Hankook Taqueria: Atlanta’s Saving Grace

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Hankook Taqueria: Atlanta’s Saving Grace

 

Driving up Collier Rd NW in Atlanta, GA, I questioned why New Orleans is known for having bad streets. The asphalt of Collier Road begins to lose its’ defined edges and mixes in with the dust long after the clean white lines of I-85 disappeared. Then pulling into a parking lot with more dirt than asphalt we searched for a spot among the cars spaced haphazardly in many different directions and all a little too close to the street which had no sidewalk, no curb and a speed limit far too high for a restaurant placed less than 30 feet from traffic. Finally finding a spot deemed safe because of the Georgia State Trooper squad car next to ours, we caught sight of the faded peach stucco of Hankook Taqueria positioned behind three unevenly spaced planters which housed mismatched flowers. These flowers hid below the top of the planter on account the minimal soil placed beneath the roots.

At this point, I truly began to question where my friend had brought us and if it was too late to back out and locate a more reputable establishment. Nevertheless, we cautiously made our way under the 1970’s vinyl awning and through the glass door covered with peeling stickers. Once through the door, we were greeted by a laminate counter and a faded pink trashcan. Placed on top of said trashcan was a less than elegant artificial palm tree covered in a thick layer of dust. I caught sight of the menu and was intimidated by the abundant options. I had no idea what to order. After many minutes of deliberation, I selected a calamari vegetable wrap with a side of dumplings. We paid the cashier and wondered past the pony wall divider which separated the counter from the seating area. Only two tables were occupied; one by the Georgia State Trooper whose car was outside and another by a middle-aged man sitting near the window overlooking the parking lot.

We then proceeded to a booth in the far-right corner. The booth was slightly uncomfortable, owing to the lack of any cushion on the dark hardwood which connected my seat to the booth next to ours. While waiting for our food, we perused the restaurant. The structure of the building appeared to be a converted A-frame warehouse which was evident because the designer elected to discontinue the dropped office-like celling where the kitchen and counter area transitions into the eating area. Perhaps this was a good look in the 1970’s, but 40 years of water intrusion really emphasize how much this place needs a renovation or maybe it should just be torn down. However, all these missteps in design and appearance can be forgiven if the food turns out to be exceptional.

When our food did arrive, my heart began to race as I admired the seemingly perfect transverse cut across the middle of the wrap which revealed the contents of the interior. Oozing out of the wrap was a combination of sautéed lettuce and whole-grain rice held together by a beautiful and tasty sticky orange sauce. As the meal progressed, I alternated bites of the wrap with frequent breaks to indulge in the crispy dumplings. While the wrap was divine, the dumplings were somewhat lackluster even when accompanied with the house sauce owing to their hard exterior. This may be a personal preference, but I would’ve much preferred a dumpling with a lighter and softer affair as this would have been a more suitable complement to the wrap. Rather, the disconnected exteriors of each evoked a sense of conflict between the two dishes; perhaps they should’ve been eaten separately.

Overall, the wrap was extraordinary enough to make up for the less than exceptional dumplings and the shack-like atmosphere of the establishment. Furthermore, the calamari vegetable wrap is what has my mouth watering as I write this story and forces me to contemplate a superfluous visit to the mediocre city of Atlanta.