Friday, October 14, 2011

Vatos Urban Tacos: Eat, Drink, Chill, and Get Ready for Real Tacos

My article on Vatos Urban Tacos has just been published in the October issue of NEH:


     I’ve always wanted to be a Los Angelino, there’s this idealistic sun-streaked beauty that I attach to it, along with wheat grass shots and hard surfer bodies.
      I’ve yet to be there, and a have hell of a lot to learn, but from all the LA kids I’ve met, I’ve learned that nothing beats real Mexican food. Coming from Vermont (and Massachusetts) the closest I’ve come to it are the organic local beans simmered in GMO-free vegan taco seasoning, or Taco Bell. I want to taste it,
I’ve heard so much gusto and passion spilling from the saliva of those groaning LosAngelinos that I’m craving it vicariously through them. Mexican food is, essentially non-existent around these parts. I mean real Mexican food. Korea provides an uneducated attempt at the cuisine, not to hate, but Korea does Korea’s food great; the best, but in other food attempts, hit the books and board them planes.
     In a matter of weeks, Kenneth Park is opening Vatos Urban Tacos, a real taco joint, packed with fusion Korean flare. Keeping true to is core, this Los Angelino know what he is doing. His genuine love and passion for bringing quality to the food is infectuous.
     Beyond charming and well read, Kenneth gives off that perfect LA vibe. -chill, humble, articulate, and full of knowledge.
     “I find a lot of pleasure through pleasing people through food and drink. I really really love to dine, and I love to eat, and I love to cook. Just...when you crave something so much and you can’t get it, and it’s not available to you, you kind of go crazy.”
     Kenneth grew up eating the best Mexican and Latin foods. LA markets ingredients such as fresh tortillas, spiced beans, fresh cilantro, and local avacados. He also grew up to “Blood In, Blood Out,” the Chingu for the Mexican and Latino community. That movie inspired the name for Vatos Urban Tacos.
     “[Blood In, Blood Out] has that solid infinity. ‘vatos vatos vatos, forever’ vatos means like ‘hey homie’ kind of means chyeak ye amongst friends. I thought the name was comedic, my LA crew thought it was silly. I did some focus groups, and we were in between names. It was Tacorea or Vatos. Tacorea sounds too
much like lotteria, has a cheap connotation to it. I said, ‘Vatos’ and they (the focus group) were like ‘Vatos so good’ and I said do you know what it means? Doesn’t matter, we like.’ I was really humbled by the naming because from western standards they (Korean food chains) have a lot of names that don’t
make sense“
     This is Kenneth’s first restaurant, but not his first business project. Prior to Seoul, he tackled a family business.
     “My dad is like a mad Korean scientist. He invented these gold training products and I always disregard his ideas but sometimes I think one will do all right. I made him a deal. I’d write him a business plan and if we’d enter it into the Boston-wide business collegiate competitions. If we won, we’d start the business,
and we ended up winning. We won on the graduate level. We did that for four years, we did an infomercial, we had gold sponsors, the whole shebang.”
     The stress of business and family involvement led to Kenneth coming Seoul-side and after doing the hagwon deal for over a year, he realized it wasn’t for him. Food was something he had always wanted to do.
     “Mexican food and Californians, Angelinos in general, we have such a close tight with Mexican food. And the great thing about Mexican food is that the flavor profiles are similar with Korean profiles. The palates are harmonious with one another. Koreans love Mexican food, and Mexicans love Korean food. The
spiciness, the marinades, the rice.”
     Vatos Urban Tacos will bring a fusion-feel to Mexican fare. There will be a new concept of tacos and food. It may not be authentic, like loads of tapas and tamales, but there is a focus on tacos. Vatos will be serving up an Insanata Baha Fish Taco, a play on kimchi salsa, a real pork belly samgyupsal taco,
classic carne asadas, and lots more. A couple dishes that are sure to please any omnivore will be the Mexican meatball (dished up with a chipotle and adobo sauce) and the pork belly kimchi french fries.
     “It’s going to be french fries topped with chopped braised pork and sauteed kimchi on top. It’ll be our take on chili cheese fries, Korean stye.” 
     And for us vegan kids, there’s rumor of some vegan friendly tacos in the works!
     There will also be some classic drinks, real big margaritas, that Kenneth assures me are “really really good.” One of their signature drinks involves a margarita with a beer bottle in it. So as you drink it, the beer drains (look out for the Dos Mariotos!)
     Hearing more about Vatos, my mind started traveling elsewhere, to avocados and kimchi salsa. Many ingredients can be purchased somewhere in Korea but for the special ingredients, Kenneth is importing thosehimself. The food will all be made to order too, guaranteed freshness! But the most exciting part of Vatos may very well be the fresh tortillas. Nearly all of the tortillas here in Korea are frozen, not fresh, and with that a different texture and flavor is released. Kenneth wants to provide fresh, quality, and great food.
Vatos Urban Tacos will be located in a new street in Itaewon, (the alley right behind Outback) and Kenneth hopes it will become a focal point. He wants to put this street on the map. In the middle of this month, make sure to kick it at Vatos Urban Tacos, a real taco bar, that’s urban and chill, free of the sombreros and
mariachi music. Vatos Urban Tacos is a must for when you’re craving quality tacos.
     “More than anything, we want to provide good food and good times. Our slogan is ‘eat, chill, and drink’. Like, that’s an LA thing, it’s all we want people to do”.

Chyeak ye.

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