When Vatos Urban Tacos first opened in Seoul in 2011, the lines were so long that the wait sometimes lasted for three hours.
Even CNN called Vatos “a near miracle” in Seoul because of the perfect combination of Korean and Mexican cuisine. The restaurant has three locations in Korea now and two in Singapore.
Vatos finally opened last January 2018 in the Philippines, at the Net Park Building, 5th Avenue in BGC.
My sister Diday is the Philippine business partner of Vatos. She and her husband Leo discovered the restaurant in Singapore, where two of their children live.
We sat down with Shinhan Sid Kim, one of three Korean-American co-founders of Vatos, who explained how Korean-Mexican fusion isn’t actually strange and how the two cuisines are similar.
“I grew up in California where my father owned an appliance store and he had some Mexican employees. My father would bring his Korean lunch prepared by my mother and the employees would bring their lunch, too. They’d share their lunches. I grew up eating kimchi with almost anything, including tacos, burritos and other Mexican food.”
Koreans and Mexicans both like wrapping their food. Koreans eat meat wrapped in vegetable leaves while Mexicans have their tortillas and taco shells. Both nationalities love chilies.
Vatos’ first location was a dilapidated building in Itaewon, Seoul. The interiors were hip and trendy, with lighting coming from different angles—but nothing too bright or too white. The walls are red bricks that seem to be falling apart. The tables have reworked faucets on the side where you can also hang your bags.
“Vatos has been designed as a place where people can eat, drink and chill. The interior have to be awesome but the food has to be even more so, because people won’t come back if the place is cool but the food is bad,” said Sid.
The look for Vatos’ interiors is the same, whether you’re in Seoul, Singapore or Manila.
Among their bestsellers are Carnitas Kimchi Fries, or fries covered with braised pork carnitas, sautéed kimchi and melted cheese with sour cream, hot sauce, cilantro and onions as toppings.
Sid said the dish was inspired by two Korean dishes—Gamja-tang or pork spine stew, which is cooked with potatoes, and samgyeopsal or grilled pork belly, which is enjoyed with kimchi.
The Honey Tequila Chicken Wings is Vatos’ version of the popular Korean fried chicken. Chicken wings are coated in sweet and spicy tequila sauce and served with battered jalapenos and blue cheese dipping sauce.
The Wagyu Galbi Short Rib Tacos are marinated short ribs, ssamjang aioli, Asian slaw, cilantro, chopped onions and roasted sesame seeds.
Vatos has a full menu that includes tacos, quesadillas, salads, burritos and burrito bowls. They even have a dessert of Nutella Tacos topped with vanilla ice cream.
Definitely worth mentioning are the drinks and cocktails at Vatos.
There are Vatos’ Ritas (they’re served with an inverted beer bottle), Authentic Margaritas, Frozen Margaritas, Makgeolitas (tequila with makgeolli, a rice wine) and local and imported beers.
Vatos is not a bar nor is it only a restaurant.
“One thing about Vatos is that it caters to all kinds of people. We get young people, families with children and even grandparents,” said Sid.
Vatos Urban Tacos is at Net Park Building, 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City.
For more information, call 246-9069 local 186 or follow them on Instagram @vatosphilippines.