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Kortako Serves Up Korean-Mexican Fusion Downtown

By Julie Shapiro | December 8, 2011 7:07am

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Don't ask for any guacamole on these tacos.

At Kortako, Downtown's new Korean taco shop, the food may look Mexican, but each bite packs a punch of spicy-sweet Korean flavors, with toppings ranging from seared kimchi to pickled jalapenos.

"There's a lot of Japanese and Korean food together, or Japanese and Chinese — we wanted to come up with something new," said DJ Chung, the manager of the eatery at 80 Nassau St..

"This is something different."

The idea for Kortako came from co-owner Andy Lau, who also owns BonChon Chicken on John Street and thought the neighborhood would welcome an inventive interpretation of Korean food, Chung said.

Diners at the Chipotle-style restaurant craft their meal by choosing one of eight carbohydrates, one of six proteins, three of 10 toppings and one of 10 sauces.

The options can get overwhelming — Corn taco or brown rice? Spicy pork or spicy chicken? — so the staff frequently point to a list of recommended combinations to help customers make up their mind.

Chung's favorite is "The Kortako" — three tacos stuffed with skirt steak, lettuce, tomato salsa, sesame ginger slaw and bulgogi mayo.

The base flavor of each combination comes from the protein, while the sauces and toppings provide garnishes of flavor. The sirloin steak, skirt steak, chicken and tofu are all marinated in a sweet soy sauce with eight seasonings, while the spicy chicken and spicy pork are coated in house-made Korean spice paste and bean paste.

Asked what the pastes and marinades contain, Chung smiled and shook his head.

"Secret recipes," he said.

Since Kortako opened on Monday in a narrow former phone store now lined with sparkling white tiles.The staff has spent a lot of time answering customers' questions.

"Is this Mexican or Korean?" asked Andreas Panteli, 55, a Staten Island resident who peered into Kortako on a recent afternoon.

When told it was both, Panteli looked intrigued and soon settled down with a bowl of sirloin steak over brown rice, topped with tomatoes, spicy coleslaw and sesame ginger slaw.

"It's better than Chipotle," Panteli said. "The taste is amazing. It's delicious." 

Kortako, 80 Nassau St., is open seven-days-a-week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.