In Los Angeles, summer 2009 will likely go down as the Year of the Upscale Taco Truck.
Of course, catering trucks–a k a taco trucks, a k a roach coaches–have plied the streets of Los Angeles forever, feeding hungry construction workers, office worker bees, and college students for generations. Late last year, the cheerful team at Kogi Korean BBQ, led by Executive Chef Ron Choi, put their own spin on the concept by combining the salty, zippy, pickly flavors of Korean barbecue with the Mexican fare Angelenos love so dearly. The result is delectable specialties like spicy Korean Short Rib Tacos and Kimchi Quesadillas. Kogi’s crews started tweeting their whereabouts, and a trend was born. Fans can catch up with them at different stops all over the city, or stop by their brick-and-mortar location at the Alibi Room in Culver City.
We first caught up with Kogi a few months ago, on a Saturday afternoon, when one of their trucks was parked in the lot at The Brig on Abbot Kinney in Venice. Kogi had gotten a lot of local press, and the line wound through the parking lot.
“This is nuts,” said my mate. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“It’s supposed to be really good,” I replied. So we waited. An hour. And made it just under the wire to put in our order before the truck fired up to head to its next stop. We took our cache over to a bench and dove into the short rib and spicy pork tacos, with a side of kimchi quesadilla. It was salty, spicy, sweet, crunchy, and rich. It was good. And at 2 bucks a taco, it was a fantastic cheap-eat treat.
I’ve had a jones for Kogi ‘cue ever since, so on Saturday we went back to The Brig’s parking lot. The line was a bit shorter (thanks, in part, to a the madness dying down a little and another Kogi truck-in-training also parked at the site). I ordered up a mess o’ short rib and spicy pork tacos. They were just as soul-satisfyingly delicious as last time. Yep, I’m hooked.
But much as I adore Kogi’s food, and their sweet tweets, there are signs the mobile-food-truck trend has peaked. Chi-chi catering trucks now roam the streets of cities all over the country (to follow them, check out Serious Eats’ handy directory of mobile eateries that Twitter). In LA, Kogi has been joined a plehtora of trucks, carts, vans, and bikes, each serving its own funky twist on the concept. There’s the Don Chow Taco truck (Sino-Mex fare), and the Coolhaus ice cream van (architecturally inspired ice cream sandwiches), Let’s be Frank (grass-fed meat hot dogs) and Sprinkles‘ cupcake truck. It’s so trendy that Dwell magazine had a whole panel discussion devoted to mobile street food at its recent design fest in LA. Dwell even organized a Mobile Restaurant Row–a sort of confab of cutting-edge catering trucks.
I very nearly hopped in the car to check it out…until I was struck by the stupidity of driving across town to eat from a truck. Um, isn’t the idea that the truck comes to you, or at least your general vicinity? It’s the delightful serendipity of stumbling out of work (or a bar late at night) and the truck has appeared, as if by magic, to serve up the comforting, unfussy fare you crave. Now, that’s a trend that’s a classic.