Ido 2-dong 1773-14, Tel. 064-722-3369. Dine in or take out, 12 p.m. -12 a.m.
▲ Zapata's is a great choice for authentic Mexican food. Photo by Yasmin Aboelsaud
My friend Rob, a Seogwipo resident, once told me he accepts traveling all the way to Jeju City, “for the sole purpose of eating burritos.” His dining place of choice is Zapata’s Mexican restaurant, which opened in May of 2009. The restaurant is easily spotted in a narrow street behind Burger King in the City Hall district by its display of cactus plants and signs in English. Inside, a few wooden tables fill the space and the open kitchen gives a full view of the cooks. Minimal decorations on the walls give it a neat, casual atmosphere.
Upon arriving at Zapata’s to meet some friends on a recent Saturday evening, I noticed the word Taqueria on the top left corner of the restaurant’s sign. A Mexican word for small restaurants serving tacos and burritos; it is the perfect description of this Mexican fast-food hang out.
As I opened the sliding door, I was immediately greeted by all the staff. Zapata’s is very well-heated, which was welcoming on a chilly winter evening. I found myself singing along to Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” which played at moderate volume over the radio. On some nights, the music is louder, along with the crowds.
Ryan and Andries joined me for our first dinner together in 2010. We were served by the owner, Kim Min Kyu, who has been my server almost every time I’ve visited. We began with an order of nacho fiesta. At 8,000 won, the layers of warm tortilla chips covered in melted cheese, olives, salsa and guacamole is a favored finger food to share. The guacamole was impressive for Korea, although eaten alone it seemed to lack in tanginess. Other favorites include the 7,000 won chili fries, which are French fries topped with chili beans and beef, onions, cheese and jalapeno peppers.
Ryan and I ordered two dishes to share, the crunchy deep-fried chicken chimichanga and a chicken & avocado burrito. When ordering the burrito or fajita, I often ask the server to have it cut in half. It makes it much easier to eat, but also works perfectly for sharing. Andries ordered his usual beef & avocado burrito. Burritos, tacos and fajitas all have the options of being served with beef, chicken, pork or shrimp.
Chimichangas are 6,000 won and one order is four deep-fried open shells, with melted cheese topped with salsa, cilantro and pico de gallo. The pico de gallo was excellent, and is used in many of the dishes. Ryan, a visiting Canadian who currently works in Costa Rica, explained that pico de gallo is, “the Mexican condiment [that] adds a sense of freshness in many Latin foods.” It’s made of uncooked, finely chopped tomato, white onion, green onion and cilantro, with lime, salt and pepper added for flavor. A side order is a mere 600 won, and is a recommended addition.
Our burrito also came with pico de gallo, along with the avocado, cheese, mild salsa, jalapeno, sour cream and cilantro. Avocado burritos are 8,000 won, just 2,000 won more than a regular meat & rice burrito. The burritos are best consumed with the additional hot sauce provided in a small unlabeled bottle, giving it a stronger, bolder spicy kick. The portion is large and quite filling.
The tacos are good, but each is 3,500 won, and their size doesn’t make them worth the cost. There is also a tortilla pizza for 6,000 won that is often missed because of its location on the menu - on the back above the drinks. The ensalada is a mid-sized serving of salad with ranch dressing and mild salsa, in a hard taco shell. At 4,500 won, it’s a decent price for the amount of food. I recommend it on a hot summer day.
Zapata’s offers a range of Mexican cervesas (beers), including Sol and Dos Equis at 6,000 won. Tequila sunrise and margarita cocktails are also available at 6,000 won. For those looking to have their own fiesta, a 750 ml bottle of Jose Cuervo is 100,000 won and shots are 5,000 won each.
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