14.040 Baja Fish Tacos

Cycle 14 – Item 40

14 (Tue) February 2023

Baja Fish Tacos


at Vatos

-Itaewon, Yongsan, Seoul, Republic of Korea-

with EE

On the evening of 29 October 2022, the Saturday preceding Halloween, a crowd crush in a small alleyway in Itaewon resulted in 159 deaths.  Investigations later showed that local police had neglected to plan for crowd control in advance of the weekend, and then ignored calls that very night warning of the ever-growing crowd.

The alley where it happened, now a temporary memorial of stickie notes, adjacent to Hamilton Hotel on the right.

As a regular patron of the Itaewon restaurant scene, which is largely concentrated in the area behind Hamilton Hotel (see for example 13.114 Piggie Volcano), I’ve walked up and down the alley countless times in my life, often at late hours, including on Halloween weekends.  In fact, MtG and I were there 2 years ago on the weekend following Halloween, right after the government had lifted various pandemic restrictions, resulting in huge crowds that had compelled us to go elsewhere (see 12.305 Fried Mushrooms).

The current flagship location, on the main drag, a few blocks from Hamilton.

In 2015, during the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines, I recall getting caught in a potential crowd crush on the street right outside my apartment in Manila: “Never seen/experienced anything like it.  I could imagine, feeling the intense pressure of so many bodies, how people get crushed to death in stampedes” (see 6.013 Beef & Bean Curry).

The waiting room.

Immediately following the incident, restaurants in Itaewon voluntarily closed for 3 days out of respect for the victims.  But after reopening, customers continued to stay away, presumably out of respect for the victims, or just not in a mood to wine and dine so close to tragedy.  More than 3 months have passed, and still the restaurants remain empty.  Which is sad, as many businesses were just beginning to recover from the pandemic.

About 1/4 of capacity.

EE is back in town, his 3rd visit (see most recently 13.301 Kimchi Mari Guksu).

For dinner, I challenge myself to take him somewhere Korean, while avoiding the obvious – the Korean-Mexican fusion of Vatos seemed just the thing, especially as he’s staying this time in the Mondrian, which located in Itaewon.

Glad to see ever-wider availability of Korean microbrews, even though they don’t yet fully deliver on the promise of “highest taste and quality.”
I don’t get it: “Peach! No You Didn’t…”
Every restaurant should offer something like this.
Disappointed to find that the latest menu is primarily mainstream Tex-Mex, offering only 2 Korean-Mexican fusion dishes (Kimchi Carnitas Fries, Sweet Korean Short Rib Taco) that it was originally famous for.

All the while thinking that I’m a fan of Vatos, I’m just now realizing that I’ve eaten the food on 3 prior occasions, never twice at the same location, each time less impressed than the last.

In the old days, the beer bottle was dropped directly into the margarita, but they’ve since invented a little clip that holds the bottle in place.

The food was okay.  EE seemed to like it but, to his credit, wasn’t overwhelmed.

Kimchi Carnitas Fries (3.0): still good but no longer delivering the wow, as on that 1st experience.

(See also BOOZE)



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