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First Look: TaKorean at Union Market in D.C.

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Three taco bowl; left to right: bulgogi with kimchi, chicken with romaine, and tofu with romaine [Photographs: Brian Oh]

The TaKorean truck has been peddling Korean style tacos around D.C. for a couple of years now. There's always a bit of a dilemma when it comes to food trucks though: they're great if you're tracking their Twitter feeds and know the exact block they've set up on, but moot if you don't.

Luckily, as of early October, if the craving for kimchi strikes you and the truck's MIA, you can head to Union Market (also recently opened) to get your fix at TaKorean's first fixed location.

Situated at the end of Union Market's open warehouse of vendors, TaKorean now has a Chipotle-style counter where the tacos and bowls are assembled. The menu, for now, is the same tacos and bowls you'll find at the truck (the only difference between the tacos and bowls is that the tacos come with corn tortillas). A single goes for $3.50 and you get three for $9.00. You choose from bulgogi (thinly sliced ribeye steak marinated in a Korean-style sweet and spicy soy sauce), tangy chicken (marinated in a ginger, soy, and chili sauce), or tofu (pan seared with hoisin). Toppings include Sriracha (of course), lime crema, cilantro, sesame seeds, and, most importantly, Korean kimchi-style or napa-romaine slaw.

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Being Korean myself, I'd say I'm at least marginally qualified to judge the authenticity of Korean food. Owner Mike Lenard, however, emphasizes that it's not Korean food per se, but Korean-style. The kimchi isn't salt brine fermented like traditional kimchi, Lenard says, because the pungency would overwhelm the flavor of the taco.

Nevertheless, if you want to go full Korean-style, get the bulgogi and kimchi taco. The combination is sufficiently reminiscent of the countless bulgogi+kimchi meals I've had in my life. The meat is tender and well marinated, while the kimchi offers a potent spiciness without the powerful aroma of traditional, fermented kimchi. The chicken and tofu are also serviceable in their own right, but the flavor is several notches lower than that of actual Korean food, which tends to pack strong punches of aromatics like ginger, garlic, and chili. The romaine is much ligher than the kimchi slaw and an easy alternative for the less adventurous.

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Lenard wants to keep the menu to a core selection that he can consistently execute well, but has plans in the works to include a few other items. The truck occasionally makes a roasted pork and gochujang (a Korean fermented chili paste) BBQ taco/bowl, which Lenard wants to incorporate into the menu. He's also considering rice bowls as an alternative to salad bowls or using burrito shells with kimchi fried rice, but only if it doesn't impede his ability to churn out tacos and bowls up to his standards.

There are a lot of reasons to check out the newly minted Union Market: plenty of great vendors, food events, and enclaves from popular restaurants around town. And if you've been meaning to track down the TaKorean truck, your trip to the Market just got a little bit better.


1309 5th St. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 (map)
takorean.com

Union Market is currently only open on Friday-Sunday, but will be open 6 days a week come November.

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