Thursday, September 13, 2012

¡Me Gusto Mucho!: Gusto Taco in Hongdae

Maxican restaurants popping up all over the place (Uh, I'm making a joke 'cause half of these new restaurants spell Mexican with an 'a').  So far, I've been disappointed.  I can taste that you use canned tomatoes in your salsa, Tomatillos.  An enchilada is not a soft flour taco covered in brown sauce, Taco Chili Chili.  Why is there mustard in my tostada, O'Taco?  Since I've yet to try Vatos Tacos (seriously, has anyone ever been able to get seated there?!), I took to the suggestion of a friend and scootered off to Gusto Taco.

Before I get into it, let me preface this review by saying, I was born and raised in Texas.  Does that mean I know good Mexican food?  I'm not sure.  Up until high school, I hated Mexican food (and pork and chocolate and avocados and cucumbers and cream cheese and mayonnaise and the list just does not end on what I would not eat).  I pronounced jalapeños, JUH-LAHP-PENOS, and of course, I wouldn't eat them. This all changed in my last four years in Texas.  I was in high school, and it's just not cool to sit at Chuy's with all your friends and turn your nose up at steamingly delicious Tex-Mex.  So, I shed my food prejudices and pretty much ate everything in sight.  Was it too late to build an understanding of good Mexican food?  Never!  Looking back, I realize the major component missing in Mexican food in Korea is time.  The beautiful marriage of flavors that we so apprize in Mexican food is derived from lovingly layering flavors with patience.  Now who wants to stand over this vat of hot lard for twelve hours while the shoulder o' pork breaks itself down into the magic that is carnitas?  I don't imagine this is what goes down in the back kitchens of On the Border.  Gusto Taco is another story.

At the suggestion of the owner/cook, we ordered the carnitas tacos (3,500 won) and the carne asada tacos (4,000 won).  They come two to an order.  Since I was hungry, I also ordered the chipotle chicken quesadilla (5,000 won).  First, let's talk about these prices.  Grill5Taco in Sinsa charges 9,000 for their taco duo, that's more than 2.5x the price of Gusto Taco.  So what I'm trying to say is Gusto Taco is really cheap.

The Carnitas Taco
This is one great taco.  The pork is packed with flavor in the spices it presented, but more impressive was the flavor it derived from whatever time-ridden rainbow it rode on to land on my plate.  Full of porky tenderness from slow-cooking in a flavorful broth, yet crispy from frying in its own fatty juices in its final moments of doneness.  Melting down a bedrock of cheese, topped with a simple pico de gallo, and nestled into a handmade corn tortilla, this sizzling tangle of pig really delivered.

See the crispy bits of pork?!  My god, I think I actually spot a porky cracklin' wafer in there!

The Carne Asada Taco
I love beef.  This beef is beautifully marinated and finished with some flame grillin'.  The result is compounded beefiness.  Like the carnitas taco, the carne asada taco presents itself modestly with a smattering of pico de gallo and a dollop of sour cream.  Texture was a gorgeous mess of tender, juicy beef and vibrantly crunchy pico de gallo with the smooth tang of sour cream to leave behind a lingering tail of delicious.

Chipotle Chicken Quesadilla
Chicken is never my first choice as a protein in tacos.  It's lean.  It's healthy.  There's no place for that in Mexican food.  Not surprisingly, I didn't take too well to Gusto's chicken quesadilla.   The chicken had the texture of...chicken, and unfortunately, the chipotle flavor was somewhat lost in the cheese.  Flour tortilla, cheese, and chicken.  That's basically what you have.  Bland on bland on bland.  I definitely think if a dipping sauce like salsa, or something equivalently zingy, had accompanied the quesadilla, it would have cut the greasy one-notedness of the cheese and tortilla.    Kind of like what tomato soup does for grilled cheese.

Kinda tastes as good as it looks....whomp whomp...
Though I was disappointed with the quesadilla, it in no way diminished my respect for Gusto Taco.  They make their own corn tortillas.  They commit to what goes into their tacos.  Their carnitas and carne asada tacos alone would be enough to catapult this little hole-in-the-wall to Chipotle-like notoriety.

The owner, Aaron, and his wife clearly know food.  When we ordered our tacos and quesadilla, he brought out our tacos first.  We ate them.  Then he brought out the quesadilla.  What just happened here?  A lot.  Mexican food tastes like a homeless man's shoe when served cold.  The taco gets all stiff and cardboard-tasting.  The cheese congeals into an oily glob.  Bad bad bad.  If he had brought out that quesadilla with everything else, one of our three items would have cooled.  That would be like playing Russian roulette of tacos, and I would've been pretty unhappy.

The tiniest little taco shack.  My dining partner,  Noel.
We had to wander around to finally find this place because it's on an unassuming street just on the cusp of one of the busier streets of Hongdae.  The closest station is Hongik University Station.  Out of exit 9, walk straight and veer right but keep going straight.  Once past the giant school on the left, make a left onto the second street/alley and it will be on your right.

Check out their website (with probably better directions and a map).
Address: Seoul-si Mapo-gu Seogyo-dong 342-16
Phone: 02-3142-TACO (8226)

Finally, if you want an after-taco treat, head down the street (in the direction you came from the station) to the bubble tea place.

Gusto Taco can be found on MangoPlate, a restaurant discovery app available in English and Korean.


  1. Hey! Just wanted to post to say thanks for blogging. I'm on my second year in Korea and have used your recipes to make ricotta, start a ricotta salata and make whey-based bread... obsessed! Anna

    1. Thanks so much Anna! I'll try to be more diligent about updating!

  2. Mexican foods are so one of the best junk foods ever. They are devil's advocate but who cares? just kidding. :)

  3. FYI Gusto means 'Want' so the restaurant name means I want Taco or Want Taco. Just saying.

  4. Try taco rico near the Gangnam station! Discount if you order in Spanish(: Absolutely love your blog by the way!

  5. Awesome. Thanks for the tip and the encouragement!

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. I visited Taco Rico today again and I gotta say, do NOT visit. They used to have a Mexican chef & he's been replaced with a Korean dude, the burrito was greasy and bland. Blegh. Sorry for getting your hopes up!

  6. Thanks for the update! Let me know if you have any other suggestions or tips~

  7. I like Dos Tacos near Anam station.

  8. Sounds awesome, and amazingly cheap! Also, Grill 5 is a NO. Disgusting food and disgusting service. And as a tip for Vatos: Go on a Monday night or make a reservation. They take reservations at least one day in advance. :-)



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