Smile Politely

Seoul Food: When two worlds collide

Fusion restaurants — whether Japanese and American, Chinese and Italian, French and Greek — are one of the latest food crazes and Champaign is no stranger to them. Starting out as nothing more than a food truck in St. Louis, Seoul Taco has branched out as far as Chicago after winning “Best Food Truck” in its hometown. The new location in Champaign opened in March, inviting customers to try its affordable Korean-Mexican food.

I had never heard of this restaurant but knew I needed to get a taste of this interesting blend of flavors. I love Mexican food and Korean food is pretty good. I also love sushi and chocolate, but I don’t think those flavors combine very well. As one of the adventurous visitors willing to experience something new on my tastebuds, I invited one of my friends to join me on this excursion. Seoul Taco lies across the street from Flat Top Grill and is easy to spot with its simple yet boldly-colored sign. For a Friday night, the place was pretty busy and there was a line during the entire hour I was there that almost went out the front door. There was, however, an ample amount of seating — around 10 tables on the first floor and additional tables on the upper level — and many of the customers ordered their food to-go.

A Day of the Dead-like decoration hangs on one of the wood plank walls, appropriate for the cuisine found at Seoul Taco, and red accent walls help brighten the otherwise plain interior. There’s nothing fancy about the restaurant, but it’s a great place to grab lunch, dinner, or a late-night snack with some friends. The menu appears simple, but with a variety of proteins to choose from (beef, chicken, pork, and tofu), patrons can customize their orders to make it extra meaty or completely vegetarian. My friend ordered the burrito ($8) with bulgogi beef, extra cheese, no sour cream, kimchi fried rice, lettuce, carrots, green onion, and Seoul sauces. As someone not familiar with kimchi, he didn’t know what flavor to expect in the rice, but it worked surprisingly well with all the ingredients. The burrito was smaller than something you’d find at a place like Chipotle, but who wants to go to Chipotle right now? Even with the smaller size, it still provides a generous serving for one.

I ended up ordering two types of tacos, one with bulgogi beef and one with tofu, priced at $2.50 each. Topped with Korean salad mix, green onion, and Seoul sauce, the tacos tasted more Korean than Mexican with the pungent spiciness of the beef and slight, tangy sweetness from the sauce. The menu states that sesame seeds and a lime wedge are included with the tacos, but I received neither of those, which might have balanced the Korean and Mexican flavors a bit more. The tofu was cooked nicely, but did not have enough flavor — something that could be adjusted — and while I liked the fresh lettuce in the taco, there was too much. If I’m eating a taco, I want flavor. Lettuce doesn’t give me that.

In addition to the tacos, I also tried the kimchi slaw ($2), one of the sides available on the menu. I was a little put-off by the appearance of the slaw because it reminded me of worms, and I saw plenty of those on the ground the other day with the thunderstorms in Champaign. I’ve had kimchi and this side does not look at all like kimchi nor does it taste like kimchi, but I wasn’t disgusted by the flavor. The stringy texture is a little nasty but the “kimchi” slaw has a pleasant amount of spiciness combined with the sweet and sour style sauce. Like the worms I saw on the sidewalk, the slaw was drowning in liquid by the time I reached the bottom of the container. I would not recommend ordering this side, but the OG kimchi and kimchi fried rice (also priced at $2 each) sound more promising.

The other items included on the menu are quesadillas, gogi bowl, and nachos, all of which come with the signature Seoul sauce and remain under $10. I’ll probably stop by again to try the rest of these dishes as I enjoyed the overall flavor of the food and also really liked the service. The cashier was very efficient while still remaining friendly and one of the employees asked how my friend and I were doing during our meal. I don’t usually see that happen at any fast food places except for Chik-fil-A, but Seoul Taco sets itself apart from other franchises simply from the attitude of its employees. Whether you’re a college student or a local, I recommend checking this place out for its fresh-tasting ingredients, low prices, good flavors, and excellent service.

Seoul Taco is located at 608 S 6th St, Champaign. The restaurant is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday throughThursday, and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday through Sunday. 

Top image from Seoul Taco’s Facebook page. All photos by Madeleine Marsh. 

Related Articles