In which our critic recounts his hunt for the Kogi Korean-barbecue taco truck—using considerably more than 140 characters
Last fall, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from someone named Alice. She reads my food blog, she said, and she wanted to invite me and a few of my blogging brethren to LA’s Koreatown to taste-test something her family was experimenting with: street tacos, Korean-style, served out of a truck.
I couldn’t make it to the tasting, but as they say, the rest is history.
Unless you’ve been holed up in the Unabomber’s cabin, you’ve already figured out that Alice and her clan are the folks behind Kogi—the hippest thing to hit LA since Pinkberry.
But the constant media buzz wasn’t just about the fusion food being served out of their night-prowling roach coach; it was also about how they got the word out. Kogi uses Twitter to broadcast where and when their truck will appear next. It’s as fortuitous a pairing as the Mexican tortilla and Korean meat that make up their tacos. To date, they count more than 20,000 Twitter followers, most ready to rally at a text message’s notice.
By the time Newsweek called them “America’s First Viral Eatery,” LA was already in love. Lines wrapped around city blocks. Wait times exceeded two hours. And the police? Well, they were pissed that most of the time the truck didn’t have the proper permits. But the more ire it drew from the law, the more its legend grew.
A YouTube video exists of what transpired on April 22. Kogi ventured into the Orange County-adjacent city of Lakewood and was promptly run out of town by black-and-whites blaring sirens. The footage showed the truck speeding off into the darkness. For the gathered crowd of hundreds it left behind, the cops had this message: Leave or be cited. Later, the truck found a parking lot in Buena Park to finish out the night, the first time Kogi touched down in OC (if you don’t count an appearance for a private event at Anaheim Stadium in March).
But a few days later, when they tried to return to the same Buena Park spot, the fuzz was already waiting for them, poised to intercept. It is suspected that the cops were tipped off by a post that I put up earlier that day on Stick a Fork In It, the Weekly’s food blog.
As a result, Kogi was forced to take refuge in nearby Santa Fe Springs, where I finally caught up with them in a deserted industrial-office-park lot. And so did about 200 other people, all of whom had already lined up in front of me. Starved and freezing, my date and I gave up. We went home, taco-less.
Afterward, the Kogi folks told me they planned to stop in Buena Park again the week after. This time, to avoid informing the police preemptively, they held on to the exact location and time until the last possible minute. But when they finally Tweeted the cross streets, they mistyped the city as Buena Park; in reality, the truck was back in Santa Fe Springs.
For me, that turned out to be a lucky break. The unintended mistake made the lines nearly nonexistent.
The smaller crowd was still representative of their customer base. Most were in their twenties. A majority were Asian. A few of them took pictures of themselves flashing peace signs in front of the truck. I did the same. This, I thought, is something to show the grandchildren—slightly less significant than the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, perhaps, but still a story to tell.
When we got our food 30 minutes later, we devoured it under the dim glow of our car’s map light. The tacos—set on smooth-textured corn tortillas and topped with sesame seeds, shredded cabbage and wilted scallions—disappeared after three ravenous bites.
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The Korean short-rib taco was a confluence of the fatty, the beefy and the sugary sweet, dripping grease all over our palms like all good tacos should. The spicy pork glowed red, as striking as an al pastor, but more well-mannered. The chicken was similar—but leaner. And the tofu was soaked in . . . something tangy.
In fact, everything was tangy, as if a pineapple or some other acidic fruit were juiced into the marinade. It’s Korean-influenced and Mexican-inspired, yes, but mostly it’s just playful and fun—apropos for the venue and the chase.
By the time you read this story, Kogi should have made several stops in cities throughout OC, where they may or may not have had run-ins with our fine, fine law-enforcement professionals. The truck is scheduled to appear in the Santiago Art District in Santa Ana this Saturday, between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. But if you’re a cop, you didn’t hear this from me.