Thursday, July 16, 2009
Taco trucks in LA are ubiquitous. Some people say we use the derogatory term "roach coach" because of their dubious sanitation standards, but I'd argue that it's more of a term of endearment. Why else would people shout "roach coach!!" while running toward it with such glee? This city loves its portable Mexican food.
Which is why I found myself standing in this line for almost three hours.
Ladies and gentleman, this is the Korean BBQ truck.
I think it's safe to say most food bloggers/readers have heard of Kogi BBQ, especially those in LA. A fusion of Korean and Mexican food from Korean-American Chef Roy Choi, the truck has amassed a huge online following due to its novel approach to dining: you go to the food, but the food always moves. Diners meet at locations specified on Twitter (@kogibbq), often forming a queue even before the truck arrives, and occasionally work to help the truck find a location where it won't get ticketed.
We finally made the venture when a truck (there are now three, but two at the time) decided to putter over to the Lakewood area. Unfortunately I think this had the effect of drawing every single person from greater Orange County who had previously been hesitant to drive up to Hollywood or Venice, and the line was excruciatingly immobile. We were limited to 3 tacos a person, with no other menu options. After we got our food and left, we found out that they ended up calling over the other truck to come help out and restored the full menu.
Chef Roy himself was gracious enough to walk the entire line himself, offering free peanut butter truffles as appeasement for the craziness. It worked.
First rule of Kogi BBQ: bring beer. Not only will beer greatly enhance your dining experience, it will pass the time in line swimmingly. This explains how I wasn't too bothered by the wait.
This is near the middle of the line. I think I can see the truck from here.
The menu, which we weren't allowed to order from.
Kogi is cash-only and specializes in its $2 tacos--pricier than most taco trucks but a pretty sweet deal. Don't forget the 9.75% tax.
Guillermo ordering in Spanish. Second rule: bring a Mexican. Guillermo was dubious when I explained the food to him, but he changed his mind.
Quiet, intense Chef himself.
We were so hungry by the time we got our foods, I was barely able to snap this. According to the website, every taco is seasoned with "sesame-chili salsa roja, julienne romaine lettuce and cabbage tossed in Korean chili-soy vinaigrette, cilantro-green onion-lime relish, crushed sesame seeds, sea salt and garnished with lime wedge, orange wedge and red radish wedge."
And because I had so briefly glimpsed the food from my weak car light, I went back two weeks later with my dad (in the name of research). I tried to order the kimchi quesadilla, another popular choice, but they were out and substituted with a short rib quesadilla.
Three short rib (kalbi) and one tofu taco. The tofu is perfectly tender and flavorful, but the kalbi steals the show. Meat is succulent with a charred crust, and every bite combines juicy meat with a burst of the Korean vinaigrette and a kick from salsa.
Come to mama.
They recently started dessert specials, which change often. That night was a chocolate chip cookie with sea salt. Good but definitely not worth the $3+.
Verdict: Insanely good. I've been three times so far. The lines are still nuts, but drinking with friends is definitely a good way to have that pass. Leave the desserts for another time; they're way too expensive. Stick with the gold: kalbi tacos are the way to go, and the kimchi quesadilla that I've finally tried is really great. Burritos have egg and hash brown in them, an homage to the quintessential Mexican breakfast burrito.
Whether it's worth the wait is up to you; part of the reason I like it so much is the chance to stand around and chat in a new setting, but it's definitely a bad idea if you need food fast. Bring lots of friends and drive a truck, if possible, hooked up to some good tunes, and tailgate the hell out of that food. For the experience alone it's worth hunting down that elusive truck, that king of roach coaches.