Restaurant Write Up: Vatos Urban Tacos in Itaewon

This is a guest post written and photographed by the fabulous Megan O’Brien. 

Vatos Tacos in Itaewon
Vatos Tacos in Itaewon
Vatos Tacos in Itaewon
Vatos Tacos in Itaewon

It is a fact that Korean food is up and coming on the world food scene. It is also a well known that tacos have been making a triumphant comeback for a couple years now. In the U.S., food trucks have been popping up in cities offering a combination of the two in the form of Korean tacos. The simple presentation of tacos provides an opportunity to be creative and artistic with ingredients and the distinct flavors of Korean BBQ is the perfect filling. 


Recently in Seoul, two guys from California and Texas, respectively, have been able to successfully offer Korean tacos in a casual, sit-down restaurant format. With the hip name, Vatos Urban Tacos, you get the impression that the guys know a thing or two about what people in Seoul are looking for in a taco and have given taco enthusiasts in Seoul an opportunity to try well crafted food in a nice yet accessible setting.

Presently, there are 5 styles of tacos on their menu. They offer the tried and true carne asada as well as very impressive carnitas. For Korean tacos they have samgyeopsal and galbi-two Korean BBQ favorites and they have recently added fish tacos to their menu. I think that the carnitas, which is phenomenal, really stood out. The galbi taco, also delicious, was a perfect match with the cilantro, chilies and cabbage filling. The flavor of the fish tacos were on par with the famous street tacos you can find down in Baja.

Along with tacos, the menu also offers excellent appetizers. The most unique are Kimchi Carnitas Fries and Kimchi Quesadillas- a great option for vegetarians. They also have made a great tortilla soup, which is the ultimate comfort food for a homesick Californian like myself.
 
Vatos offers a highly creative and exciting drink menu. In addition to having local and craft beers, they have a mean Bloody Mary. Their ultimate drink for those of us in South Korea is the Makgeollita. A drink that combines the popular Korean beverage, makgeolli with the classic margarita. The Makgeollita is offered in different fruit flavors; mango and strawberry being my favorite.

In addition to the great food and a cool setting, I have been really impressed by the two gentlemen that run the place. Having been there a handful of times now I have had the opportunity to chat with the guys a bit. They definitely know what goes into making a good taco and they are enthusiastic to supply high-quality food to their patrons.

Vatos Tacos in Itaewon

Address : Yongsan-gu Itaewon-dong, 181-8 용산구 이태원동 181-8 2층 02-797-8226 [email protected]
Phone :02-797-8226
Website : http://www.vatoskorea.com
Vatos Tacos is located on the same street as Wolfhound and JR’s, just farther down the hill. Behind where Dillinger’s and Outback would be. Across from the Family Mart.

Megan is from San Diego, CA. She’s interested in things involving cycling, food politics, coffee, taking photos, whiskey, music that incorporates a peddle steel, overalls and cut-offs. When she’s not riding a bike around Seoul or taking photos, she teaches. Her blog is: http://www.thetoohugeworld.wordpress.com

Come take a cooking class or take a Culinary Tour in Seoul! http://www.ongofood.com

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Daniel Gray

Daniel Gray is a Korean adoptee and entrepreneur that returned to Korean in 2005 because he wanted to try and find his birth mother and to learn about Korean culture. He started a restaurant review blog in 2007, www.seouleats.com, that became a local and international hit. He and his blog has been featured in the New York Times, Monocle Magazine, The Kimchi Chronicles, Bizarre Foods, Rudy Maxa, Olive Magazine, Euronews and much more. He now is a partner at O’ngo Food Communications (www.ongofood.com), which is a culinary tourism and consulting company that offers Korean cooking classes and restaurant tours to travelers. In 2013, he started Brew 3.14 Pizza Pub. His food tours, cooking classes, and restaurant are ranked as some of the top attractions in Seoul according to the website tripadvisor. He lives in Korea with his wife.

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  • Carter

    I ate there a few weeks ago and I was impressed by how good it was. I’m a huge fan of the Carne Asada and Fish Tacos. The Kimchi fries were unusual and surprisingly tasty, definitely worth trying once. It had a nice, comfortable, and chill atmosphere which brought up memories of the trendy Tapas/Fusion restaurants in San Francisco. I really enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to strain my vocal courts to have a decent conversation with the members in my party. I wouldn’t recommend it for a business dinner since seating is not set up to award much privacy. I highly recommend it as a date place or a group dinner date of 6 or less. Bigger parties can be accommodated but I would recommend calling ahead to avoid having to wait to be seated.

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  • Anonymous

  • Ness

    Having visited Vatos after reading this review, I was massively disappointed! The food is exceptional, I’ll give them that, but the service is disorganized and not the friendliest. I reserved a big table and way more friends came than I expected. I asked the staff if they could handle it and said that if not, I could go elsewhere. They assured me that it would be fine. When we were finally seated, they repeatedly berated my guests for being too big a group for the reservation. This was MY fault and I didn’t appreciate them giving my guests flack. The staff also got very confused about getting orders to the right people. We were eventually given two tables and when some friends left, we went back to one. When we left, I asked for the bill and a friend pointed out to the waiter that it appeared that not everything was on it. He said it was all there and we paid and left. Later that night(about 12:30!) I got a message from the manager saying that I had not paid one of the bills. The staff had gotten confused and not realised that there were two bills. The second bill was for 122000 KRW. :(
    So I was now being obliged to pay an extra bill, I texted back and told the manager that I found this unacceptable and he agreed that it was their mistake and that I should not be responsible for paying for their mistakes just because my name was on the reservation. I agreed to pay half of the amount but I will not get to remember the occasion(my husband’s graduation and birthday) very happily thanks to this experience.

    At the end of the day, they are a new restaurant and mix ups happen, but I wouldn’t recommend Vatos based on their service.

  • John

    i was hungry for some mexican food so i found this place online. well the place looked nice and some what clean. the server was all foreigners so the service was good even tho i had to wait 45min to get a seat. now lets talk about the food. i had beef taco and kimchi fries. it was by far the worst mexican food i have ever had in my life. i have tasted some bad mexican food before but this place sits on the same category. this place is for those people who never had a real mexican food to compare it with. if i compare this place with taco bell i would say taco bell 8/10 and this place 2/10. we all know taco bell is not real mexican food so there you go…
    do not eat there if your looking for some real mexican food. those people who said this place is wonderful well i bet its those foreigners who work there. its bad people that is why i am spending my time to leave a comment.

  • FoodFuhrer

    I get what they are trying to do. The whole Mex fusion schtick and it kind of works. The food isn’t bad. However it’s not amazing. Just because you advertise yourself as “fusion” and think that you are “chic” you ridiculously think you can get away with outrages prices and fu fu portions. I know some of the owners are from “Hollywood” but Itaewon ain’t Beverly Hills. The foods flavor is not 5 star and does not warrant the extra markup these food shysters are pushing. After dropping over 100,000 on food and drinks I don’t think I will ever be coming back. I wish them all the success in the world. A lot of their current success is coming from the dregs of HBC making their way up the hill to patronage Vatos. There were plenty in attendance the evening I dined. You know the type.. Attention starved self proclaimed “creative” types who teach English in Korea. Like most things with hipsters the fad will lose it’s momentum and without great food to fail back on I question Vatos thinking behind the recent expansion.

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