Review: Don Charly – real Mexican in Gyeongnidan
Mexican food in Korea sucks, as we all know, though those in the know can always find a decent taco somewhere or other. The chains such as On The Border serve up decent fare, though I’m not a big fan, and you can get a pretty mean enchilada on the US base if you’ve got the right access (or a friend who can get you in). And then of course there’s Vatos, with lines out the door almost every night of the week. Vatos divides opinion, but I’m firmly on their side; the food is great and the flavours never disappoint, though that’s a matter for a whole other post.
[July 2017 update: This restaurant has moved, now in larger premises next door to Craftworks in Gyeongnidan.]
Hands down the best tacos that I’ve had in Seoul, though, are at the mighty Don Charly, a tiny little hole-in-the-wall place on the main Gyeongnidan street as you head up towards the Hyatt.
When I say tiny, I mean tiny. Technically there is space for six or seven people inside, but it’s crammed with even four (especially when one of them is me). The only way to guarantee yourself a seat is to be there when they open (times vary, but normally about 12), or perhaps by visiting during a major earthquake, asteroid strike, or nuclear attack by the Norks. Otherwise, you’re eating on the street like the rest of us bums.
For this reason above all else, I hesitate to write this review, since even one person reading this is one potential rival for a spot in the line for Don Charly’s tacos. Still, I will take the risk.
There are no frills here; tacos are served on a styrofoam plate, street-food style. Everything is cooked up fresh and in short order. Tacos are available in twos and threes and in a variety of styles. All of them (or at least, all the ones I’ve had) are great.
The Alambre taco is beef, fresh raw onions and peppers. Incredibly tasty but lacking spice, for my money – but there are little pots of green and red salsa at the table, so you can punch up the chilli to suit your own tastes.
My favourite taco on the list is the Cochinita Pibil – slow braised carnitas pork with a bit of orange and some sliced pickled onion. A strong flavour which not everyone will like, but I could have eaten ten of these. Perhaps, one day, I will.
Don Charly also does big Mexican-style tortas and a range of beers and tequilas, but it’s probably not a place to linger that long – it’s just too small. Perhaps one day the restaurant will move to slightly larger premises, but I hope they never lose that fresh-off-the-griddle immediacy, because that’s half the charm.
- Category: Mexican
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Cochinita Pibil taco
- Subway: Noksapyeong (녹사평역) exit 2
- Directions: Come out of Noksapyeong station and walk up towards Namsan / HBC. Cross the road and turn right at Noxa and walk up Gyeongnidan street, past the Wellbeing Mart. Don Charly is about three or four minutes up the hill. If you get to the Wellbeing Gym, you have gone too far. Turn back and banish all thoughts of fitness.
- Hours: Opening times do vary, but generally 12:30-9:30pm Tuesday – Friday with a mid-afternoon break, 1-9:30pm Saturdays, 1-6:30pm Sundays. Check out their Facebook page for more details.
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