Los Angeles Tacos: Komodo Truck's New Brick-and-Mortar Cafe on Pico
You've heard it in countless action flicks, any time the heat gets too intense: "We've got to get off the streets." Starting as early as 2010, that seemed to be the prevailing motto within the Los Angeles food truck scene. Get the truck, build the brand, and then run for the safety of four walls and a stationary kitchen.
One of the biggest names to ride the crashing food truck wave onto the shores of a Pico-Robertson storefront is Komodo. Their hook: Asian fusion with a Mexican bent. It isn't much of a pull in LA these days. Around here, the word "kalbi" gets tossed on menus next to all manner of tacos, burgers, pizzas and lord knows what else. So, with multiple trucks and a brick and mortar now in its second year, what makes Komodo so special? In short: simplicity.
The menu board at Komodo might seem daunting at first, but it's really no different than that burrito-or-taco-or-bowl chain place you hit up once a week for lunch. The "Classics" are a slight expansion on the original truck menu, with a little more breathing room to go along with their newfound square footage. There are standalone bowls that act as entrées or straight up salads, but there's nothing particularly interesting about Komodo's French Cobb salad. Stick with the classics, where unique twists and turns are everywhere.
The Komodo 2.0 taco (or burrito or bowl or... you get the idea) is the money-maker of the family. It's as popular now as it ever was on the truck, and for good reason. The seared sirloin is top quality, with plenty of juice to comingle with the hefty helping of the Southwest pepper / corn combination that overflows from the top. A creamy, spicy aioli provides a little bit of burn and a lot of flavor, helping this taco to cross the threshold from good to great.
The other big winner at Komodo is the fish and grapes, a unique twist on the traditional citrus that gets squeezed over the fish tacos at your local spot. Here, the chunks of cod are lightly fried, but don't rely on the delicate crunch of a heavy batter. Instead, the grapes work in a lot of their natural sweetness, and a tuft of greens with sliced almonds finish things off with some creamy dressing and a bit of crunch.
The stuff that doesn't work at Komodo (and there are a few items) usually relies too much on gimmick. The burgerrito is a sort of an Inception-style concept, putting Asian fusion inside a burger inside a taco. The result is a boring mess of ground beef and chopped up toppings that don't play together very nicely. Likewise, the limited Loko Modo special taco the café has been advertising is a lesson in starchy overindulgence, with tortillas and sticky white rice competing to see who can put me in a food coma first. All that, topped with a fried egg, but not in a good way like at Mexicali Taco.
Komodo the café has done well because it earned its stripes as Komodo the truck. By sticking with simple ingredients and understanding what their clientele was willing to stand in lines on the sidewalk for, they've been able to last in a restaurant market that is still showing signs of hurting. And while they certainly shouldn't be blamed for trying to branch out with some of their more inventive taco options, your taste buds will be happiest with the truly classic options on the classics side of the board.