Editor's Note: This one is fairly self-explanatory, but here we go: Chicago Tacos explores the good, the bad, and the truly exceptional taco options in the Windy City--one taqueria at a time.
Though I've been trying to sample a wide variety of restaurants for tacos—I think I've split my time fairly evenly between trendy establishments with tequila programs and defiantly low-end taquerias—one genre I've completely ignored is the fusion taco restaurant. This has not been a mistake. Sure, I'm attempting to construct a firm foundation of basic taco knowledge before I explore the unknown, but mostly I've stayed away because I'm scared.
Which isn't to say that all fusion tacos are inherently evil. My beloved al pastor popped up in central Mexico only after Lebanese immigrants settled in the region and adapted their spit-cooked shawarma to the local ingredients. No, the trouble comes when fusion tacos ignore what makes a taco great in the first place; sure you can come up with a collection of wild and inventive fillings, but nothing can save a stale tortilla.
When it comes to fusion tacos in Chicago, all roads lead to Del Seoul, a Korean taco joint in Lincoln Park. It opened at the height of the national Korean taco trend in 2010, which had initially been popularized a few years earlier by the Kogi Korean BBQ food truck in L.A. When Del Seoul first opened, it seemed to have the Korean basics down, but still needed help with the tortillas, which weren't as fresh and soft as I'd like. I worried that the restaurant's standards would only sink from there, but the opposite actually happened. Since then Del Seoul has expanded and hit its groove. To my astonishment, it now serves one of the best fish tacos in the city.
May I present the Sambal Fish Taco ($3.95), a tempura fried piece of haddock topped with pickled red onions, Napa slaw, and a spicy sambal sauce, all housed in a fluffy flour tortilla. The tempura frying method is an inspired choice, since it produces a particularly crackly crust. It easily stands up to spicy sambal sauce, losing none of its crunch along the way, while the crisp cabbage just adds to the harmony of textures.
None of the other tacos manage to reach the same level, nor do they even look much the same. All the rest use corn tortillas and arrive topped with toasted sesame seeds and a sliced lettuce and cabbage mixture. Still, they are all incredibly solid. Of course, it wouldn't be a Korean taco joint without a Kalbi Taco ($2.95), and this is a fine example. The meat is crisp and caramelized from the grill and tinged with a slightly sweet marinade. Also quite good is the tender and juicy BBQ Pork ($2.75).
The BBQ Chicken ($2.75) is slightly bland in comparison, even though it's still juicy. And though the Sesame Chili Shrimp ($2.95) is labeled as "our BEST taco!" on the menu, it's kind of a mixed bag. Like the fish, the shrimp are crunchy, but the taco doesn't quite come together in the same way that La Lagartija's fried shrimp taco does.
I'd say that I'd order any of these tacos again, and they certainly are all very good. But it's hard to imagine stopping by Del Seoul and not just going for a couple of the fish tacos. I certainly wasn't expecting to find such a good version here, but I'll take a great fish taco wherever I can find it.