Serious Eats

Meet & Eat: Kogi Korean BBQ Taco Truck

"Man, I’m getting hungry, but I’m only allowed to drink diesel."

Editor's note: The L.A. Times carries a story today on the Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck and its Twittering ways. We figured we'd talk to the truck itself. Kogi co-founder Alice Shin interprets the truck's responses for us. If you’re an Angeleno, you've no doubt heard of Kogi. If not, get to know it here.

Name: Kogi
Location: Downtown Los Angeles, Venice Beach, Silverlake—generally wherever I can find hungry vampires fiending for our goods
Occupation: Taco truck
URL: kogibbq.com, twitter.com/kogibbq

What is Kogi? You can call it our homage to the Mexican taco trucks that fed and sustained us in our Korean American youth. Try to find someone living in K-town who hasn’t hit up a taco truck at least once in his or her life.

But isn’t Kogi co-founder Mark Manguera Filipino American? He got lucky—he married into it.

So it’s a family business. Yeah, we got one cousin and three Shin siblings working the bills and grills. We also adopted two cooks—Marlen and Lupita—and an Uncle Roy somewhere along the way.

Who is Uncle Roy? Roy Choi is our executive chef. If you Google him, you’ll probably dig up some impressive facts about him, like how he graduated at the top of his class at the Culinary Institute of America, was head chef at 4- and 5-star hotels, and walked away from the position as executive chef of RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen. But to me, he’s just the dude who drives me around. Or is crazy. Sometimes both. He also did other stuff, like make up the entire menu.

What’s on the menu? We’ve got tacos in short rib, spicy pork, and spicy citrus chicken—though he’s always playing around with that chicken. One day it’s spicy, the next day it’s not, then all of a sudden it's being marinated with citrus. [More Qs, after the jump.]

Let's get back to the tacos, please. OK. After coming hot and smoky off the grill, they're topped with a cilantro, lime, and onion relish, a crisp salad of cabbage and Romaine lettuce dressed with a sesame-chili salsa roja, and then garnished with radish, lime, and orange wedges. Squeeze the orange over the spicy pork—it’s killer. It’s not a dish you would recognize as Korean food, since Roy mixes it with a lot of Mexican flavors, but when you taste it, it certainly feels Korean. We've also got burritos, which are a similar concept to the tacos except we add softly scrambled eggs and hash browns and pack it nice and tight in a warm, griddled flour tortilla.

I heard that there’s something about rotating specials. Yeah, when it comes to the specials, almost nothing is the same because it changes pretty much every day. Blink, and you’ll miss it. But if something becomes popular enough, we try to bang it out once or twice a week, like the Kogi dog, tortas, or kimchi quesadillas.

What’s on a Kogi dog? We take a hot dog bun and grill it till it’s nice and toasty. Then we slap on some shredded cheddar and jack, spicy pork, a juicy, charred hot dog, that onion lime relish, salad, mayo and some of that magic sauce.

Magic sauce? What’s in it? Magic.

What are some of Roy's more esoteric creations? He did some pickled strawberries and brie with a little red onion. He also made this other dessert, tomatillo French toast with goat cheese. Smother the crap out of it with maple syrup and you’re good to go. Another one is Korean street food-style sesame roasted baby potatoes. Man, I’m getting hungry, but I’m only allowed to drink diesel.

How about drinks? We have canned soda and some Korean drinks, but Roy's experimenting a little bit with hot drinks, like a ginger tamarindo hot tea, or his sujungwa jaimica, which is basically ginger, cinnamon, and hibiscus. He also does a mean Korchata, which tends to sell out within the first 20 minutes. There’s only so much space on the truck, so it’s hard to keep the drink specials in stock. It’s basically made in one huge pot and that’s it.

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Photograph courtesy of Eric Shin

Rumor has it that you’ve got quite a following with lines of up to 100 people winding around the block. We’ve added another truck to meet the demand. Which takes a load off me. In comparison to your tiny, fuel-efficient Prius, I may look big and fat and unlovable, but you should see the other trucks on the lot. They’re HUGE.

How can hungry Serious Eats readers track you down? Either follow us on Twitter as kogibbq or look up our schedule and blog posts on the specials at kogibbq.com.

We've heard that sometimes people get there on time and you’re nowhere to be found. Well, you can blame that on traffic or the Kogi crew. They’d rather open up 20 minutes late, ready to go than on time and unprepared. Also, if someone calls the cops on us, we must respectfully continue to truck on. Usually that means returning to The Brig in Venice. Basically, if anything goes wrong with the Law, we generally head for The Brig. Olly olly oxen free.

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