owner personally recommended for us to order The 2 Little Pigs Quesadillas, which contains samgyupsahl. Just as the name suggested, the quesadillas contained plenty of pork.

This is Phil Yoon’s third restaurant and he did a LOT of research studying the various demographics in different areas, along with the preferences of his territory’s clientele. Since this joint caters mostly to non-Koreans in the Andersonville area, he had to water down the spiciness in some of the side items, such as the kimchi-fried rice. The location is a bit of a hike up north, but is nevertheless a great addition to the city’s Korean-influenced eateries!

En Hakkore is a Korean fusion dive located in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area. The decor inside is quaint and eclectic, with bundles of books jutting out of the brick walls, teacups and plates displayed on the wall panel, and wooden chairs refurbished with metal backings. We ordered the bi bim bap, with black rice, which was artistically prepared and presented; it was good and fresh.  I also ordered the Paratha tacos; the Indian flatbread really set it apart from the other taco joints that use corn or flour-based tortillas. What an amalgamation of several ethnic cuisines – Korean, Mexican, and Indian!

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