Mexican food is slowly becoming more and more prevalent in Seoul and one of the more premium establishments is Vatos. Vatos is a Korean and Mexican fusion restaurant, so a lot of the items stray from regular Mexican places. I went to the main restaurant in Itaewon which can be accessed by going out of exit 1 and heading west. It may be a bit tricky because you need to make a sharp right turn 180 degrees. If you pass the Mcdonald’s, you went too far. They are open from 11:30 am to 12:00 am.
The atmosphere was very hip and pub-like. Most of the seating was on stools and some tables had pipes sticking out of them to hang your personal belongings. It was pretty dark in there, making pictures very difficult as well. All the employees greet you very loudly when you enter the restaurant which was a bit surprising, but added a good energy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the some employees had sore throats on their first day. Even during lunch hour when the crowd wasn’t so large, the waiters were polite, but didn’t seem terribly attentive or observant. This is definitely a more trendy establishment with some missing elements.
The menu had a good variety without being too overwhelming. They have tacos, burritos, quesadillas, burgers, drinks, and their unique fusion items. They start you off with some nachos which were basically three fried taco tortillas. I wish they had cut them into smaller manageable bits as breaking them myself was somewhat messy. The salsas were mild and perhaps too diluted. The trays they were served in made it hard to actually dip the nachos as well.
The biggest deal breaker was not offering free refills like most Mexican restaurants back in the states. Considering it barely costs them anything to make, the least they could do is provide them especially with the margins they make. It will provide a much better authentic dining experience, but again that doesn’t seem like their aim. We ended up trying the Spicy Chicken Quesadilla and the Fat Bastard Burrito Bowl.
Spicy Chicken Quesadilla – 10,900 won
I was really craving a quesadilla, so I decided to order the spicy chicken. The portion was pretty normal with a mixture of cheese and chicken in the center topped with sour cream, chili sauce, onions and cilantro. The top part of the tortilla may have had some cheese and red chili sauce baked on top of it as well. While it looked pretty, it tasted a bit flat. The chicken and cheese were on the bland side, and I couldn’t taste the kick of the chili sauce because of the sour cream counteracting it. I did like the texture and subtle taste from the top of the tortilla though. If this had less sour cream, and more kick, I’d be a happy camper.
Fat Bastard (Burrito Bowl) – 15900 won
The fat bastard burrito bowl was delectable which is probably why it had a recommendation stamp on the menu. The term burrito bowl may be a bit confusing. Basically it is the internals of a burrito served in a bowl, so my friend was confused because there was no soft tortilla.
The fat bastard was a smorgusbord of rice, veggies, meat, and sauces. There were carne asada (beef) and carnitas (fried pork). The carnitas in the dish felt pretty authentic and I almost wanted to cry from happiness after eating it. You can mash up the tortilla chips or use them to dip the toppings. You could adjust the taste by varying how you mix the ingredients. It was a lot of fun mixing and matching.
Vatos is a great place to meet up with friends and enjoy a unique Korean/Mexican fusion experience. Some elements of the food felt authentic, but when you package Mexican food as a premium product it looses a lot of the authenticity in favor of trendiness. As a consequence, the prices are a little high and they charge for chip and salsa refills which is a big no no in my book, but it does have its merits. I’d like to try their more authentic offerings like their tacos one day, along with the nutella nachos because who doesn’t like nutella?