Gourmet on the Go

 

By Candice Navi

Joe Girton ’10 and his mother managed to get in line for tacos early. In a matter of minutes, about 50 people suddenly lined up behind him to purchase food from a truck selling Korean tacos, right in front of a Culver City chef supply store.

After two Kalbi Tacos, Girton said his mind was blown.

Girton is a regular patron of Kogi Korean BBQ, a gourmet food truck serving what Girton described as “a natural union” of gourmet Korean and Mexican food. Soon after joining Twitter, Girton came upon Kogi’s Twitter account, which is constantly updated.

Kogi Korean BBQ has four different trucks—Roja, Azul, Verde and Naranja—which are in different locations throughout the greater Los Angeles area every day, including Venice Beach, Encino, Orange County, Pomona, Brentwood and Pasadena. The weekly schedule is available on their website or Twitter account.

Followers on Twitter are given minute by minute updates on what is still available to order and the exact location of each of the four trucks. The trucks are in operation Tuesday through Saturday, starting at around noon and ending at midnight or 1 a.m.

Tacos and drinks cost $2 and Kogi Favorites—such as sliders and kimchi quesadillas— are all $5 each.

Kogi is just one of the many gourmet food trucks that have recently sprung up across Los Angeles.

“The idea sounded so incredible,” Girton said. “I’m a foodie at heart, but I know that some of the best food in the world costs less than $10 and I had heard rave reviews about Kogi.”

Girton’s first Kalbi Tacos were made of Korean short rib beef, “this great secret spicy sauce and some kimchi on top,” Girton said. He has now eaten at Kogi about 10 times.

Convinced by his brother of Kogi’s appeal just last year, Maguire Parsons ’11 ended up waiting about an hour for his first Kogi meal.

“I had the short rib tacos which were actually really good because I’ve never had taco with barbequed short ribs in it, so that was cool,” Parsons said.

Since then, Parsons has eaten at Kogi a few more times with a shorter wait time of 30 to 45 minutes. He has consistently gotten KBBQ Sliders, which he believes to be the best item on the menu.

“I’d probably go back for those alone,” Parsons said.

Parsons says food trucks like Kogi are hardly spoken about on campus because most students already know about them.

“They’re just not willing to wait an hour for food but I guess I am though,” Parsons said. “It’s pretty cheap I guess. I don’t mind paying $2 for a taco or $5 for a burrito. Pretty normal prices I think.”

Max Simchowitz ’10 has been to Kogi nearly 15 times and believes that food trucks like Kogi give him an excuse to drive an extra half hour to explore unknown parts of Los Angeles or to stay up after midnight.

Girton agreed, saying that the quality of food is worth the wait and the travel time.

“Usually, I find myself at Kogi late at night just because that’s when they usually go out,” Girton said. “I don’t go as much because a lot of the time they go to really random neighborhoods way out of my range. The tacos are just as much as anywhere else—about $2.50 plus tax—but they’re so much better than anything you’d get at a taco truck or even a sit-down Mexican restaurant anywhere in L.A. So it’s a great place to eat cheaply.”

Parsons has noticed some other trucks cropping up recently, including a shaved ice truck that occasionally accompanies Kogi trucks.

“I’ve seen some knockoff trucks called Calbi and stuff but I’ve never eaten at those, they seem pretty lame,” Parsons said. “I think the truck thing in L.A. is just hype, but I like it so I can’t complain.”

Other trucks selling “Korean-Mexican” food have joined the likes of Kogi.

“One time, [Simchowitz] and I tried the Nom Nom Truck, which sells Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches,” Girton said. “It was really disappointing, so I think I’ll stick to Kogi from now on, although I’m really tempted to try The Grilled Cheese Truck, which stops near my house all the time. Their tweets are really alluring.”

Simchowitz experiences a feeling of freedom when eating from gourmet food trucks, he said.

“I guess the appeal of food trucks is a sense of liberation—you aren’t confined to a restaurant, you’re outside, you can come and go as you please and the small portions deceptively give you the impression that the food is cheap,” Simchowitz said.

Middle school English teacher Christopher Rutherford is a supporter of the “gourmet/bourgeois food truck movement.” He had gotten more than 2,200 signatures to overturn a law that penalizes truck owners who stay in one location for too long with fines or a year in jail. He believes that trucks like Kogi and The Grilled Cheese Truck have made food from trucks trendy.

“What the new trucks have achieved is making mobile food ‘cool’ in areas where it was previously seen as something dangerous and disgusting,” Rutherford said. “The new trucks have also done a good job of playing to the tastes of this demographic.”

Rutherford is not too fond of the Kogi Korean BBQ truck.

“Kogi is extremely popular, but their blog drives me crazy as an English teacher, and they are unbelievable prima donnas for someone serving tacos out of a truck,” Rutherford said. “Think of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld if he wore his hat sideways and appropriated hip-hop colloquialisms instead of shouting ‘no soup for you!’”

As alternatives to the more trendy trucks, Rutherford recommends Leo’s Tacos on Eagle Rock Boulevard, Tacos La Estrella on York Boulevard in Highland Park, the Green Truck and the Let’s be Frank truck.

“It’s cheap, perfect, really the ultimate comfort food,” Girton said. “Anything that costs $2.50 and puts a smile on your face is worth it, in my opinion.”

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