Vatos Urban Tacos

Guys. Since I’ve officially begun my foray into restaurant reviews, I’ve been dying to tell you about one of my favorite restaurants in Korea – Vatos Urban Tacos. Aside from the fact that I like the name, the food is AMAZING. I’ve been looking forward to telling you guys about it for ages. Except I kept forgetting to bring my camera to the restaurant. Or forgetting to take pictures of the food before I shoved it in my face. Fortunately, they recently opened up a branch near my apartment so I don’t to schlep all the way out to Itaewon after one of those days where you need a drink as big as your head. Which they totally have. They’re called makgeollitas. It’s a margarita made with makgeolli and it sounds gross but it’s heaven. I highly recommend the peach flavor. They also have those margaritas with upside down beer or wine coolers in them in some fabulous flavors. My personal favorite is “I’m Rick James, Peach!” The Gold Digger is also quite good. While their beverages are a huge part of why I frequent this fine establishment, their food ain’t bad, either. My hands down favorite things on the menu are the kimchi carnitas fries and the fish tacos. While the kimchi carnitas fries (or some incarnation of them) are becoming a staple at Mexican restaurants in Seoul, the fries at Vatos are still the best. The Brit and I split an order literally every time we go. You would be remiss not to give them a try. I also get the fish tacos every time I go because THEY TASTE LIKE CALIFORNIA. For real real. Sunshine and surf. Right in my mouth hole. The Brit is a bit more adventurous and mixes it up from time to time, but is a big fan of the Vatos burrito. The kimchi gives it a nice kick. The guac and queso are good, but a little pricey for what you get. But sometimes you just need a little guac or queso, you know? The only thing on the menu that I’ve tried that I didn’t like was the tamale. But tamales are one of my favorite foods and I’m used to home cooked tamales. Also, I’ve never ordered a burger because TACOS.

So, if you find yourself in Seoul, head over to one of their many locations. And if you’re in Daejeon, keep your eyes open for a new location opening soon! Check out my tumblr for some mouth watering photos.

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The Brit and the Yank do Murrica

I’m ba-ack! As per usual, this post is loooong overdue –  maybe the longest overdue ever. I’m back in Korea and loving my new town and school, but that is a post for another day. In the near future. I swear. Pinky swear, even. For now, I’m going to fill you in on all of the fun I had while home in the states. As you can imagine, the first thing I did when I got home was give my kitties some love, whether they liked it or not, followed shortly thereafter by the greatest pizza known to man: Papa Murphy’s Cowboy. Oh, and did I forget to mention that my crazy awesome parents picked me up at the airport wearing I ❤ MJ shirts? (On the off chance that someone who doesn’t know me personally is reading this, those are my initials.) I got back shortly before Thanksgiving, and have never been so excited to eat myself into a food coma. The turkey was majestic. The stuffing tasted like sunshine and rainbows. It was a glorious feast of food I can’t get in Korea. My taste buds were delighted, and they remained as such for the duration of my trip. December was filled with parties and sugar cookies. One might call it an obscene amount of sugar cookies. One has clearly never been to my house at Christmas. My sister also came home for the holidays, and for the first time in two years the whole fam bam was together. It was fun (read insane) having everyone under the same roof again.

My partner-in-crime, Joe, came to visit a few days after Christmas. For anyone not in the know, Joe is from England, he was my BFF last year in Jeonju, and is now my boyfriend. And obviously the luckiest guy ever.  We were supposed to leave Korea together and spend a few weeks in California and then he was going to head back to England before Christmas. But someone lost his passport. We won’t get into that. The pertinent information is that he had to go home first, and then come to the states and in doing so, he missed Thanksgiving. He was really disappointed, so my mom cooked a second Thanksgiving on New Year’s Day and invited the whole family over so they could meet this strange person from a foreign land. A good time was had by all, due largely in part to Cards Against Humanity. The greatest game you will ever play, as long as you’re as inappropriate as my family. Joe and I spent the next month tooling all over Northern California. Our base was Sacramento, my home town, where I took him to his first professional basketball game. Tragically, our team is the Kings, so we had to watch them blow it all in the last quarter. C’est la vie. I took him to his first drive-in movie. We also visited Old Town Sacramento and the always cool train museum. I introduced him to good Mexican food. They have Mexican food in England, but I felt it pretty safe to say that English Mexican food was nowhere near as good as Californian Mexican food. Joe confirmed those suspicions. We visited the zoo and Fairy Tale Town with my little cousin. We spent a couple of days in the snow in Soda Springs, with an afternoon in Truckee and Donner Pass. While there, I thought it was only fitting that I teach him how to play Oregon Trail. I’m happy to report, we made it all the way with only a few broken bones and some dysentery. We camped for a couple of nights at one of my favorite places on earth, Sunset Beach in Santa Cruz. It was a little chilly, but I got to teach him how to make a s’more. I know, right? What kind of person has never had a s’more? A deprived one. That’s who. I’m pretty sure I changed his life. On our way out of town, we stopped by Monterey for the afternoon. We wandered around Cannery Row and popped into another one of my favorite places – the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We caught the sunset at the pier next to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, since the boardwalk itself was unfortunately closed. We spent a couple of days in San Francisco. Joe got to walk on the Golden Gate Bridge, and it was actually my first time doing that as well. And we went to Fisherman’s Wharf where he tried his very first bowl of clam chowder. I know, I know, I don’t know how they get by in England, either.

But he and I will both agree that the hands down, absolute best part of our trip was the time we spent in Humboldt County. And man, we were all over Humboldt County. Humboldt State is my alma mater and I lived there for six years, so I had a long list of places to visit. On the drive up, we hit up all of the little tourist traps along the way. I’d driven those roads a million times before, but never bothered to check out things like Confusion Hill or the One Log Cabin. I didn’t know when I was going to be able to come back again, so we spent approximately a million hours in the car and hit every little place we saw. Once we finally got there, we went to all of my favorite restaurants and I introduced him to another of my favorite foods – biscuits and gravy. As a Brit, biscuits for him means cookie. You can imagine the look on his face when I told him we would be eating them with gravy. But he was a quick convert. We visited Ferndale, the home of the theater from the movie The Majestic. We stopped by Lolita, home of the cheese factory that makes the most amazing garlic pepperjack. We took a stroll through the Redwood Forest. We attempted to eat dinner on Clam Beach, but it was way too freaking cold. We made the epic trek into Fern Canyon which, aside from being a gorgeous cavern drenched in greenery, was a filming location for both Jurrasic Park and Return of the Jedi. Joe was over the moon, as it combined two of his loves – movies and dinosaurs. We hung out at the bars of my youth,  where he fit in perfectly (he’s 25) and I felt very, very old (I’m…not 25). It was amazing being reminded of so many great memories, but a little bittersweet to know that my time there is long gone and a whole new group of students are memory making. We extended our trip an extra day, and still couldn’t manage to get in everything on my list. Next time, Humboldt, next time… It was so great visiting my old stomping grounds and seeing friends I hadn’t seen in way too long. It was hard to leave, but we had places to go and people to see.

As hard as it was to say goodbye to Humboldt, it was even harder saying goodbye to Joe. We parted knowing we wouldn’t be living in the same county for over a year, as he is teaching in Vietnam this year. I’m looking forward to being able to visit him in Vietnam, but we both know we’re in for a long year. After Joe left, my last two weeks in the states where a whirlwind of saying goodbye to friends, eating my favorite foods and packing. Although, once again, that was mostly left until the last day. So that is my trip home in a nutshell. It was a lot of fun and went by way too fast. I promise I’ll update you on my new situation soon.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry – Thai Style

I have decided to devote an entire post to the Thai cuisine because it was some of the best food I have ever had in my life. I also needed a way to justify the obscene amount of photos I took of food while there. Seriously guys, I have more food photos than beach photos.  As soon as we got settled in our hostel, we decided we needed some refueling. Having only just arrived, and not being very familiar with the area, we decided to stick close to the hostel. Literally, we could see the hostel from the patio of the restaurant. It was a small restaurant called Sala Bua, and there was only one other patron. I’d only had Thai food once or twice before, so the whole menu was pretty new to me. I opted for a traditional Thai dish. And by traditional, I mean I’d heard of it before. I ordered the shrimp pad thai, and it did not disappoint. It was like heaven in my mouth. I can’t remember what Joe ordered (I was too busy having a relationship with my meal to pay attention to him), but I know we both enjoyed our food so much that we intended to go back. Multiple times. Unfortunately, it was not to be. But we’ll always have the memories of our first Thai meal… For dinner on our first evening, we asked our very friendly hostel manager to recommend a seafood restaurant. She had her husband (also the hostel taxi driver) take us to a place in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, our driver got lost on more than one occasion, and at one point I was pretty sure we were headed somewhere the likes of which horror films are made. We eventually reached an open air restaurant located on a waterfront of some sort. It was really dark, so it’s pretty hard to say whether it was the ocean or just a really big pond. I like to pretend is was on the ocean, and it’s usually best to just go with it. Everything on the menu sounded delicious, and we finally narrowed it down to lobster and jumbo prawns. It was the kind of restaurant where you get to pick your food out from the tank. After much debate, we selected a worthy opponent and marked it for death. And it was…wait for it… A. May. Zing. We couldn’t believe how much tasty food we’d gotten so cheap. Then the bill came and we realized we’d made some pretty egregious calculation errors. Let’s just say neither one of us should be trusted to do math without adult supervision.
On day two, we met Joe’s parents at their hotel, the Andaman Seaview, and ate lunch there. I can’t remember the name of the dish I ordered, but I enjoyed it so much that in three days I tried all three versions of it. And all were delectable. All four of us liked the food there so much, that we ate there several times during our stay. I also had a cocktail in a dragon fruit. It was actually kind of weird, but it looked super awesome, so I felt pretty good about it on the whole. And it was the first of many cocktails inside of fruit to be consumed that week. That night we had dinner at the restaurant next door to our hostel. The food was good, but it was  probably the least memorable meal from our trip. Although I do recall that you could order “Amerigan Fried Rice,” whatever that might be…
Day three included lunch at the Andaman Seaview again, with the second variation of day two’s delightful dish. That evening, thanks to some skillful internet searching on the part of Joe’s dad, we enjoyed dinner at the After Beach Bar, a reggae themed restaurant on a hilltop overlooking Kata Beach. We arrived shortly before sunset and enjoyed a round of beverages (mine a Mai Tai in a pineapple) while taking in the sunset and waiting for our food. I ordered a shrimp dish of some fashion, which was kind of a trend for the duration of our trip. But really, how often can you get shrimp dishes that cheap? I had to take advantage of it. I did, however, object to Joe’s mom’s dinner that evening – a fish with the head still on. She claims it was delicious, but I just can’t eat anything that is still looking at me.

On day four we had lunch at – you guessed it! The Andaman Seaview. For dinner we headed up to the Kata Beach area once again, to a restaurant called Lucky Tom’s, which is apparently quite popular with tourists. It was a tiny place, and they had it packed to the gills. There were lots of interesting sounding dishes on the menu, but I went with a trusty shrimp dish. Joe and his dad were a little more adventurous. They ordered a curry that was served in a coconut and stir fried shark. I tried a little of each. I wasn’t a huge fan of the curry, but the shark was exquisite. I have never had meat that melted in my mouth like the shark did. I recommend going to Lucky Tom’s for this dish alone. Although everything we ordered that night was delicious. After dinner, Joe and I decided to check out a bar we’d passed earlier that day called Dino Bar. We’d been told that sometimes they have a small elephant wandering out front, and apparently we hadn’t had our fill of elephants yet.  We were in luck, and were able to pet and feed the little guy. Then we headed to the bar for a couple of drinks whose colors were so unnatural that it should have been off-putting, but really it made hanging out at a bar where the staff dressed like Fred Flintsone that much more fun. I thought it was a fun, kitschy little place and wanted to eat dinner there one night, but Joe informed me I was wrong and dinner there was not going to happen.  C’est la vie.

On day five we took the boat cruise from hell out to Phi Phi Island where we had the worst food of the entire trip, and probably some of the worst food I’ve ever had. All I can tell you about the boat cruises out to Phi Phi are – don’t do it! Totally not worth the time or money. That night, Joe and I had dinner at the Karon Hut. The food was amazing, but the service was awful! One table ordered, ate and left before anyone even came to talk to us! It took a good 30 minutes for us to even get drinks. Seriously. We almost walked out. Joe was ready to, but I really wanted my cocktail in a pineapple that I’d ordered. Fortunately, he’s pretty good at dealing with my irrational nature. All in all, the day was kind of a wash.

The last couple of days of our trip were a national Thai holiday – Buddha’s birthday. And apparently you aren’t allowed to purchase alcohol on those days. We had no idea, because we had no problem getting served on day five, until we tried to go to 7-11 and buy a couple of beers to take down to the beach. Apparently restaurants make concessions for foreigners since Buddha’s not our guy. But all of the bars were closed. So we ended up going back to our hostel, where the hostel managed gave us some beer that we had to keep concealed in case the cops came by. Since we couldn’t leave the hostel area, we ended up hanging out on the patio with some awesome tourists from Holland and taught them how to play redneck poker.

On our last day (still Buddha’s bday), we had lunch at Sofia Restaurant and Cafe where we tried our luck ordering beer. They served it to us, but they put it in little, dixie-style coffee cups and we had to hide the bottles under the table. Please, try not to be jealous of how classy we are. For food, we ordered some great curry, spring rolls and *gasp* another shrimp dish. Although we were very tempted to order the Swedish Breakfast, which apparently consists of “2 Aspirins served with a glass of water.” Sounds mouthwatering… For our last Thai meal, we headed to a restaurant that we’d passed by several times and kept saying, “We should stop here sometime.” So we finally did. The restaurant was called 2Gether (Anyone else having U+Me= Us (Calculus) flashbacks right now?) and owned by a really friendly Swedish guy. As it was low season, the restaurant was pretty slow, so he came out and joined our table for a bit. We had a lovely conversation and he recommended some great dishes. I decided to end it with the same dish I started with – shrimp pad thai. The owner sent out some complimentary spring rolls that were almost as delicious as the ones my Vietnamese neighbor used to make when I was a kid, and that’s a pretty big feat. Hers are the best spring rolls I’ve ever had. Somehow, the guys managed to have enough room for dessert. But neither of them ordered anything that was up my ally, so while they looked delicious, I have no idea whether they actually were or not. The whole trip was super amazing and went by way too quickly. I can’t wait to go back for a lot of reasons, but the food is one of the biggest. However, I’m a little concerned that authentic Thai food may have ruined me for American style Thai food. I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks when I head home…

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Joe’s Birthday/Makgeolli Tasting

For Joe’s birthday, he wanted to go makgeolli tasting, which I’d actually been wanting to do for a while because they serve all kinds of weird food with it. The weird food I’d been yearning for in particular was live octopus. I saw a video about this before I came to Korea and the intrigue and horror were too much for me to bear. I HAD to try it. As a kindred spirit, Joe was also longing to be grossed out. Makgeolli is Korean rice wine that is 6-8% alcohol. It has a slightly sweet taste, and I’m not actually a huge fan of it. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to get to get to the live octopus. You see, you don’t actually order the food that comes with the makgeolli. You keep ordering makgeolli and they just bring the food out. And you have to order a LOT of makgeolli before they bring out the octopus. Fortunately, we were up to the task. First, they brought us an unidentified meat with some warm kimchi. I really like kimchi, but warm kimchi not so much. The second round brought pig knuckles, which were pretty nasty. Then we got soup with a whole chicken in it. The chicken was pretty dry, but the broth was delicious. Then we got a squid frittata (pretty good), some fried eggs (I didn’t eat them – it was too normal), steamed mussels in broth (delicious), boiled squid (much better than it sounds),  fried prawns (head on and everything –  I can’t eat food with its head on), an entire fried fish (again, head on – couldn’t do it), duck with onion (the duck was good, onion by itself is not) and finally, the mother of all dishes – live octopus! They bring it out to the table and hold it over the plate and then just start cutting bits of leg off. And they just keep writhing. It’s fantastic. And surprisingly delicious. I fully expected to hate every minute of it, but I ended up going back for seconds and thirds. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t fight back as much as I’d wanted. The biggest struggle was getting it off the plate. I’m posting a video so you guys can see the awesomeness, but beware – it’s not for the faint of heart (or humor)!

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Pepero Day

Yesterday in South Korea, we celebrated the most sacred of all holidays – Pepero Day. Pepero is essentially the Korean version of Pocky. It is celebrated on 11/11 because the date resembles 4 Pepero sticks in a row. I know whenever I think of November 11, I also think of candy. Then again, I also think of candy the other 364 days of the year. Pepero is made by one of the major Korean conglomerates, Lotte Co., Ltd. They own everything here – a chain of department stores, a chain of Walmart-esque stores, movie theaters, an amusement park, mildly tasty candy… Lotte corp denies “inventing” the holiday, but it hasn’t been around very long. In fact, Pepero itself  is younger than I am (as one of my coworkers was so kind to point out to me). Word on the street (and by street, naturally, I mean Wikipedia) is that students at a middle school started giving it to one another with the wish that they might grow as tall and thin as a Pepero. In fact, I heard one of my junior high students utter that exact sentiment. Body image is a major issue over here, but that is another post entirely. I scored a pretty decent amount of Pepero and other candy from my students, half of which will be going home to my family in their Christmas package (what? don’t act like you’ve never regifted). Happy Pepero/Veteran’s Day all!

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