Mexican cuisine has become increasingly popular in Korea as of recently with the expansion of Taco Bell across the peninsula. Knowing that this is a newer "trend" in Korea, smaller taquerias have been opening everywhere, showcasing what they can offer when compared to the Mexican franchise giant. Just like handmade burgers are obviously better than their franchise counterparts, so far I've realized that these smaller Mexican restaurants really do offer much better quality and taste than Taco Bell, although they consequently do cost more. There are numerous famous taquerias across the city of Seoul, but today we head to a place in Itaewon that may not be as famous as the multi-floor Taco Bell across the street or the highly-popularized Vatos Urban Tacos a couple blocks away.
Hacienda, which consider themselves a taqueria and cantina (a Spanish bar), may not be located in the bustling Hamilton Hotel-side of the Itaewon main street, but it does offer quality Mexican food with what seems to be a blatant emphasis to avocados and fresh guacamole.
To start, Hacienda is quite small so for us initially it was barely noticeable. It's very passable so make sure to keep your eyes out when you're searching for this place. The exterior view is also completely black, which doesn't help much in standing out. I nevertheless liked the simplicity and Gothic-look of the taqueria, which somehow almost made it look fancy and even luxurious. Seeing that the food in itself isn't the fanciest nor most luxurious, it might not be the best portrayal of what's inside but since it also is a bar, it might look appealing to others at first sight.
Next to the door outside the restaurant, the menu is displayed for hungry food-sight-seers to see what the restaurant offers. From the menu you can see what this place is all about: avocados and margarita. You'll even see it from the decorations inside the restaurant that the avocado is possibly their most prized asset here. Nevertheless, from the get-go, the prices aren't too bad but they're aren't too cheap either and there's quite a variety to choose from.
Now, it's time to see how it looks inside.
First thing's first -- it's really as tiny as it looks from the outside. There are only about 7 to 8 tables available for customers to sit so it doesn't fit too many people. We sat on the tall seats closest to the door simply because it was hot outside and we felt the air conditioner hitting that area the most. Although it wasn't too comfortable, it wasn't noticeably uncomfortable either. The shorter chairs closer to the counter are probably better if you want to relax.
Also, as you can see, it isn't entirely the bar that you were probably envisioning when I defined the word "cantina." First of all, there's no bar with a bartender where customers are sitting on high chairs drinking their drinks. I couldn't seem to find any conspicuous displays of the drinks they offered either albeit presumably being able to serve numerous drinks according to their menu. Instead, there was a pile of avocados at the front, which again seems to be showing how much they value the fruit here.
It really just felt like a restaurant more than a bar, but it might have been because we had visited in the afternoon. The restaurant did have a very bar-like feel, however, with dimmed lights lighting up the otherwise quite dark restaurant. The music that was played at the restaurant seemed to be of Latin American influence but it wasn't anything traditional like I had honestly preferred to get that Latin American feel. It was fast-paced music without lyrics so it was difficult to distinguish what kind of music it was exactly. Nevertheless, for me, the music's presence felt unnecessary but that can obviously differ from person to person.
Overall, the interior design was not too simple but also not too complex. With a few neat decorations hanging on the walls, it wasn't distracting but it was nothing breathtaking or worth noting.
We ordered fresh guacamole with chips, two tacos and a burrito with avocado to see why there were avocados everywhere inside this taqueria. After a few minutes, the food started coming out in the order that I aforementioned, with the chips making their way unto our table first.
The Traditional Fresh Guacamole & Chips is as named: a pile of chips accompanied with some guacamole scoop-able with a wooden spoon.
The guacamole was a combination of avocado on the bottom with some pico de gallo on top which really gave it a ton of flavor when dipped with a salty and crunchy chip. For those who are unfamiliar with pico de gallo, it is an uncooked mixture of tomatoes, onions and cilantro which is often used as dip for nachos or as a condiment for virtually anything -- personally, it was most memorably placed atop bacon-wrapped hot-dogs sold in food trucks in downtown Los Angeles. The tangy taste of the pico de gallo mixed with the creamy avocado was an addicting combination that had me scraping the bowl when it was unfortunately running low.
While we were enjoying our chips, our next meal showed up -- the tacos.
The Hot Grilled Beef Tacos were basically beef tacos with some pico de gallo placed on top of the grilled meat. Being constantly exposed to the common hard shells, these soft tortillas definitely had me reminiscing on the true taco, which is simply a small-size tortilla with chopped and cooked meat placed on top of it. A dab of spicy sauce was poured on the meat to give it that spicy kick. To be frank it was nothing too special, but it was, like aforementioned, a relief from the Americanized tacos that most are familiar with.
Last but not least, the burrito arrived. At this point, our stomachs weren't too filled but we weren't feeling hungry either. The chips and tacos don't seem much for two people, but it somehow managed to get us out of our hungry-zone.
The Chicken Burrito with Avocado was quite a hefty burrito with avocado slices layered on top of it and served with some salad and sour cream. Visually, it was very unique how the raw avocado was placed on the burrito like shown in the pictures above, but as soon as we cut open the burrito, we realized that the outside wasn't its only unique aspect.
The ingredients inside the burrito consisted of cheese, chicken and POTATO, which was presumably used as a substitute for the original and most common rice and beans. Although at first I felt an eerie mixture of wonder and slight disappointment (I had wanted some rice and beans and was quite eagerly expecting it), as I tried this burrito I realized that the potatoes were actually a more tasteful replacement to the rice.
The smooth texture and taste of the potato supplemented the chicken and cheese well, and since the chicken and potato weren't separated like some burritos are where one bite gets you the rice while another gets you the meat, every bite was constantly delicious. There were more potatoes than chicken pieces, but you could definitely taste the chicken in every bite of the burrito, which was all I personally needed.
It was undoubtedly odd having potatoes in my burrito, but it was a pleasant surprise that ultimately had my father and me filled up. What had seemed like a small amount of food was actually quite filling and undeniably satisfying. Although it's not easy to say that all of their food is authentic Mexican cuisine, it's definitely influenced by Mexican tastes and flavors.
The menu is quite diverse with different types of foods and drinks. As Hacienda is both a taqueria and cantina equally, the menu is also equally separated into the food choices and drink choices.
According to the waitress that served us, this place's specialty drink is the margarita among all the different alcoholic drinks they offer. Margaritas are Mexican cocktails, and seeing how the restaurant is designed, it seems best fit for drinking cocktails or wine more than beer, but that's just my personal opinion.
In the end, we spent a total of 26,000 won and it fed two hungry people with traditional Mexican food. Although it's definitely not cheap, it's not all that expensive either.
Like aforementioned in the introduction, Hacienda isn't located in the Hamilton Hotel-side of the Itaewon main road, where most of the restaurants seem to be located. Rather, you can find this place by going across the Hamilton Hotel, which despite being less populated, definitely still offers quality food. It's not very difficult to find Hacienda, but it is small so you need to keep your eyes open for it.
Location : Seoul Yongsan Itaewon-dong 128-6(Bokwangro 59 Gil 10)