Seoul’s tacos have evolved. On a Moore’s Law-like curve in recent years, we’ve gone from cabbage-crammed, meat-deficient, frisbee-like tortilla “tacos” to previously unimaginable riches of Ko-Mex, Cali-Mex and Mex-Mex variations. A few years back, this taco progression would’ve been less believable than a sighting of the Virgin de Guadalupe. Now, having materialized just a few months ago, Villa Guerrero is here with “authentic Michoacan style tacos,” which are an actual thing from a southwestern region of Mexico and not just some pretentious foodie fluff.
Michoacan’s most renowned food export is carnitas, which is pork usually taken from an unctuous cut such as the shoulder and then simmered in lard and spices for several hours until submissively tender. If this sounds tempting, you’re not the only one to think so. Carnitas is as prominent in Mexican taco carts as it is at Chipotle franchises. Carnitas is not exactly a secret, and a few spots around Seoul have been offering up their own versions for quite some time. However, the reason to make the trek to Villa Guerrero is its singular focus on doing carnitas with the utmost homage.
The carnitas here, available in taco or quesadilla form, is absolutely fantastic and more revelatory than a DMT trip. You can order simply carnitas, nude and obscenely tender, which is the best way to truly get to meet your meat. Otherwise, go all-in with the mixture of carnitas, tripas and creamy, velvety pork skin, all of which are chopped by the owner’s signature cleaver on an honest-to-God Mexican wooden chopping block, known as a tronco.
The tree trunk tronco is totemic in stature, front and center on the counter, with pig parts ceremonially given as an offering, and then a thick layer of salt applied to the wood as a cleansing agent. The placement of the tronco is a clever touch from the proprietor and says a great deal about the Villa Guerrero’s forthright ethos, which is especially refreshing in the faces of too many restaurants’ willingness to obscure their processes. If you want to get deeper into what makes the jovial owner tick, just ask him. Villa Guerrero is only a two-man operation. He is usually decked out in a camo apron and wielding the aforementioned cleaver, and his love of all things culinary really shines through in just a short chat.
One can choose to top off the carnitas taco with a deluxe scoop of guacamole and fresh cilantro. When fully loaded, the heft of the flour tortilla (necessary for its sturdiness) is not unlike a well-fitted firearm. Wash it all down with a Negra Modelo and contemplate aesthetics versus functionality or just stare blankly at your greasy, greasy fingers.
Almost apologetically, there is a mushroom quesadilla which is stuffed with baby king oyster mushrooms and dense and chewy white cheese. It’s fine but is seemingly just there to placate people who don’t or can’t eat pork. In the autumn, the restaurant plans to add chorizo to the menu, and on evidence of the single-minded determination to do such brazenly sumptuous carnitas, the sausage will no doubt be just as properly done.
Tacos and quesadillas are 4-8,000 won. Guacamole is 1,000 won extra. Cerveza (Negra Modelo and Corona) runs at 6,000 won. Open for lunch (12-2pm) and dinner (6-10pm) Monday-Friday only. Be wary. They run out of food often.
118-21, Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu,
Just a skip from COEX and the new Line 9 Samseongjungang Station, exit 7
Photo by Jason Newland