El Pino323, Itaewon

I love Mexican food. Whether it’s authentic, Tex-Mex, or some other type of fusion, I cannot get enough. When a friend from the U.S. with Mexican roots told me about an authentic Mexican restaurant in Seoul, I was understandably intrigued. While Korea has some good Mexican-style food, it generally strays pretty far from traditional Mexican cuisine. On January 14, we checked out El Pino323.

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Kim Dong-hwa, also known as “Chef D” or “D Christian”, is the owner. In 2002, he was deported from the United States after being convicted of gang-related criminal activities. While I did not know this before eating at El Pino323, I do find this to be a touching story of redemption. Although I cannot let his story affect my review, a part of me is rooting for his success.

My friend, Ms. E, ordered enchilada suiza, chicken torta, and a classic margarita. I wasn’t as hungry as her, so I stuck with a chorizo tortilla bowl. An “enchilada” is a corn tortilla wrap rolled around a filling and served with a chili pepper sauce, and “torta” is a type of bread. Chorizo is pork sausage.

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While the menu is impressive, I was taken aback by some of its abrasive rules. “Pickles, jalapenos, and Tobasco Hot Sauce are not available,” one rule reads, “They will not be offered, nor are they available for an extra charge.” Other items included a ban on modifying the food and a notice warning about the spiciness of Mexican cuisine. For a restaurant to be this bold, the chef must have a very high opinion of his own food; I hoped that the food would rise to the challenge.

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When the food arrived, Ms. E commented on its authenticity. She began discussing memories that she had of visiting her grandmother in rural Mexico. The portion sizes were decent; not too large and not too small. The presentation of the food was noteworthy as well; effort was clearly put into each dish. Ms. E also remarked that the margarita was quite strong.

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Sadly, the food did not meet our expectations. It was not bad per se, and it was certainly authentic, but it tasted average. While the fillings in my chorizo tortilla bowl were juicy and tender, the rice was dry and unappealing. While I happily ate most of the bowl, I could not bring myself to finish the rice. Ms. E concurred, and ended up taking one item to go.

I wanted to like El Pino323, but I was disappointed with the end product, particularly in light of the audacious menu notices. While I am glad that Chef D is trying to show that Itaewon has more to offer than (overrated) Vatos, there is still room for growth. I would love to return in the future to see what improvements are implemented.


Tasteless  |  Bad  |  >> Okay <<  |  Good  |  Tasty

Name (Korean): 엘피노323
Name (Official English):
 El Pino323
Name (Romanized):
 El Pino323
Name (Translated):
El Pino323

Credit Cards? Yes
Apple Pay [?]? No
Bathroom? Yes
Reservations? ???
Take out? Yes
Delivery? Yes
Wifi? Yes
Outside seating? Yes
Wheelchair friendly? No
Alcohol? Yes
Dogs allowed? ???
Bike parking? Yes
Car parking? No

Date night? Yes
English-speaking staff? Yes
English menus? Yes
LGBTQ friendly [?]? ???
Information updated on: April 16, 2017
Prices [?]: ₩₩₩₩

Monday: Closed
Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday: Noon – 14:45, 17:00 – 22:00
Thursday: Noon – 14:45, 17:00 – 22:00
Friday: Noon – 14:45, 17:00 – 22:00
Saturday: Noon – 14:45, 17:00 – 22:00
Sunday: Noon – 14:45, 17:00 – 22:00

Address (Korean) 서울특별시 용산구 녹사평대로 220 2층
Address (English) 220 Noksapyeong-daero, Yongsan-gu, Seoul