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The Brown List: Tomatillo, Seoul’s “Little Mexico”

January 28, 2010

As a long-time resident of California and an connoisseur of cheese, spice, meat and any combination thereof, it took some getting used to not having a cheap taco shack within 5 minutes of my home with which to sate my hunger for artery-clogging Mexican goodness. Though adept at making two major dishes — pasta and red sauce and quesadillas — my need for good Mexican food, as well as Italian, required me to find some more diversity in the city than my own bare-bones repertoire.

I had tried On the Border, which is at best overpriced crap, and I refuse to call their 1/8 of an inch “steaks” anything more than glorified lunch meat with a side of rice and beans. This disdain goes doubly for their mostly tastely, rubbery cheese (mains 20-30,000, appetizers 12-15,000, drinks also some overpriced price). Then there are the numerous mediocre places in Itaewon and the go-to joint Dos Tacos in Hongdae, all of which exceed Taco Bell quality just enough to be accurately called “food.”

I bet you can see where this is leading. Enter Tomatillo from stage left, wafting the robust aromas of corn chips, carne asada, cilantro, jack cheese and Dos Equis. I struggle to write this post as we speak, so deep and so contented is my food coma, but I will persevere for you, dear readers, so should you develop an sudden, overwhelming need for a glorious burrito dripping with cheese and salsa this very night — indeed, THIS VERY SECOND — well, I understand. I am here for you. If, that is, you sit at your computer all day clicking ‘reload’ until a new post comes up. I promise you I won’t post for the next three hours, which should be enough time for you to grab that burrito.

Tomatillo is a very simple, straightforward Mexican joint, cafeteria-style quite like Chipotle for all those American readers out there. With one basic difference: it is better. Tomatillo advertises all fresh ingredients — and, I believe, organic? — as well as real traditional Mexican recipes. Whatever it is, it works. They have four simple main dish options — burrito (6,800), quesadilla (6,800), tostada (5,500) and taco (3,500) — with your choice of meats (pork, chicken, baja fish, carne asada [500 extra]), sides (1-2,000), chips and salsa (3,000), rice and beans, and so on. I have had the first three of the mains and every one has been excellent, full of taste and rich with all that stuff you want in a Mexican dish. Any one of these choices — taco excepting — will easily fill you up, and the meat and cheese are generously supplied.

Cheapest in Seoul of any I have seen, easily, and by far the most delicious. So do a little baile, grab your closest muchacha or muchacho, bust out your pathetically small Spanish vocabulary and head down to Tomatillo.

Atmosphere: 3.5/5. Nice looking place inside with earthy-orange colored walls and nice pictures of Mexico on the wall, but it is still a cafeteria-style joint and is not the most romantic place for a hot date. Then, where is in Seoul? (oh, I do have an answer up my sleeve for that as well… hehe… but you’ll have to wait)

Food: 5/5. Hands down, the best Mexican in Seoul.

Service: 4/5. No waiters or waitresses, but you get what you pay for, right? Food is served quickly and efficiently.

Price: 5/5. Extremely reasonable, 3,500-6,800 for mains, up to 10,000 for meat loaded nachos or combination plates.

Drinks: 4.5/5. Good margaritas at a reasonable 5,500. Beer slightly more pricey at 4,000 for domestic but a relatively cheap 6,000 for Mexican.

Location: Three minute walk from Jonggak Station, exit 6. Head straight out of the exit, passing a building lit up in multicolor; you’ll pass an Au Bon Pain on your left. Tomatillo is right next to it.

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