Tuesday, July 12, 2016

lunch update: ¡Coreanos!

Tragedy struck today when I, my boss, and my coworker got to Gino's in Itaewon at 2:45PM for a late lunch and discovered that the staff was on break for two hours, French-style. A sign on the restaurant's front door announced the break, but my boss barged in all the same to find out what was going on. It seems that Gino's bakes its last lunch-hour pizza at 2:30PM, and the break starts at 3PM and goes until 5PM—a good thing to keep in mind for future reference. Disgruntled, the boss lumbered out, and we followed him back onto the street. Coreanos, a Tex-Mex restaurant, was in basically the same building as Gino's; my coworker said it was his favorite Tex-Mex place, so we headed in for a meal.

The hostess told us we could sit at the ground-floor level and do our meal in a "self-service" way, which she said would be a bit cheaper; that, or we could go downstairs and get the "full-service"—i.e., the regular—treatment. We elected to go downstairs, and we were quickly seated. Menus were handed to us, and the boss jokingly asked where the enchiladas were. Our server didn't even know what enchiladas were, which told us everything we needed to know. My coworker recommended the "everything" burrito, but I decided on a super-quesadilla with carne asada. My boss got the same, and my coworker got his burrito al pastor (shawarma-style rotisserie pork—see here). For an appetizer, we elected to try the Coreanos version of the kimchi-cheese fries that are so popular at Vatos Urban Tacos.

The Coreanos "kimcheese" fries (that's their name in the menu) were arguably better than the Vatos appetizer: the fries weren't soggy; the kimchi was more understated, allowing the other flavors to come through, including that of the meaty, cumin-y chili, the pico de gallo, the cheese, and the sour cream. We destroyed the appetizer in just a few minutes.

When our main meals came out, I was initially disappointed by how small my "super" quesadilla looked, but it proved to be denser than it appeared. Topped with sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole, and accompanied by jalapeños, the quesadilla's interior was chock-full of carne asada, which made me a very happy camper. My coworker's al pastor burrito, however, looked a hell of a lot better (not to mention a bit bigger), and I vowed to order that the next time I came back to Coreanos.

In the end, my boss, who had practiced hapkido that morning, wasn't able to finish half of his quesadilla, so he split it, Solomon-style,* and shared it between me and my coworker. We gladly snarfed our quarter-quesadillas up along with our own respective meals.

All in all, I'd call Coreanos a win. True: the boss treated us ("We use the company card next time," he declared), but the prices, while a tiny bit steep, weren't totally unreasonable for Western food in Itaewon. The service was prompt; the ambiance was relaxed; you couldn't really ask for much more from a midrange establishment whose only purpose is to serve a narrow gamut of Tex-Mex meals. The essential question is: would I go back?—and the answer to that question is a definite yes. Coreanos knows its comfort food.

*Yeah, yeah—King Solomon never actually split a baby in two. His name is nevertheless associated with splitting things, as is evidenced by Nathan's Hot Dog eating champion Takeru Kobayashi and his "Solomon Method" for eating hot dogs rapidly.



Charles said...

Always wondered about that place. Will have to give it a try sometime.

Kevin Kim said...

It's very unpretentious, unlike Vatos. The food is definitely comfort-foody—nothing award-winning, but pretty solid. If anything, I'd say the quality to similar to what Dos Tacos used to serve several years ago, before it went downhill.

Bratfink said...

Is there anything worse than finding a great restaurant and then having the damn place go out of business?

Kevin Kim said...


Luckily, Gino's didn't go out of business—it was just having a standard two-hour break. Coreanos looks to be going strong as well.

I agree with your sentiment, though: this happened with Da Korner, a fantastic empanada restaurant in the Itaewon district. I'm pretty sure that location is what killed that place: Da Korner wasn't at all visible from the street, and every time I went there, the restaurant was empty. Last I heard (from my coworker, who lives near Itaewon), it's been shuttered. That's very sad: those were some of the best empanadas I've ever had. Da Korner is now fit for Da Coroner.