Review: Don Charly Antojería – Korea’s best Mexican food
Walking past Craftworks last week, a surprising discovery: what looked like a new restaurant opening up, directly next door. Surprise turned to delight. Don Charly, everyone’s favourite hole-in-the-wall, six-seater taco joint in Gyeongnidan, finally opening the full-size restaurant we had dreamed of. Could it be? Yes, it was.
Let me preface this by saying that I am Scottish, and therefore know as much about authentic Mexican food as I do about getting an even suntan, not being an alcoholic, or winning a World Cup. Nonetheless, I’ll put this out there; in an admittedly less than crowded field, this is clearly the best Mexican food in Korea.
The menu is still a work in progress, as Don Charly’s Antojería has been open barely a week. (Always at the cutting edge, this blog.) Antojitos are snacks – think Mexican tapas – so what you get here are tacos, quesadillas (real ones) and other dishes that are three or four big bites in size, rather than plates groaning with burritos the size of your head.
Regulars of the original location will be pleased to see some of the tacos they know and love, present and correct on the menu. The shrimp tacos (Camarones a la crema de chipotle) combine a little spice with the sweetness and coolness of generous slices of avocado. The Alambre taco has grilled beef, green pepper and onions. Both are superb.
The sopesitos are thick, round fried corn tortillas with the fillings piled on top. The Chorizo con heuvo sopesita, pictured below, hits the spot. Photos don’t do it justice, especially when you are continually messing up the white balance on your new camera. I guess I’ll just need to go back this weekend and reshoot all the pictures again.
The food kept on coming. We tried to stop ordering, but our mouths would not obey our brains, or perhaps it was the other way around. Regulars will recognise the Cochinita taco reinvented as a sopesito, pulled pork balanced with orange and piquant pickled red onions. A strong flavour, but another winner.
They also do really nice quesadillas – again, in the Mexican style, rather than American; corn masa, folded over and fried. The chicken quesadilla (Tinga de pollo), below, was pretty hot, more so than many of the other items, which were spicy rather than fiery.
The drinks are reasonably priced here and my margarita was a thing of beauty, ringed with red pepper powder rather than the more typical salt. I could have done with it being a bit stronger – I’m not a fan of the frozen margarita, as a rule – but it’s a minor complaint.
Short version: to paraphrase the Lego movie, everything is awesome. Don Charly is “Mex-Mex” food, so calibrate your expectations accordingly, and I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed. I loved everything we tried, and we tried almost everything. I know this sounds like a paid infomercial, but there it is.
The restaurant is exponentially bigger than the original location, but still fairly snug; I’d estimate there is space for 25-30 people or so, but I may be off. The original location, up the hill in Gyeongnidan, is closed for two or three weeks, but they intend to reopen it exactly as before once things have settled down at the new venue.
It’s one of these places that I hesitate to recommend to people, because every person who becomes a fan is one more person ahead of me in the queue for a choriqueso taco. It’s right next to Craftworks, so they should have good foot traffic, and I’m worried it’ll soon be featured on some Korean food show and – boom, there will be half-hour queues to get in. I hope, when that day comes, they remember their original customers…
- Category: Mexican
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Cochinita sopesita, Choriqueso taco, and everything else
- Subway: Noksapyeong (녹사평역) exit 2
- Directions: Come out of Noksapyeong station and walk up towards Namsan / HBC. Cross the road and pass Noxa. As you come to Craftworks, Don Charly is there on the right.
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 12 – 3pm for lunch, and 5:30 – 10pm for dinner. Check out their Facebook page for more details.