Sunday, May 03, 2009

Kogi Korean BBQ Taco Truck - Santa Fe Springs

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 Stick a Fork In It, 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 Monster Munching, she said, and she wanted to invite me and a few other food bloggers 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.

UPDATE: Kogi will be all over O.C. this week. Click here for details. And CLICK HERE for Christian's report. He made it to Kogi's Fullerton stop on Cinco de Mayo!

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Don the Beachcomber - Huntington Beach

30 Comments:

At 4:21 AM, Blogger FAT PANDA said...

I keep hearing about this place. I'm curious: why do the cops keep telling them to leave?

 
At 7:11 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

hmmm..well at least you got to finally "get some". But I dunno, all the running around, PLUS the 30 minute wait for your food order.... hope it was all worth it. =)

 
At 7:58 AM, Blogger He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named said...

glad to see you finally got some. i've been thinking about giving this truck another shot since it's been coming to rowland heights for a few weeks now...hopefully the lines won't be too crazy tho

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger Val said...

Victory! So happy for you. I have yet to get my hands on a Kogi Korean BBQ taco/burrito..

 
At 8:50 AM, Blogger Bill said...

This is not something I should be reading when I'm starving but great review. IMO almost all KBBQ taste the same it's just the matter of the of how tender the meat is. Almost everything else is the same...What do you think?

 
At 3:25 PM, Blogger raissa said...

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.This is the description I couldnt get out of my head to really describe Kogi BBQ. We went to Rosemead to get ourselves some Kogi tacos. We were in line for 2 hours but it was so worth the wait. We got the short rib, pork and chicken tacos. All of it taste so good. I should really follow them on Twitter now since they were in locations close to me.

 
At 3:26 PM, Blogger raissa said...

Oh I was told that Kogi BBQ has some competition. A Kalbi BBQ (or Calbi BBQ) just started/opened too. But the details are still sketchy.

 
At 4:42 PM, Anonymous amourra said...

I heard Kogi is coming to Santa Ana on 5/16..truth/location/time ?, since you are our KOGI insider?

 
At 6:22 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

I like the timeline method you did for this post. Very entertaining! I haven't eaten any Kogi tacos yet and this makes me salivate :).

Did you think the wait time was a bit long? 30 minutes for four tacos seem like a long time to me :).

 
At 7:57 PM, Blogger pau-pau said...

Tangy! That's the flavor that I kept thinking was a "je nai sais quoi" about Kogi.

I live up in Eagle Rock and I'm so damn happy that they make regular stops at the neighborhood. The line starts at least half an hour before the trucks arrive and even the local authorities (namely firemen) come and get some. The regular police simply pass them by without so much of a glance!

So glad that it gets a great Elmo review! Since I split my time between LA & OC, I really hope Kogi drives down so I can share it with all the people I know there.

 
At 9:11 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

FAT PANDA,

Are you related to my food blogging buddy ChubbyPanda? Just kidding! Though, I wonder: why are there so many pandas with weight issues! I'll stop now.

So, yeah, the cops. I can't say with certainty, but in the case of Buena Park, I think they needed a permit to sell, which I have to guess, they didn't have. O.C. seems to have different rules than L.A. County or something like that. And I think when they ended up at Santa Fe Springs, which is over on the L.A. County line, they were in the clear...which is why the Santa Fe Springs Police (actually, the city contracts with the Whittier PD) didn't bother them.

christoofat,

This is what I had in the back of my mind as I waited, "Please do not be Phantom Menace. Please do not be Phantom Menace".

And it wasn't, thank God! Instead it was more like Iron Man. It met my high expectations.

Would I wait 30 minutes for the tacos again? Sure! 2 hours?! Well, I wouldn't stand in line 2 hours for anything. But especially not when I'm hungry.

Voldemort (LOL!),

YES! I saw that it'd been visiting RH with some predictable frequency. If I lived in North OC, I'd already be a regular, I think.

Val,

Thank you for that! I read your comment on SaFII and thought it was cool that you were rooting for me!

Bill,

That's what I was thinking going in. I thought, "This is going to taste like someone wrapped a tortilla around Korean BBQ", but surprisingly there was an added dimension. The familiar flavor of sesame seed oil, soy and sugar were definitely present, but there was something else...something different...something with a fruity tang...something delicious!

raissa,

I don't have nearly the patience that you possess. This is why I gave up after finding out it was going to take 2 hours to get the tacos the first time around. But when I was younger, I would've endured and loved every minute of it.

Example; I've done everything I could to forget the steaming pile that was the Phantom Menace, but the two hour plus long wait before the movie outside the theater, bonding with my cinema-loving buds, while I was in the prime of my twenties, was something I'll remember forever.

Now I just wait for movies to come out on DVD! ;-(

amourra,

I was waiting for someone to ask! Yes, I do have some intel on that. Here it is, according to a comment made by one of the people involved with Santa Ana's Santiago Art District:

Kogi will be in Santa Ana in the Santiago Art District (http://www.santiagoartdistrict.com) on May 16th sometime between 7pm and 10pm!

EatTravelEat,

I think 30 minutes is the sweet spot for me. Any longer and I think I would've needed a chair or parked my car closer so that I can listen to NPR. But you young whipper snappers can probably hold out much longer!

PauPau,

It will! And you'll have your chance to share! Their next stop was revealed by a commenter on Stick a Fork In It (see above).

And I'm glad I hit the flavor profile right! It was tangy, and I loved it! Plus it made my car smell like kimchi and onions the whole weekend.

 
At 10:08 PM, Blogger Pepsi Monster said...

Elmo, when are you going to join us on the Tweet world? LOL.

It was a much easier and simpler time for Kogi Taco truck back then. Now the mad crush is something I can't bear, especially with the long two hour wait. No way am I going to go through with that. ha!

 
At 10:30 PM, Blogger Hapi said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

 
At 1:57 AM, Blogger Delta Boy said...

Hi Elmo, I guessed I missed you both times at the Kogi Truck in SFS in the last two Saturdays. I managed to have Kogi BBQ three times in the last two weeks. I'm glad you were able to partake and share your review with the rest of us.

Check out my recent Kogi experience at www.xanga.com/hironju

-DB-

 
At 7:33 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Pepsi,

What a coincidence! I just posted my first Tweet last night, proabably the same time you posted this comment. Actually, it's for OC Weekly, where me, Lesley & Gustavo are using one account to Tweet. My entries will be preceded by "EG". Here's the address: www.twitter.com/OCWeeklyFood

I don't know how interesting my entries will be. My guess is: not very.

Hapi,

Same to you!

Delta Boy,

I knew I'd be amongst people I knew there! So you were there the first time around that Thursday in Lakewood, then BP!

And why doesn't your link work?! I wanted to see your perspective!

 
At 10:53 AM, Anonymous amourra said...

Thank you, Elmo.
Now you know where I'll be and what I'll be eating on the 16th =)

 
At 12:11 PM, Blogger melissa said...

9:13 p.m. I burp.Thanks for that, Edwin. Truly. :P

The 16th... I don't know about waiting even a half hour, though I am amused by the phenomenon that is Kogi. Glad you finally got yours and that it was tasty and tangy.

 
At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Marvin said...

Ugh. I'm very jealous of you elmo. There's probably zero chance they'll ever come out to the I.E. I think next time I'm in L.A. I'll have to plan a kogi hunt.

 
At 2:18 PM, Blogger Val said...

The Kogi truck's coming within 2 blocks of my house this Saturday -- YES.

 
At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CHECK IT OUT:

FRESH FROM STICK A FORK IT (Which Edwin posted at lunchtime)

Kogi will be out tonight and the rest of the week in OC!

Tuesday (TONIGHT! May 5th!!!)

7PM-10PM@2 J's Cocktail Lounge - 120 W Houston Ave in Fullerton

Thursday

9:30PM-1AM@Juke Joint - 735 N Anaheim Blvd in Anaheim

Saturday

10:30PM-1AM@District Lounge - 223 W Chapman Ave in City of Orange

 
At 5:51 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

amourra,

Look here! Breaking news! They'll be all over OC this week and weekend!

melissa,

Like I said over on Christian's blog, I'd say it's worth 30 minutes of one's time. But nothing short of free French Laundry is worth 2 hours...at least for me.

Marvin,

The hunt is half the fun! The waiting (if it's longer than 30 minutes) is not.

Val,

YES! YES IT IS!

Anon,

Wow, I got scooped by my own post! Thanks. I didn't have time to post the comment here during my lunch hour. And posting with my iPhone on Blogger is a bitch.

 
At 6:25 AM, Blogger Delta Boy said...

Elmo,

Oop, sorry about the broken link, try again. Also check out my FB album link on Kogi BBQ: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=73181&id=819037511&l=6f3b82ce65

DB

 
At 7:32 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Delta,

Wow! We *WERE* there at the same time. And your pics are awesome. I kept trying to see if I could find myself in the pics. I didn't. Of course, it's probably because I was all the way at the end. And you'd already left and consumed your tacos.

 
At 9:13 AM, Blogger shavedicesundays said...

What? People with strollers? I think I could get out there with 3 kids but hey maybe I can.

 
At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am planning to check it out tomorrow night at

7PM-10PM@Santa Ana Artwalk - Santa Ana Blvd. & Santiago

How long in advance should I arrive?

:)

AnonFoodie

 
At 10:04 PM, Blogger MessyJessy said...

OMG!!! I read this and laughed several days ago. Then tonight I came across this article! http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30769388/

I got so excited b/c I just read about your experience with the same cart! So Cool!!!! It was like knowing about someone famous before they became mainstream and famous!!!

:)

 
At 9:23 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

shaved ice,

Yeah! You totally could bring the rugrats. Just be mindful of the crowds and the cold air that tend to arrive the later it gets at night.

Anonymous,

My friend showed up an hour early to a stop they had in Orange two weeks ago, and the truck was an hour late because they were stuck in traffic (or something like that)...so he had to wait a good two hours although he got there early.

Everyone seems to know about the Santiago Art Walk, so I bet there will be a healthy crowd waiting there....plus Kogi just got a front page Yahoo article yesterday...so it's going to be NUTS!

Messy Jessy,

WOW! I missed that article. Thanks! This thing is RED HOT isn't it?! Combined with the Yahoo thing, tonight's (Saturday May 16) stop may get crazy up in here!

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger Shelly Borrell said...

I'm curious now, although I'm not a fan of a long line. I hope to time it right in OC next time with the rest of you. Thanks for the interesting report.

Shelly, Nibbles of Tidbits

 
At 10:12 AM, Anonymous PK said...

I still need to try Kogi truck...heard anything about when they will come down to OC?

 
At 2:49 PM, Blogger Linna said...

The truck came to my work place this week. I tried the short ribs tacos, the spicy pork tacos and the kimchi quesadilla. Not impressed with the tacos at all. The quesadilla was actually quite tasty...never thought mozzarella will go well with kimchi . So the overall experience for me is: been there, done that...no repeats.

 

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