We’re a town known for a serious love of mash-up food.
Cultural clash? Nah. My readers love Samoan tacos at Taste of Samoa Manapua Bakery and the corned beef Irish tacos at O’Malley’s. They line up 10 deep for the Korean burgers at Burger Seoul, the Tacoma food truck. Did I mention the Mexican lumpia at Northwest Lumpia?
My latest merge-food find is Takos Koreanos, a Chicago transplant that opened last week at 8425 S. Hosmer in the same strip mall as Latitude 84.
The dinner-only restaurant is a collision of Korean restaurant and taqueria. The menu of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and snacks blend Korean flavors with Mexican infrastructure.
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By infrastructure, I mean the hardware is all about corn and flour tortillas. Those seem to exist solely as vessels for jamming savory Korean-style marinated meats and drippy sauces into one’s mouth. Guacamole and garnish provide a bit of Mexican accessorizing. Otherwise, the flavors are purely Korean.
We’ve had restaurants occasionally offer tacos with a brush of Korean flavors — such as the excellent Korean short rib tacos at Red Star Taco Bar in Tacoma’s St. Helens neighborhood — but never before has Tacoma seen a full-fledged concept restaurant blending Korean and Mexican food.
Here’s a first-bite report. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
The owners: The owners have confirmed via Facebook message they previously operated a restaurant with the same name in the Chicago area but did not provide further details.
The concept of Mexican-Korean food is in no way a new idea, although new to Tacoma. A decade ago in Los Angeles, Chef Roy Choi turned Korean tacos into an everyday food with his fleet of Kogi trucks and related businesses.
The scene: Tucked into a bustling and a little gritty-around-the-edges strip mall, the restaurant underwent a complete makeover from its former life as the fast-food barbecue restaurant, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. The dining room sports banquettes with cushy seating and two-and-four-seat tables at the rear near a stone fireplace.
The menu: A menu divided into categories of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and a small appetizer list.
Nine tacos include marinated kalbi ($3.75), spicy pork or chicken ($3.50), slow-cooked pork or chicken ($3.50 to $3.75), shrimp or tilapia ($3.75 to $4) and veggie-friendly offerings of miso tofu ($3.75) or miso eggplant ($3.75). Turn tacos into combo plates with two ($10), three ($13), four ($16) or five ($19) tacos served with kimchi fried rice and potato salad.
Burritos are build-your-own with a choice of fillings ($12 to $15). Quesadillas come with meat choices of chicken ($11), pork belly ($13) or short ribs ($13), served with sides of kimchi rice and potato salad. Appetizers include kimchi fries ($9) or short-rib fries ($11), fried vegetarian dumplings ($5), guacamole and chips ($8) and Mexican street corn ($6).
Adult beverages: Here’s where the clash of Mexican and Korean gets interesting. Soju and tequila are served side-by-side ($4 to $13) with Korean Hite and Mexican Corona ($4 to $7), which gave me all kinds of terrible ideas about the potential for a Mexican-Korean boilermaker (but please do not try that and then drive). There’s also Mexican bottled Jarritos ($3) and regular soda ($3) for nondrinkers.
On a first visit: Tacos are a solid introduction. Kalbi, the marinated beef short rib dish, carried a straightforward salty-sweet marinade. Spicy pork and chicken surprised with a low-burning smack of heat, similar to the deeply-flavored spicy pork marinade at Lakewood’s Chung Ki Wa Korean barbecue restaurant.
Slow-cooked beef or chicken, titled “Barba Korea,” were shredded, and both released drippy, flavorful (but not spicy) marinades. Shrimp and tilapia both were jacketed in ultra-crunchy fried breading. Both came with a tasty honey-spiked chipotle sauce.
Two vegetarian options included slippery miso-marinated eggplant and fried tofu with a satisfyingly crunchy breading similar to the tilapia and shrimp
Tacos all were served on doubled-up corn tortillas with wedges of lime and radish garnishes. Only the seafood options carried sauces, but a server brought three squeeze bottles for doctoring: A gochujang-style sauce, a smoky honey chipotle mayo and habanero mayo that was slap-you-in-the-face spicy.
Some fusion chefs change up the taco toppers to add textural dissonance against the fillings. At Takos Koreanos, the chef has developed a universal taco topper. It’s a tangle of shredded lettuce with a Korean-punched vinaigrette dotted with sesame seeds.
The build-your-own burrito adventure is interesting here with five meat choices and tofu. It turns out that kalbi is as perfect a burrito filling as carne asada, although a vastly different flavor profile with a salty-sweet marinade and a hearty layer of kimchi fried rice offering ballast. Cheese (choice of pepper jack or cheddar) was minimally applied along with the gochujang sauce (other sauce options available) with a crunchy layer of dressed lettuce cooling down the spice.
Combo plates come with a scoop of kimchi fried rice with a restrained spicy tang and what can best be described as church picnic potato salad made by your grandma.
Quesadillas are worth ordering if only because of the delicious Korean marinades on the chicken, beef or pork. Those meats are tucked into flour tortillas glued together with cheddar and pepperjack.
From the appetizer menu, kimchi fries offer a funky merge of Korean fermented, spiced cabbage and the layered ingredients of something like carne asada fries, but swap pork for the carne asada.
Parking: Nearby nightclub Latitude 84 can make parking and exiting-entering the strip mall a challenge, especially when the nightclub has a lot of activity.
Where: 8425 S. Hosmer St., Tacoma
Info: 253-507-4133 or facebook.com/takoskoreanos
Hours: Currently listed as opening at 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday