Just standing in a parking lot, eating Korean BBQ tacos

Finding the food truck that copied the food truck that started it all

This is a picture of the truck.
  • This is a picture of the truck.

Must have been about five years ago now first I began hearing press — I'm sorry, word of mouth — about Kogi, the Los Angeles Korean BBQ/taco/food truck/phenomenon meant to revolutionize the restaurant industry forever. As the story went, Roy Choi's short rib fusion tacos were so outstanding, the Kogi Twitter feed would announce a location and thirty minutes later a line of hipsters the length of a city block would exhaust the afternoon's supply of cilantro, tortillas and meat.

The food truck craze struck young entrepreneurdom, spreading throughout LA to NYC, Portland and (probably) Minneapolis (I mean, why wouldn't it?). Before long, even San Diegans were jumping on the literal bandwagon, with food trucks parked outside craft brew tasting rooms, gathering at fair grounds, turning up weekly at scheduled events in neighborhoods such as South Park and Normal Heights. Still, I never got to try that famous Kogi taco.

Then — praise Cheollyung! — I heard about Calbi BBQ Fusion Tacos, a fleet of Korean taco trucks that I didn't have to drag myself up to LA to experience. Better still, it was making a stop in my neighborhood! Finally, could enjoy two of my favorite culinary traditions in one meaty handful.

Looks like prices are set to change along with location.

Looks like prices are set to change along with location.

The menu doesn't take long to read, which didn't bother me because I wasn't interested in being distracted from ordering a fistful of tacos. The actual ordering process was curt and brief, but I'm sure there are easier modes of service in the world than standing inside a small kitchen crammed into the back of a truck, taking orders through a narrow window a full two feet above the heads of pedestrians at street level, so I figure any minuscule amount of civility from a food truck operator should be celebrated. In this case, I was honored to get my tacos super quick: one pork, one beef. With a side of guac to go with the hot sauce, because these ethnically diverse tacos were a long time coming.

They look like tacos, but that's not your traditional salsa.

They look like tacos, but that's not your traditional salsa.

Built on corn tortillas — a good start — the tacos were piled high with grated cheese, which sounded like a good idea at least. In the case of the beef, I'd have preferred a little less cheddar or a little more beef, as the cheese interfered with the nice smoky flavor of the BBQ. The rest of the toppings were fine — adding a little hot sauce really cemented the Asian flavor profile, working with the cabbage and cilantro to give each bite the layer of complexity you'd expect from such a dish. A little onion wouldn't hurt either, I'd think.

The pork taco offered a similar experience, simply replacing the smoky beef with sweet BBQ pork. I get that some people like that sort of thing, but I do not number among them, so I really got to know the Calbi hot sauce well trying to savor things up a bit. The guac might have helped, but, well… it didn't.

I supposed replicating the concept that successfully launched a culinary subculture requires a deft hand. Though I still hope to track down a Kogi truck one of these days, Calbi might have to wait awhile for more of my business. After all, there's pretty much a 1:1 ratio of food trucks to moustaches out there these days, so I've got plenty of other options to pursue the next time I'm hungry and don't want to eat sitting at a table for some reason.

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