Kogi, At Last!

Saturday, May 2, 2009.

This was the night. I could feel it. I was going to finally sink my teeth into something the whole of L.A. had been talking about and enjoying for months. Unless you've been holed up in the Unabomber shack or haven't been reading my entries on this blog, I'm talking, of course, about the Kogi Korean BBQ Taco Truck.

But first, a little history.

Flash back to last October, when out of the blue, I got an e-mail from a person named Alice. She reads my blog, she said, and she wanted to invite me and a few other foodies up to L.A. to do a taste testing of a new experiment her family was doing: street tacos, Korean style, served out of a truck.

My brain went wild. A Korean taco truck!? Now that's a great idea! But the event was on a week night. And in L.A.'s K-Town, no less. Disappointed that I couldn't make it, I wrote back to her: Please come down to my neck of the woods. "OC needs this bad!" I implored.

As they say: the rest is history.

Kogi went on to become an overnight L.A. legend and national media darling. No one's ever seen anything like it: a taco truck that used Twitter to rally the masses like the pied piper.

The result were lines that for stretched for hours, which, in turn, inspired blog postings, national news, the constant ire of cops, NPR stories, and Newsweek articles.

To date, they count close to twenty thousand followers on Twitter, who flock to their next landing spot at a typed text message's notice.

Cut to last Saturday, when I came this close to finally rendezvousing with them. After being shooed out of Buena Park by the police, the truck took refuge in nearby Santa Fe Springs. There, on a deserted industrial office park parking lot, I finally caught up with Kogi. But so did about two hundred other people. By the time I took my place in line, the wait was rumored to be two hours long and also, they were running out of food. Being risk averse and freezing, my date and I gave up. We left, taco-less, into the night.

Fast forward to yesterday, Saturday, May 2nd. I had been in constant contact with the Kogi folks about their next visit to O.C., which was to come soon. This time, they said, they were going to keep things on the down low, to avoid run-ins with the law and to keep the crowds to a minimum. The exact location of their next stop wouldn't be revealed to the public until the last possible minute. But it was hinted that it would be Saturday night in Buena Park.

Finally, they revealed their location via Tweet at about 7 p.m. Problem was, it was the right cross streets; wrong city. They Tweeted Buena Park, but the truck was actually in Santa Fe Springs. In fact, it was the same, exact place they'd landed a week before.

We realized the error quickly and corrected our course.

The rest of the night went like this:

7:38 p.m. We arrive at the same Santa Fe Springs spot we'd left empty handed a week prior. But this time, things were different. Not one but both Kogi trucks -- nicknamed Roja and Verde -- were there. Coupled with this and the lower key announcement (also perhaps the unintended geographical error in their Tweet) made the lines almost non-existent. This was the night alright: the night I was going to have those tacos!

7:43 p.m. We file into the queue in front of one of the trucks. It's about six people deep. Since it wasn't quite dusk, I could see who my fellow Kogi stalkers were. Most were in their twenties. Most were Asian. But there were older folks, babies in strollers, dogs on leashes.

7:51 p.m. We get to the front of the line. We place our order. Four tacos. One of each kind. Short rib. Spicy Pork. Chicken. Tofu. Also two burritos with short rib and chicken. Total? $19.80.

7:53 p.m. We step aside to wait for our order. I notice people are taking pics of themselves in front of the truck. I do the same. This, I thought, is something to show the grandchildren -- slightly less significant than the Wright Brothers at Kittyhawk, but still a story to tell.

7:55 p.m. I see that there are more people waiting for their food than standing in line to order.

8:01 p.m. A freight train roars past the office park. The ground shakes. Loud clickety-clacks drown out the chatter of people. A breeze carrying the pungent smell of kimchi blows in my direction. Instinctively, I salivate.

8:08 p.m. Now, no one is in the order line. Now, we are all salivating.

8:11 p.m. A helicopter flies over head. "Look, it's Eyewitness News' Air7!" someone quips. It is not.

8:14 p.m. They call out my name. I approach, but a couple behind us taps me on the shoulder. "Oh, I think that's us," they said to me. I apologize. "Oh are you Ed too?", I said. I should've gone with "Elmo" instead. Fat chance of two Elmo's being at the same place, at the same time.

8:17 p.m. Getting anxious now. I see the pink order forms over their assembly line dwindle down to four. Ours is second. A late comer saddles up to the order window. "Are you Roy?" he asks. "No, Roy's not here tonight...I'm his cousin," the Korean man answers.

8:23 p.m. My name's called. Taking our loot to our car, we devour it under the dim glow of our map light. The tacos didn't take long to finish. Each disappeared after three ravenous bites.

The short rib was a wonderful confluence of fatty, beefy chew and sugary sweetness, dripping yummy grease all over our palms like a good street taco should. The spicy pork was as striking as an al pastor, but more well-mannered. The chicken tasted almost exactly like the pork, but leaner. And the tofu was soaked in something tangy.

In fact, everything was tangy, as if a pineapple or some other fruit were juiced into the marinade. A touch of sesame seeds added nuttiness, but not enough to overwhelm. Topping the tacos: shredded cabbage, wilted scallions. These were Asian flavors all right, but mostly it's playful, fun -- apropos for the venue and the chase.

9:05 p.m. Back at home, we start on the burritos. And we find that they are just as good as the tacos. But since one burrito amounted to about five tacos, it was also more economical. Not to mention, less messy.

9:13 p.m. I burp.


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