100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 98, Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. Just as Katharine Shilcutt did before her, and Robb Walsh before that, Kaitlin will eat and learn as she goes, compiling a list of the 100 dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in Houston. It's a list of her personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston food-scape. It's a list to drool over.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg I suggest pairing the bulgogi taco with a chilled Jarritos of the grapefruit variety.
Look, I know what you're thinking.
"She went to Chi'Lantro and didn't get the famous Kimchi Fries?!"
Those will come later, my friends. Right now I want to talk about the tacos.
On a hot night of trivia at Little Woodrow's in the Heights, the Chi'Lantro truck is like a beacon of cold soda and delicious Mexican-Korean food in a sea of sweaty geeks and too many pints. I don't know about you, but I have to work Thursday mornings, and I'm too old to pretend that I won't feel like crap in the morning after several drinks. I don't want to get beer drunk on Wednesday nights. I want to get taco drunk. And Chi'Lantro is my willing taco supplier.
The tofu tacos are good. So are the pork. I haven't tried the chicken, but I imagine they're good, too. But what Chi'Lantro does really well is bulgogi.
Bulgogi is a Korean beef dish that literally means "fire meat" because it's traditionally cooked on a grill after being marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sugar and sometimes other spices. Why it's not always a taco meat offering I don't know, 'cause it damn well should be.
Chi'Lantro's tacos consist of double-layered corn tortillas; lettuce, onions and cilantro with a soy-sesame vinaigrette; and "Chi'Lantro salsa," which, as far as I can tell, is chopped kimchi. Then, of course, there's the heavenly bulgogi beef. You're also going to want to order it with extra kimchi. Trust me.
The kimchi adds a unique bite to the already slightly spicy, slightly sweet beef, making the taco crisp and refreshing. Kimchi is my ideal summer food, but it's not really a meal on its own. Pair it with some beef and corn tortillas, though, and you've got yourself one heck of a tasty dinner. The taco always falls apart from the weight of the beef and juicy kimchi as I attempt to shove it into my mouth, and that's okay. It tastes just as good eaten off a fork or licked off my fingers.
So do what I do on Wednesday nights: When your friends are downing beer after beer, head for Chi'Lantro and down taco after taco, then wake up Thursday refreshed and ready to take on the day!*
*Taco hangovers are a real thing, so please, eat responsibly.