Los Amigos

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Here is a review that I wrote for Eloquence magazine. I tried to be nice in my review but I have to admit, it's not the best Mexican Restaurant in Korea. If I were to rank the best Mexican Restaurants in Korea I would rank them like this:

1. Dos Tacos
2. On The Border
3. Taco Taco Chili Chili
4. Los Amigos
5. Choi's Tacos
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
...
99. Casa Maya
100. Panchos

I'm going to make it over to Tomatillo's at some point. Because SeoulSteves keeps raving about it.

Here is the review:

A restaurant is more than just food. It is the environment, the personal service, and the introduction to a different culture. Often the best cultural ambassadors are the chefs. Now when you meet someone from a different culture, there are often compromises that have to be made. For example, take the flavor of cilantro. It has an herbaceous, anise, and earthy flavor that I've found many Koreans really don't like. I hated cilantro when I was young, and yet now I won't consider salsa "authentic" unless it has cilantro in it.

Los Amigos restaurant is more than a restaurant. It is a cultural ambassador and it is introducing Tex-Mex cuisine to Korea. When you enter the restaurant you are welcomed by a vast Mexican wonderland. The sandy colored walls are vividly painted in landscapes reminiscent of a Mexican prairie. There are cactuses-real and fake- dotted throughout the restaurant and on stage are two singers singing Latin songs. The restaurant is spacious and has a fiesta feel to it. Every time I look around I notice something new and kitsch-like the wagon wheel hanging above the bar, the oil lamps and old style saloon lights. I mean it's an overt display of Mexico-ness but it’s much better than looking at the same old girl on a Soju poster.

Our waiter, Phil, who is also the captain, takes us to our booth. Phil is a star in a very sweet and polite way. As I start drilling him about the menu it becomes apparent he is also quite knowledgeable. I ask him, "What's the most popular dish? What is spicy? What do you like the most? Do they make a good margarita here?" He responds to everything and I am starting to feel like I can trust this guy. You can often gauge a restaurant through the quality of their wait staff and he is quite good. He steers us away from the Chorizo Quesadillas and the Salmon and we start with a couple of his suggestions.

My friend Lily starts out with a Top Shelf Margarita on the rocks (W8,000). It had good tequila with a hint of Grand Marnier. And this was followed up with the Nacho Fiesta (W11,000). This was a crunchy crown of fresh corn chips embedded in a refried beans and topped with cheese, tomato, black olives, guacamole. This was a hearty start to the meal.

We decide that we would get a combination platter of three different choices from their Mexican menu (W18,000). I really appreciated this option because I like to taste as much as possible when I am out. So we order a chicken enchilada, a beef burrito, and a ground beef taco. The enchilada and the burrito were the best because they slowly cooked the meat then pulled it instead of just slicing it. It makes a word of difference in flavor and in texture. The taco was just all right. The shell was a little soggy from leading in some sauce, so it was difficult to get the full taco experience. The red beans and rice were a bit dry for my tastes, but I really liked their refried beans.

Phil, who I still consider a star, recommended the Gonzales B.B.Q. Strip Steak. This isn't something I would recommend. It is sorta my fault because the description: "served with vegetables, Mongolian rice and sauces" doesn't suggest anything, "Mexican." (W20,000). This dish came with marinated beef slices that were served on a cast iron hot plate and served with stir-fried bean sprouts and sliced carrots. The dish came with a large bowl of white rice, Chinese pickles and teriyaki and siracha sauce. Yeah. Not Mexican. I asked Phil about his suggestion and he said that this is a very popular dish with Koreans. I had to apologize for my looks, because they must have confused him.

I wouldn’t say that Amigos has the best Mexican food in Korea, but I my friend were full and happy after our meal. The band waved from the stage and urged us to stay and enjoy another song. The staff were all very attentive and the atmosphere was a nice escape from the land of kimchi.

Los Amigos
** 2 Stars
02-795-9711
Itaewon
Directions go out Itaewon exit 2 and walk up until you see Helios. Make a left. It will be to the right.

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