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Recently in an Albany Park strip mall, a rather unpromising-looking taqueria opened. But given its name—Taco Chino—I should have guessed there might be more on offer than the typical assortment of tacos, tortas, and burritos. Chino, you see, is Spanish slang (some might say slur) for Asians in general, or anyone possessing Asian features.
When I finally got around to darkening the door I knew something different was going on, as evidenced by a hand-scrawled sign for a "Taco Koreano," with "carne asada y vegetales en salsa de soya." Soy sauce? That didn't sound terribly Korean, but OK, I was game, and ordered one up alongside a pastor and a carne asada.
No, no, no, said the effusive young Latina at the counter. The Korean tacos are good, she said, but what you really want is the kimchi taco. She hadn't gotten around to making the sign yet, but that very day, the owner—surprise! a Korean—was rolling out a pork-and-kimchi taco, made with his very own house-made pickled cabbage. While I waited, she plowed into a fiery-looking Styrofoam bowl of the stuff. Love it, she told me.
My chopped kimchi-pork taco arrived with dispatch, garnished with onion and cilantro and piled on top of a pair of wan store-bought corn tortillas. No matter, they were a sufficient delivery vehicle for the tangy, crunchy punch of this baby, loaded with chewy, tasty, caramelized pig nubbins.
Reached later by phone, owner Steve Lee—a construction contractor by day—acknowledged that he was inspired by LA's Kogi BBQ. Of course, he isn't the first to jump on that bandwagon—Bill Kim offers his own Kogi homage at Belly Shack—but this being Koreatown, I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner.
Lee plans on catching up. He wants to open one Taco Chino every year, and will add more Mexi-Korean hybrids to his standard menu. Next month, look for a bulgogi taco.
Taco Chino, 4712 N. Kimball, 773-866-1530