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In Las Vegas, the KoMex taco fuses Latin and Asian cultures

The bulgogi beef tacos at KoMex.
The bulgogi beef tacos at KoMex.
Kate Sheehy

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Las Vegas is a city of transplants, from all over the country and these days, all over the world. The influence of Asian immigrants has brought new tastes to the city and new flavors to Las Vegas tacos.

In the last story in our series on "Making The Taco Our Own," Fronteras Reporter Kate Sheehy introduces us to a Las Vegas native, the KoMex taco.

It seems like a lot of taco stories start this way:

“One day as we were making our lunch, somebody came in and said ‘Hey what is it you’re eating?’ And my husband said, ‘Well do you want to try it?’ So he gave him a sample and the guy liked it. Then he left and his cousin came back and said ‘Hey, sell me the same thing you just sold my cousin,’” Lynda Yi said.

She is a Korean immigrant who moved to Las Vegas 11 years ago from Los Angeles. Yi and her husband Sonny had taken over her father-in-law’s Mexican meat market and deli. She says while they loved Mexican food, they got tired of eating the same thing every day. Yi said they began putting Korean barbeque meats into a taco or burrito, and topping it off with salsa or guacamole.

And thus was born the KoMex taco. The Yis opened their doors in February 2011. The wildly popular Korean Mexican Fusion restaurant is tucked away in an unassuming corner of a small strip mall on North Decatur Boulevard.

Waitress Shawna Duncan explains to customers the various Korean and Mexican hot sauces available. She juggles the cultures as she juggles the tacos, burritos and nachos that pack a surprising punch to the taste buds of first-time diners at KoMex.

KoMex adds the distinct flavors of Korean barbeque called bulgogi to traditional Mexican-style tacos and other typical dishes. The beef is marinated with sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar. Lynda Yi says it is similar to Teriyaki but not as sweet, and the pork is made with a sweet chili paste.

Customers can also choose pork belly or calamari. Pico de gallo goes on top of the tacos, along with a cabbage slaw that is tossed with sesame oil and soy sauce.

“Kimchi on request, kimchi only on request, nothing really comes with kimchi unless you ask for it,” Duncan said.

But she said a lot of people do ask for the slightly sour Korean side dish of fermented vegetables and spices.

Curtis Platte travels to Las Vegas often from California. He said he and his family always stop at KoMex when they’re in town.

“I get the beef or the pork, there’s just something about thekimchi with everything else, the sweet and hot that I like. It’s a little different than regular Mexican food,” he said.

A few tables down, Billie Ann Watanabe eats with a group of fellow teachers she brought in for lunch.

“I mean it’s unique for Korean and Mexican fusion and their bulgogi beef is awesome. I’m half-Korean, it’s pretty good,” she said.

Lynda Yi said the success of KoMex shows how the United States is changing.

“Because we’re such a big melting pot here in America, people are recognizing that, oh it’s OK to have a hot dog that’s made a little differently, or a taco that’s made differently, it tastes just as good as what you’re used to,” she said.

Still, Yi says she never imagined people would love this fusion as much as she and her husband did. Yi said they plan to open a second KoMex location in the southwest part of the city by October.