Hello gentle reader. It wasn’t an easy decision finding a place to eat in Hongdae. When you mention Hongdae to a typical expat or Korean for that matter, the common denominator seems to be that Hongdae is the place in Seoul for exciting nightlife. What goes under the radar is that Hongdae is quietly becoming a culinary diverse part of town. As my wife and I wandered around looking for a place to eat, KrissKo Taco jumped out like a red salmon heading up stream. It’s an eccentric looking building, definitely designed to capture your attention. The outside of the building looks as though you may have wondered into gang territory aka (East Los Angeles), but unlike East LA, the odds of getting shot in Hongdae are slim to none. And you get to enjoy some great Mexican-Korean fusion.
One quick prop to KrissKo before we jump into the sections of the review. I love that they put the menu outside and away from the staff. It’s an awkward moment when you approach the menu outside, but can feel the impatient stares of the wait staff, as they hover over you (More to come in another review).
Atmosphere: I heard the thumping beats of techno and the harsh profanity of gangster rap on my way up the stairs and immediately had PTSD moment of going to Grill5Taco. However, unlike Grill5Taco, when we eventually made up the stairs (fat guy and pregnant wife), we were relieved to see that we didn’t walk into fucking Robocop’s kitchen, and instead into a proper, comfortable Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately, the music did persist throughout the night, but changed from the hideous techno beats into various genres of music. My wife made an interesting comment. She said she was glad that there was only two of us, because we could block out the music and focus on each others’ conversations. However, if there were a group of people, the music might be too distracting to keep up with various conversations.
We were lucky enough to sit at a table right beside an open window. I loved the open restaurant concept, especially this time of year when the weather in Seoul is perfect. There was a nice cross-breeze, and to sit there with a Coronarita in one hand, and a fork full of cheese fries in another was perfect. Also, I found the seating and the tables to be a little more spaced out, and its simple decor (wooden tables, chairs, vintage car paintings on the wall) to be welcoming. You could dine here (which I did) in my shorts and a t-shirt and not feel out of place; unlike that other place in Gangnam. Finally, notice the disco ball in the picture below.. that’s not just for show, they turn that bad boy on.
Service: Our waitress was really friendly. She tried to speak in English, and did a great job. She had an awesome smile and was very attentive but not obsessive. She was laid-back, but quickly came over to the table when we wanted to order something else. Overall, a really nice experience, and I even went so far as to leave a tip, something I rarely do in Korea.
Food: I decided to keep it simple and order the short rib tacos (7900KRW) as my main, the cheese fries as an appetizer to share (10900KRW) and my wife ordered the taco salad (13900KRW). The food arrived at our table in courses, which is kind of an annoyance, although is expected here in the ROK. The short ribs were visually inspiring. The colors of the salsa, with the purple cabbage and the red chipotle sauce bounced off my plate. The meat was a little undercooked for my liking, I prefer the meat seared to the point of seeing the grill marks. However, it still was an overall appealing and delicious dish.
Next came the cheese fries. The chili cheese fries looked great too, so if you want a little more to your appetizer, you might want to consider it. First thing that stood out, plenty of cheese on the fries and lots of chipotle sauce. The jalapeno peppers were spread out marginally, so not to overwhelm the fries. This was good since we are not big jalapeno fans, but if you are, they are more than generous with their serving. Speaking of servings, it was huge. You could easily feed a table of four. Well worth the price of 10900KRW. The spice factor was medium to high for me. On the “kimchi scale”, I would rank it about even with kimchi, but maybe slightly above for Western tongues. For a Korean, it is probably just perfect, perhaps bland.
Finally out came the misses’ taco salad. The munchkin hadn’t had too many veggies since we began our mini trip around the city, so we thought to be responsible parents and give him some greens. Just like the fries, the salad portion was very generous. The dressing came as sides, so you can choose how much or how little you want to put in your salad. In this case, my wife decided to forgo the dressing and just eat the salad naked. Another colorful, hypnotic dish that was appeasing to the eyes, as Christian Slater once said, “Have you ever tasted a rainbow?” (Office fans will get this one). With brown tortilla bowl as a base, the reds, oranges, yellows of the peppers, and the sublime green of the lettuce give this dish an almost calming sense. All the veggies were fresh, crisp and refreshing. My wife also said that the salsa wasn’t too spicy, but still enough flavor with the tomato base and the cilantro. She combined the meat, salsa and the sour cream and all the flavors evened out nicely. She didn’t put any of the dressing in. However, she did taste it, and compared it to a creamy, sesame with no heat, but plenty of flavor.
Drink: If you really wanted to, you could get completely wasted at KrissKo. They have bottle service here, and it’s pretty reasonable. A bottle of Tequila ranges from 45900KRW – 67900KRW, and schooners and pitchers of various alcoholic treats range from 19000KRW – 22000KRW, and the Margarita specials range from 8000KRW – 21000KRW for a pitcher. I decided to get some beers, a Corona (6500KRW), a Lost Coast Great White (8900KRW) and a Coronarita (9900KRW). I’m not going to review the Corona. It is what you expect, a crisp, light Mexican beer with a lemon (sniff I miss you limes sniff). I’ve never had a Lost Coast Great White, and was pleasantly surprised. I’m not a beer snob, so I apologize in advance for the lack of description of the beer. The beer was crisp, light and refreshing, but had a hint of citrus which really complimented the heat from the cheese fries. I would recommend ordering those two together. Finally, I had the Coronarita. What a summer drink. Nice and refreshing, the fruit from the Margarita, and the tartness of the beer balancing each other out was a nice way to finish off the experience.
Value: I hate doing comparisons, but in the restaurant review business, it is just natural. I enjoyed my experience at KrissKo much more than Grill5Taco. The fusion was more naturally “Californian”, and the service and atmosphere was more casual and laid back. Maybe it’s the neighborhood that has something to do with the atmosphere. Hongdae, in the day, is pretty chill, but Gangnam is fairly pretentious at all times. Okay, rant over. The cheese fries were the greatest value. You could have fed an army, in this case, it fed an army of three very satisfactorily. The short rib tacos were a little small in size for the price, but had some good flavor and was visually stunning as well. Finally, the taco salad, which was the most expensive item we ordered was plentiful, healthy and fresh. For the 13900KRW we spent on the salad, it was worthy every WON. The drinks were to be expected, and were a fair price. I was surprised at how cheap the bottles of tequila were. If you really wanted to do, you could get pretty steamed here for cheap. Great value, and would go back either as just my wife and I or in a group.
Who should go to KrissKo Taco: People looking for an authentic Korean-Mexican fusion experience. A place that a couple of people can sit, talk and enjoy the open air environment of the restaurant. This restaurant would make a pretty good date night. Also, if you really wanted to get smashed on tequila and do the walk of shame the next day down Hongdae.
Who should avoid KrissKo: Like Grill5Taco, this is not a truly, authentic Mexican experience. If you want that, there are some other options such as (sigh) On the Border, and Taco Chili Chili. Also, this might not be the best place for expats to bring their kids as Dr.Dre rapping about smacking bitches and hoes, might not be the music your child should hear. Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics.