by Michael Jones.
El Pino 323 has received tons of press since it first opened last year near Aeogae Station, but has recently moved to Noksapyeong. Due to the hype, which is well deserved, we waited for a long time to write our review so we needed a refresher at their new location. So, yesterday we went and enjoyed it even more than we remembered. The new restaurant is on the second floor and is beautifully designed. There is plenty of natural light and the bar is elegant and well-stocked. The new space offers a much different dining experience from the original location and the owners deserve it. Their food is outstanding. Yesterday we ordered Chile Verde (Green Chile) (6,000 won), Tamales (6,000 won), Huarache with Carnitas (14,500 won), and a Carnitas Burrito Bowl (13,800 won). While I was chomping away I kept thinking about the adjectives I would use to write this review and the one word that kept coming to the front of my mind was flavor. Nothing was even remotely dull. I know Mexican cuisine should always be full of flavor, but I’ve been disappointed by bland Mexican food plenty of times. We started with the Chile Verde and the taste reminded us of the places we went to in Denver, but much better. The slow cooked pork added a fatty creaminess to the tangy tomatillo and spicy chilies. The Chile came with a side of warm maize tortillas which acted as the perfect bowl to mouth delivery system. The Tamale is made of masa and steamed in a corn husk. The inside was warm, creamy, delectable, and comforting. It’s not hard to understand why people have been eating Tamales for thousands of years. The Huarache with Carnitas was phenomenal. Yesterday was our first time trying this dish, but it won’t be the last. Huarache is a circular piece of fried masa that is topped with various ingredients. Ours was topped with carnitas, cheese, cilantro, salsa, and chilis. The carnitas were tender, smoky, and slightly crispy on the outside. The richness of the pork was complemented by the spiciness of the salsa, fresh cilantro, bitterness of squeezed lemon, and the soft doughy masa. I like to think of this as an open faced sandwich on another level. The burrito bowl was colossal and I was surprised. I’m a huge eater, my friends would probably say that is a vast understatement, but even I was impressed by the portion size. The bowl was piled with carnitas, cilantro, beans and salsa, guacamole, diced onions, rice, and topped with a tortilla. By the way, his salsa and guacamole is without a doubt some of the best I’ve ever tasted. This bowl is a delightful combination of many amazing ingredients and every bite explodes with contrasting flavors and textures. I could ramble on and on about how great the food is at El Pino 323, but the best thing to do is try it. Chef D is clearly passionate about the recipes he learned from his grandmother and is meticulous in its preparation and presentation. This dedication to preparation, authenticity, and commitment to high quality ingredients makes El Pino 323 a shining example of Mexican cuisine.
Directions: Go to Noksapyeong station, exit 1. Turn left and then either cross the bridge or walk across the street, and turn left (so you're heading in the direction of Kyungridan street). Walk down a little bit and El Pino will be on your right :)
We're just a couple addicted to great food. We love Anthony Bourdain!