Type: Korean Tacos
Del Seoul has been on my shortlist for a while now, and I was finally able to make sometime to visit the Korean taco joint in Lincoln Park. Since the dawn of the taco explosion here in Chicago several years back there have been many incarnations that have expanded upon our traditional Mexican friend. From the fried avocado taco at Masa Azul to the roasted beet taco at Bullhead Cantina, tacos have come a long way from the ground beef, lettuce, tomato, and cheese in a hard corn tortilla shell we all grew up with. So when my friend Ron mentioned there were a couple Korean taco joints in Chicago, I would be amiss not to seize the opportunity to consume Asian delicacies wrapped in Mexican tradition. Korean and Mexican food seems like the ideal marriage, and like most diverse couplings, can produce some beautiful offspring.
Del Seoul still manages to keep the warmth of a sit down restaurant despite the fast food feel. All of the ordering is done up front at the counter, and the menu is situated on television screens high on the wall behind the register. I noticed that’s the new thing lately, television screen menus. (I’m waiting for the day I can order my tacos from a hologram) After ordering, we were given a number and a styrofoam cup for water. I should probably mention my fountain soda water came out discolored, tainted with coca-cola. As much as I love lightly brown colored water, I dumped it and got some regular water from the ice tea fountain.
Since I couldn’t decide what tacos I wanted, I ordered them all. All of the tacos! That’s the great thing about tacos, they are small enough so you can order a lot, and get the chance to try several different dishes in the process. Tacos are like the poor man’s Tapas.(unless you happen to be at Antique Taco or Cookies and Carnitas). We waited about 5 minutes before they brought my Korean tacos: Fried Shrimp, Kalbi (short rib), fried fish, spicy bbq pork, and spicy bbq chicken. All of the tacos came with a secret slaw bathed in korean spices. They didn’t completely smother the tacos in cabbage, so the proportions were just right.
The menu said the sesame-chili shrimp taco was their best, so it seemed like a good enough place to start. Panko crusted with a cilantro-onion relish and sesame aioli, the shrimp taco was definitely something to write home about. No wonder this is their most popular taco. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, and with the aioli slathered on the fried goodness, I’m pretty sure it gave me an endorphin rush. The relish complimented the fish perfectly, the whole thing culminating in a symphony of YUM. But wait…something terrible crossed my mind while eating this delicious taco. As crude as this sounds, I really kind of felt like I was just eating sweet and sour shrimp wrapped in a corn tortilla. You know what, it really doesn’t matter, because this taco still beats out many tacos I’ve tried around Chicago. I’m kind of surprised there aren’t more Asian taco places around town. All in all, a great taco, however I was maybe expecting something more exotic. Have I turned into a taco snob?
On to the Kalbi! This taco had more traditional Korean flavor to it than the others, although I felt it was a little heavy handed with the sesame oil. The short rib was just short of being overcooked and could stand to be a little more tender, but I’m really splitting hairs at this point. The taco was delicious, and I recommend it. Not my favorite taco of the bunch, but still totally awesome.
The spicy bbq chicken and spicy bbq pork were essentially the same taco, different meat. They both tasted great, and also had that familiar Asian fast-food-flair. Maybe my exotic expectations were putting too much emphasis on the novelty of Korean tacos, not paying enough attention to was really going on inside the tortilla. The cilantro-onion relish was great. Tacos don’t have to be special, as long as they taste good, and these tacos were well above the mark.
Last but definitely not least: the Sambal fish taco. I don’t really know what to say about this taco, as it tastes pretty much like most of the fried fish tacos in Chicago. Everybody has the same go-to recipe: fried fish, some pickled vegetables, slaw, and aioli on a flour tortilla. Could this be another case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Maybe, but I would still like to see some variety in our fried fish tacos. Regardless, this particular fried fish taco was quite good. The fish was juicy and piping hot and the balance of ingredients worked well together.
There’s only been a few places I’ve visited where the tacos were good all across the board, and Del Seoul is one of them. On their website it says they are a family owned business inspired by Korean and Asian street food who believes fresh, unique and popular, not trendy, customer-focused food is the way to go. I couldn’t have said it better myself. If you’re in the Lincoln Park area and are in need of a good taco, this place comes highly recommended. Even the snobbiest of taco snobs should be able to enjoy it. Parking can be a little rough on Clark, but you should be able to find a metered spot within a couple blocks. Tacos range from $2.75 – $4.00 each, but most of them are around 3 bucks. If you go, make sure to pick me up a few.
I give Del Seoul 4.25 out of 5 chiles.
Del Soul can be found at 2568 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL (773) 248-4227