The tan and bright orange colored walls of La Tacorea may echo with the sounds of salsa music, but what’s inside the Lakeview restaurant’s tacos are anything but Latin.
A few years ago Huggy Joo found inspiration in the form of marinated beef.
“We had this shindig and everyone brought their traditional favorites; hamburgers hotdogs, polish sausage and things of that nature,” Joo said. “I decided to change it up a little bit so I brought Korean steak, the bulgogi, and that just– it just trumped everything else that they were serving.”
Joo said that day he saw the potential bulgogi had and wanted to find a way to offer it to Chicagoans.
“Everyone is familiar with the tortilla, it’s a non-threatening vehicle,” Joo said.
Americans like all kinds of cuisine and also their meals on the run, so to Joo, wrapping his Korean creations in a taco shell made sense.
From this idea emerged the concept for La Tacorea, a Mexican/Asian fusion restaurant.
“[The name] is a play on three fronts,” Joo explained.
Combining the main elements of the Belmont Avenue restaurant, he explained it is a play on words from the Spanish pronunciation of a restaurant that serves tacos: taqueria. Joo sounded the restaurant’s name out “ la-ta-Korea,” mixing the words taco and Korea into a variation of the Spanish word.
“We’re doing fusion here, so if you fuse it together you’ll have La Tacorea,” he said.
With the name, two years of planning and four months testing out recipes in his kitchen, Joo and his family opened La Tacorea, located at 847 W. Belmont Ave, in November.
Now, Months after its opening, the Asian Mexican Grill has more than 140 fans on Facebook and draws in new customers every day. Some stopped and stared down the small rectangular menu taped to the window that contains five variations of burrito bowls and jumbo tacos, as well as traditional Korean dishes like Veggie Bi-Bim-Bop, a rice dish topped with seasoned vegetables, eggs and red pepper sauce.
Joo explained his idea for the jumbo taco came from his own disappointment when ordering tacos.
“I’m so sick and tired of having these dinky little tacos,” he said.
Tom Brundige, who has been working at La Tacorea for a few weeks, said Joo explained the proportions of the jumbo taco as a “taco that eats like a six inch sub.”
Brundige said his favorite thing on the menu is the Sesame Garlic Soy Tofu jumbo tacos, which he added, “has a unique flavor.”
“The tacos,” he said, “ are a fusion of a whole bunch of flavors; they’re just really flavorful.”
Adding to the tortilla shell and the Korean-flavored meat or tofu, customers also have the option of topping their multi-cultural meal with lettuce, grilled vegetables, onions, cheese, cilantro and hot sauce.
While Joo said most customers order food to go because it is quick, some stay and eat at the bright orange and purple tables that fill the front of the restaurant. Joo described the atmosphere as fun, cozy and lively.
“It’s a good place to just stop in a get a quick bite, Brundige said. “It’s just a fun place to come and hang out if you want of stop in for a quick meal.”
Tony Christos, a repeat customer, stopped in La Tacorea in a race to get back to his car, which was parked in the alley.
Christos, who was ordering the “tasty beef short rib” said he stopped in the restaurant for the first time after passing by, remembering a similar fusion food he had in New York.
“I had Korean tacos in New York and I liked them,” Christos said.
Before heading out, Christos said he would recommend the restaurant to anyone.
“Its good, try it,” he said.