Back in November of last year, when Mexican restaurant El Pino 323 opened in a little hole in the wall space near Aeogae station, I wrote in my review that “I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they are expanding or moving to a bigger location before too long”. You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to see that the tacos and enchiladas being dished up by Chef ‘D’ Morales would quickly draw a wider audience than could fit into a slightly poky basement room next to kimbap joints and nail salons.
Fast forward nine months or so and the prophecy has come to pass even more quickly than most of us would have expected. El Pino 323 has outgrown its original location, and moved on to bigger and better things. Now in a bright and airy second floor space near Noksapyeong station, the new version of this restaurant could scarcely look or feel more different, but the food continues to be some of the best, if not the best, Cali-Mex food to be found anywhere in the city.
The burritos, burgers and chilli bowls of Gyeongnidan’s Cali Kitchen have been a vital source of sustenance for many of us for a couple of years now; come rain or shine, owner Chuck Chun has been serving up a taste of California since mid-2015.
Having outgrown the original space behind Maloney’s pub, Chuck closed down operations during the spring of 2017 in order to bring his new concept to reality. It’s been an agonising wait for some of us, but with the partial help of a Kickstarter campaign to help them over the line, to which I contributed a small amount (does that make me an investor? are royalty cheques about to come flooding in? I can dream…), the newly rebranded California Kitchen and Craft Pub officially opens today after a short soft opening, and I’m pleased to say that it’s a winner.
Note from Andy: This is the second in an ongoing series of interviews with restaurateurs and chefs around Seoul. The previous interview was with Wahid Naciri of Casablanca and Morococo Café, and can be found here.
Jungsu Lee is from Seoul. He opened his restaurant Villa Guerrero in Samseong-dong in 2015, serving Michoacán style carnitas and chorizo tacos.
Here it is, the most eagerly awaited post of the year; the second annual Soju Sunrise Food Awards, showcasing the best foreign food that I think Seoul has to offer. No doubt squadrons of restaurateurs are reading this with fear in their souls, whole chains poised to collapse if they aren’t mentioned in my year-end review. What can I say? With great power comes great responsibility.
As with last year’s favourites – quite a few of whom return this year – I don’t present this list as a definitive “best of” but rather a compilation of my favourites, the places I return to again and again, the places that made 2016 worth persevering with. No doubt in each category there are better places around, and you should feel free to set me right in the comments – but these are the places that pop up again and again on my Instagram feed.
Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and see you all in 2017!
El Pino is a well-known landmark in East Los Angeles, and despite being open for just a couple of weeks, its namesake El Pino 323 is already well on the way to becoming an equally notable landmark of the Seoul food scene. Opening officially last weekend, hidden in a basement near a little-frequented subway station on line 5, this takeaway-turned-restaurant is dishing up some of the most authentic and certainly best, Cali-Mex food that you’ll find anywhere outside the 323 L.A. area code.
[UPDATE, JULY 2017: This location has now closed, with El Pino reopening near Noksapyeong Station. Please see my new review for details.]
It’s been very busy in the real world of Soju Sunrise, but things are quietening down so hopefully I’ll be posting some more reviews and notes on Seoul eateries very soon. In the meantime, here are some of the things I’ve been eating over the last few weeks. (You can see most of these pics, as well as many more, on my Instagram feed at instagram.com/sojusunrise.)