A Mexican Food Fiesta: Korea’s Top 10 Mexican Restaurants

Mexican food in Korea has come a long way, baby.

Words by Jyoung-ah Kim

“Are you a Mexican or a Mexican’t?” Johnny Depp’s words from Once Upon a Time in Mexico seemed all too appropriate when I started this project to find out just how far we’d come in Korea from the collapse of Taco Bell in the 90s to its return last year.

I managed to compile a relatively large list of places that had promise, but as I travelled around, to my despair, I realized many had closed down: The Taco in Gangnam, Casa Loca in Yeouido, and Taco Chido’s in Hongdae, to name a few. (Pancho’s in Itaewon also closed recently, but let’s face it—any foodie worth their nachos wouldn’t have graced its doors.) But despite my frustration, I did manage to find new places that had appeared to fill the void, and let me tell you: the future is exciting.

So where can you find the best Mexican food in Korea? The answer is my house, but since that is not an open invitation, I’ve rustled up a list of places you can hit when you have a hankerin’ for some South of the Border fixin’s.

10 Taco Bell
It’s back and for a reason! No, we do not consider Taco Bell to be Mexican food in Texas, or anywhere else for that matter. The brown mush doesn’t look like meat, but that’s not the reason why we like it and keep going back for more. It’s because when we douse vinegary hot sauce on those cheap tacos filled with meat-substitute and plastic cheese, it somehow hits the spot, bringing us warm memories of home and childhood.
tacobellkorea.com 02-749-6696,
127-27, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

9 Dos Tacos
One of the last standing of the first generation of Korean Taco joints, Dos Tacos still delivers on what Mexican food should look and taste like. However, they lack the quality of meat and cater to Korean tastes with shredded cabbage and cold squeezed yellow cheese, so it’s lower on the list. The best location is Gangnam—the other spots just don’t live up to the original.
dostacos.co.kr 02-593-5904,
#104 Dessian Luv, 1303-35 Seocho-dong, Seoul (13 other locations including Hongdae and Jongno)

8 Hello Steak & Taco
Guest submission by Bryce Weibley
OK, it’s not the catchiest name for a Mexican restaurant, but this cozy joint in Haeundae New Town lets the food serve as the hook. The proprietor, Moon Brooks, brings 20 years of cooking experience in the U.S. to this top choice for Mexican in Busan, and it shows. From enchiladas to steak to tostadas, Hello Steak & Taco cooks up some tasty fare at reasonable prices. Wash it all down with pitchers of blended makkeoli (rice wine) cocktails.
051-701-5199
202 Sejong World Plaza, 1479-3, Jwa-dong, Haeundae-gu, Busan

7 Grill 5 Taco
They’ve brought the fad from Cali of marrying the Korean kimchi and pepper paste flavors with Mexican food, and it’s not bad. I would say they definitely lean more toward the Korean flavors than the Mexican flavors I craved. Nevertheless, they pull it off well. It’s different and worth a try. In particular, have a go at their kimchi quesadillas.
grill5.tistory.com twitter.com/grill5taco
519-13 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

6 Tomatillo
Someone mentioned Tomatillo is just a lower grade of Chipotle, but that lower grade is above par in Korea. They have better ingredients such as shredded pork and homemade roasted salsa compared to the first round of Mexican restaurant attempts, and they have a spacious, comfortable interior. They definitely cater to the business lunch crowds with changing lunch specials, ranging from affordable fajita platters to taco platters with beans and rice.
tomatillo.co.kr 02-2112-3883
B1 Gangnam Finance Center, Yeoksam 1-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (other locations in Gwanghwamun and Itaewon)

5 Taco Rico
They have great ideas on the menu and good execution of the dishes, but the lack of quality in their meats and ingredients left me a little disappointed. The horchatas and margaritas are true to their taste and the guacamole was impressive with large chunks of avocadoes. It helps that the main chef is from Mexico. Also, check out their queso fundido (mushroom and chorizo fondue).
02-558-4525
818-8, Yeoksam 1-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

4 Taco Amigo
I remember when they first opened and I was not impressed, but I’m very happy that I went back. They’ve got the most authentic Mexican cuisine; the owner said that they often cater to the Mexican embassy, and I can believe it. Their menu proves it with mole, tamales and tortilla soup. Biting into their enchiladas took me straight back to Casa Tia’s. Good vegetarian options, too.
02-749-5253, 130-34, Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

3 Gusto Taco
With every bite into their taco or burrito, you can taste the painstaking hours the owner put into developing the rich tastes and recipes through sourcing quality ingredients and slow-cooking the meats. The owner proudly mentioned that he does not use any ground meat and he is constantly bettering the homemade tortilla recipe. While the small, four-stool interior gives off a fast food ambience, the food is anything but. gustotaco.com 02-3142-8226, 342-16, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul

2 On the Border
It breaks my heart that I am putting a chain that I would never patronize back home so high up on the list, but it must be done and y’all know why. Bottom line is, the food is good, the margaritas fulfill their duty, and it’s a comfortable place to sit with a group of friends. True, it is pricey. Well, at least you get unlimited good salsa and homemade tortilla chips!
ontheborder.co.kr 02-2672-0682
#B112 Times Square, Yeongdeungpo-dong 4-ga, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul (other locations in Sinchon, Apgujeong, COEX)

1 Vatos Urban Tacos
Three boyz from the US saw a need and decided to do something about it with quality ingredients and culinary art skills. Because it’s so new, their menu is still changing and perfecting itself. As of my visit, they’re serving traditional carne asada tacos with homemade tortillas you could find on the streets of Mexico alongside more innovative options such as samgyeopsal tacos and kimchi fries. As strange as it may sound, it works, and it works damn well!
vatoskorea.com 02-797-8226, 66-8 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

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30 Comments

  1. I noticed it’s mostly all the Korean-Americans that rave about Vatos. For a non-Korean, the kimchi mex combo is just strannnge and does not blend well at all.

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  2. vatos isn’t gross, but way overpriced. On the other hand, Cirilos is a bit pricey but worth it considering you are in Korea. Cirilos is the best “authentic” mexican restaurant and on the border is best franchise restaurant for mexican(tex-mex) in Korea.

    FYI, I was Born and raised in L.A.

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  3. I am Mexican and I can honestly saw that whoever wrote this article does not know real Mexican food very well. Vatos being number one is not correct. The sauces they use, what they put in it, and the amount of sweetness is a travesty to Mexican food! Grill 5 and On The Border as well. I was disgusted when I tried their food. I think people here don’t know real Mexican food and they have to compromise. I am glad people put up other choices on the comments because I been to most of these and thought that they were horrible!

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  4. Latina’s near Ewha is fantastic!

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  5. Checkout Cantina, Mexican bar and kitchen in Cheonan. American owner and chef!

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  6. Where can I find white cheese dip?

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  7. I see my comment was taken off from yesterday regarding Vatos un-mexican restaurant.I came here to Korea from LA to see what all the fuss was concerning the rising popularity with Mexican cuisine here in Korea.The only Mexican restaurant I found to be any where near LA style or even American-Mexican,Mexican was Cirillo`s.Which is not mentioned here but Taco Bell is?
    And by the way,Cirillos actually has a Chef from East LA and who actually is a Mexican and who actually uses real corn masa for his tortillas.

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    • You’re welcome to re-post your previous comment without the epithets Anthony and we won’t be deleting it.

      This article is almost 2 years old, and Taco Bell had just opened in Korea when it ran. It was a HUGE hit, with lines a block long when it opened, although it has since declined in popularity.

      Cirillo’s is new to us. If you’d like to share a link, we’ll look into writing up seperately as we have Don Charly.

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  8. Come on how much research did you actually do? Vatos Tacos? The portions are tiny and it is more Americanized korea-mex. The closest thing I came to authentic is the Dos Tacos in Heuk Seuk Dong. Yes shredded cabbage comes on the burritos. But if you knew anything about Mexican food they very rarely use lettuce. Get some professional chefs working there instead of a bunch of know it all foodies.

    Culinary Regards…

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  9. This list needs Don Charly in Kyungridan. One of the only places to get true Mexican (not Tex-Mex or Cali-Mex).

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  10. I have to say, I agree that some of these restaurants aren’t good mexican restaurants either. Also, you’re missing the small mexican restaurant right outside Itawaen station which has far better food than Vatos, Taco Bell. (horrible !) and on the border. Vatos really is more of a fusion restaurant and isn’t really Mexican food at all in my view.

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  11. yeah I didn’t enjoy my visit to vatos either. It was empty and they made us sit too close to the heater and talked to us too much and it just didn’t work out. the food was fine but servings too small.

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  12. I really like Chois’ Tacos, a tiny place in Sinchon operating the past 7-8 years. They’ve also recently opened up a bigger place now, Chois’ Tacos and Burgers, by Omokgyo Station, but I have yet to try it.

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    • Fully Agree, Choi’s is the place. Chicken Burrito with the red sauce, golden. I lived in Omokgyo and travelled twice a week to Sinchon to get my fix. He opened the Omokgyo location 2 weeks before I moved d’oh. Thomas Choi, one of the nicest Koreans you will meet.

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  13. Where can I find chili rellenos in Seoul?????? Help.

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  14. Where is TACO Chili Chili?

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    • Yes, exactly. Taco Chili Chili should have made this list. Can’t beat their burritos for the combination of taste, heartiness and overall value.

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  15. Vatos in Itaewon is very different from the one in Galleria Dept. Store at Apkujeong. The Vatos in Galleria is very small, unlike their main restaurant in Itaewon. I was very impressed with the interior and service. It’s quite spacious and welcoming. Very friendly staff. The carne asada tacos, although small, were delicious in the way Americanized Mexican food is in the US. More impressive for me was that they not only hand make their tortillas, but they use imported organic masa from the US to make their tortillas. For people who are aware about the effects of “Frankencorn” (GMO corn) and that 100% of non-organic US corn is GMO, Vatos’ decision to use organic corn is a huge plus. They are conscientious and value their customers. I also think it’s a perfect place to meet friends.

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  16. Taco Amigo is very authentic Northern Mexican cuisine. Mexican food is very different and complex because southern cuisine differs from northern cuisine in many ways. Most people are familiar with the kind of Mexican food that’s popular in the US, but most of it is not even authentic. It’s too Americanized. From my many experiences and having traveled throughout Mexico many times, Taco Amigo is perhaps the best if not the best Mexican restaurant in Seoul. The cook has amazing skills. The enchiladas suizas is one of the best platters that she cooks.

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  17. Dos tacos and their rubber “meat” shouldn’t even be on this list.

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  18. Julio’s in Jangkak and Gangnam isn’t bad either. They’ve got some bang up beer-garitas, too…

    I can’t agree with Chas, unfortunately. I found the Mexican food in Songtan greasy and flavorless.

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  19. The problem with Taco Rico is that the kitchen closes at 8PM and sometimes earlier. That is literally when people start to eat dinner usually.

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  20. KrissKo Taco got the flavah. I think it is way better than Vatos. It is located in Hongdae.

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  21. Rosa de Mexico in Masan. Known simply as Mexico. Easily the best outside Seoul. Most likely in the top 3 in Korea. Authentic Mexican food. No cabbage. No kimchi. No cheese whiz. Salsa and sour cream made in house. Homemade chorizo sausage. If you want real Mexican food, this is the place.

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    • could you give me directions to this place?
      clear.tranquil at hotmail.com ^^
      -noe

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  22. I’m disappointed that you missed La Casa Mexicana in Songtan — my favorite Mexican restaurant, period — and that this article was called “Korea’s Top 10 Mexican Restaurants,” when it should have been called “Seoul’s Top 9 Mexican Restaurants.”

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    • Yes, we’ve heard that criticism before, and we’re listening! Thanks so much Chas! We are keeping a record of all the recommendations from the other areas, and we’ll be trying them before making our list next time. La Casa Mexicana in Songtan is now on the list of places to try!

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