My good friend K and I have been promising each other to get together when we get some free time and hunt down Kogi BBQ, the Korean BBQ taco truck that drives around LA and parks at a couple different locations each night. I had been home sick all week (to Hades with people who come in to work so sick they cannot hold their head up, cough and sneeze on you, and borrow your mechanical pencil, Hades I say). When K tm'd me and said she was down for the Kogi quest, I rallied the troops and away we went!
We all met up at Barbarella, the new kid on the block in Silverlake. K is superwoman. She will drive anywhere for anything or anyone. I love a chick like that.
It was my second time popping into Barbarella. The bartenders and cocktail waitresses are pretty, the atmosphere is sophisticated and the seating is aplenty.
We also noshed on heirloom tomatoes with burrata cheese and and a tuna tartare. Both were pretty durn tasty. We snacked a little and had a glass of wine. Tales of the Kogi truck has us fearing lines 300+ with potential waits of over an hour. The troops needed fortification before going in.
Kogi BBQ has been getting a lot of press recently. In the New York Times, this week:
Kogi is a Korean barbecue catering truck – a gourmet version of the old British hot dog vans or California taco trucks. It tours LA by night, keeping in touch with its customers via Twitter, serving an unlikely but perfect combination of four kinds of Korean barbecue wrapped in miniature Mexican tacos and sold dirt-cheap (a taco costs $2, a burrito $5). The black-clad cooks toil inside the truck like culinary ninjas – I count 11 of them in the cramped space – while those in the queue flash their iPhones and flirt.
Jonathon Gold in LA Weekly writes,
Not since Pinkberry has anything captured the local imagination as quickly as Kogi, the Korean taco truck whose owners went from giving tacos away on Hollywood Boulevard to becoming rock stars of cuisine in little more than a couple of months — which is to say, 10 times faster than it took Guns N’ Roses or System of a Down to break out of the tyranny of small clubs. The Doheny, the swankest membership tavern in town, has arranged tasting menus of Kogi food paired with their exquisitely balanced cocktails, and the crowds that form when the truck rolls up to UCLA are big enough to disrupt traffic. In the parking lot outside the Brig in Venice, Kogi becomes an impromptu nightclub, a taco-driven hookup scene as perfervid as anything with a $40 cover charge. Last Saturday night outside the Brig, Kogi swarmed with customers, while the Green Truck, the high-quality organic purveyor that was the first of the gourmet trucks, stood by an empty sidewalk just one block away.
Now, I have been hearing about Kogi from friends, lots of blurbs on Eater LA, and mentions on Twitter and Facebook. My love for Mexican food is equally balanced by my love for bimbimbob, kalbi and kim chee. This was something I knew I needed to explore as soon as I it hit my radar.
After leaving Barbarella, we loaded into a couple cars and headed downtown to the Golden Gopher for Kogi's 9 o'clock appearance.
I ran to the door to talk to the bouncer at 9, 9:07 and 9:20. Nope, not here yet, he patiently answered every single time. Finally, K tms me the truck is here and she is at the front of the line! Woot!
It turns out, as she and S parked the car next to a couple empty spots, a giant white truck slowly pulled up right next to them standing there on the sidewalk. They saw dozens of people rapidly walking in their direction, looked at the truck, and there they were front and center! We were actually second in line, to be honest. We got to watch them set up their immaculately clean kitchen and get the party started.
I wanted to try one of everything. At these prices one can afford it. I was buying food for 4 people so I just went with it. I went for all the carnivorous options, although any vegetarians involved will be happy to note that tofu on everything is an option.
I started with the traditional taco. Four short rib (their specialty), 4 chicken and 4 pork. These were amazing. So simple, so delicious. Korean BBQ meats and all that implies with chili sauce, kim chee and I don't know what else. It was dark and I was hungry.
I caved on a couple of their specials. A kim chee quesadilla. There was no cheese inside, but something that tasted like potato and had a light fluffy potato like texture. This might have been my favorite dish. The flavors danced in my mouth, and the textures were excitingly acidic and spicy but the flour tortilla was also kind of comforting in the starchy way a flour tortilla has.
Last but not least is another special. Spam tacos with fresh Mandarin orange slices. This was more of a novelty item than anything, but damn if it wasn't good. I also tried the chicken burrito, which was huge and easily split between four people. It just wasn't very photogenic. However, it travels well and K took one home to her Korean mama, who immediately pronounced it appropriately authentic. Mama K was impressed, readers.
This was all so good, so so good. The next night out with S & S in Little Tokyo I was trying subtly to get everyone to forgo Japanese for the 11 o'clock appearance of Kogi at the Japanese American National Museum. It was that good. My mouth is watering for some kim chee and kalbi wrapped in a tiny corn tortilla at 7 am in the morning.