In the US, Mexican restaurants are as common as a Kim Pasa in Korea due to the country bordering Mexico and the over 33 million Hispanics residing Stateside. However, discovering an authentic Mexican establishment outside America is as elusive as spotting a leopard on safari. So, when I heard there was a new Mexican restaurant in town - Tomatillo - I immediately went to check it out.
With trepidation, I open the door. Inside, I’m greeted with several six-seater bar stool tables – subdued industrial lighting overhead – and a 20 foot long booth that lines an entire wall where the diner’s companions sit opposite in hunter-green leather-covered chairs accented with brass buttons. The mood is a cozy mix of NY bar and sleek cafe. Not a sombrero or maraca in sight.
I hoist up the two-inch thick leather-bound menu. It immediately becomes apparent that choosing just one dish is going to be a challenge. I scour the extensive selection – which gratefully has at least the menus titles in English: tacos, chimichangas, burritos, quesadillas, tostada salads and fajita platters. With each section having a two-page spread with filling options from steak, chicken, pork, shrimp, Baja fish, and veggie, I become overwhelmed and attempt to make a decision on an alcoholic beverage instead. However, the drinks menu is as equally impressive. I analyze the choices: a selection of draft beers from the South Korean microbrewery North Fort, my favorite bottled brew Big Wave, and even a frozen margarita.
The presentation is appetizing and authentic with the two tacos stacked in a traditional metal W-shaped rack.
After much deliberation, I settle on the Baja fish tacos, a side of chips and salsa, and a Purple IPA. Despite seven other groups dining, I don’t wait long for my food. The presentation is appetizing and authentic with the two tacos stacked in a traditional metal W-shaped rack.
On closer inspection, I discover that the tacos are built from flour tortillas instead of corn and are lined with a sliver of grilled shredded cheddar. I take a bite. The generously topped cabbage and tomato slaw spills onto my plate and reveals a sizable portion of crispy battered white fish on the bottom. The indiscernible sauce – very different to the typical sriracha-spiked white sauce – oozes onto my fingertips. Despite the variances, I decide to award the overall taste 4 chilis, mainly for the likable crunch the ‘cheese skirt’ adds.
The growing franchise has a policy to employ native cooks in order to maintain authenticity...
Next, I delve into the chips and salsa. The homemade crunch of tortillas and the chunky fresh tomatoes of the pico de gallo transport me to my favorite Arizona cantina. Mid-chomp the Korean lady next to me warmly starts a conversation. “They usually have a Mexican chef in the kitchen. He isn’t here today.” Optimistically, I hope that is the cause of the pureed, out of the jar tasting guacamole. My only disappointment in the meal. I later learn the growing franchise has a policy to employ native cooks in order to maintain authenticity and not overly tweak the dishes to appeal to the Korean palette.
Location: 51 Hoam-ro, Bukgu, Daegu. Opposite Daegu Homeplus
Hours: Monday to Sunday. 11.00 to 23.00. Last orders at 22.00
Social Media: tomatillo.co.kr / facebook.com/tomatillo.kr
Average Cost: 25,000W p/p. Baja taco platter (10,500); chips, salsa and guacamole (7,000); beer (7,500W).
Written and Photographed by Gwendolyn DeSilva