Dining on a budget – by Emma Gallegos
By the time you read this review of the food on the Kogi BBQ truck, it will be obsolete.
At this moment in time, it’s safe to say the truck serves Korean fusion cuisine at rock-bottom prices to snaking lines of foodies who follow the truck on the web from the Venice to Rosemead. But it’s hard to keep pace.
The little taco truck that sets out into the night a-Twitterin’ is gaining steam in an economy that’s grinding to a halt.
When I visited the truck first a mere two weeks ago, it was a simpler time – the truck was charging a tax-free $2 for its tacos. The Kogi crew was ironing out the kinks in the second taco truck they had just launched.
And it had only been last Thanksgiving that the first taco truck made its failed inaugural round on the streets of LA. On that first night, the crew slashed prices, they pleaded and offered the tacos for free but barhoppers stumbling out onto the curb refused to give the Korean fusion tacos a try.
Saying the tides had turned for Kogi BBQ would be an understatement.
A week after my first taste test, Kogi BBQ was paying taxes, employing a staff of 25 and they had made the transition to selling tacos in a brick-and-mortar joint – Alibi in Culver City – in addition to the two roving trucks. Chef Roy Choi added taro and lotus chips and Korean-spiced french fries to the menu, rendering my initial taste test obsolete.
As I was finishing up this column, the Kogi BBQ bloggiste Alice Shin posted that they’ve hired a pastry chef to make ice cream sandwiches with ingredients that run the gamut from oreos to beer.
I’d like to review those, but I did manage to try a couple Kogi originals and one of the specials. I tried the tofu taco ($2), a Korean short rib taco ($2) and kimchi-filled quesadillas ($4).
I hope I’m not cresting on a wave of hype, but I was sold. The food was fresh and hot and flavorful. Normally, that would be enough for $2.
But the cabbage and lettuce was fried with toasted sesame oil – unwilted with just enough crunch. Both tacos had a spicy red sauce and a tangy vinaigrette. The tofu was tasty, but short ribs were something else entirely: tender, sweet, rich – almost like a savory caramel. The kimchi quesadillas were fiery and drizzled with a rich red sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Kogi has become its own beast – its head chef Choi will admit as much. It’s spawned its own culture – Kogi Kulture – through blogs and music and the crowd that gathers to greet the truck at its stops and wait long into the night. It’s not for everyone.
Initial crowds skewed toward the young, the patient, the tech-savvy. They are an army of foodies armed with cameras, taking pictures of food, taking pictures of people waiting for food and self-consciously discussing the insanity of this venture with strangers. They bring friends, too, and sometimes lawn chairs and DJs. They wait. They make it a night. Only $2 a pop – plus tax.
Kogi typically docks in the parking lot of the Glendon Hotel in Rosemead Saturday nights around 6. But! Sometimes they don’t. To find the roving Kogi BBQ truck’s location, log on to www.KogiBBQ.com. For precise, up-to-the-minute information follow them on Twitter @KogiBBQ .