On Friday night Kogi came to town, and hundreds of hungry night owls showed up to celebrate the occasion.
Haven’t heard of Kogi? You’re not alone. Ask most Pasadenans if they’ve experienced the Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck, and they’ll likely respond with a confused stare and a muttered, “Wait… Korean… tacos?” Yes. The Kogi BBQ trucks have spawned massive national buzz and a dedicated following by combining two essentially Angeleno culinary endeavors, Korean barbecue and Mexican taco trucks.
Kogi BBQ offers Korean-style grilled meats and tofu served in tacos, burritos and the mini-burgers known as sliders. The three trucks, named Azul, Roja and Verde, wander the Los Angeles streets, updating followers with precise locations on Twitter.
Late Friday, several months after Kogi became the talk of L.A., it made its inaugural appearance in the Pasadena area when the Verde truck parked next to the Coffee Gallery on North Lake from 10:30 pm to 1 am. According to brave order taker Yung Ho, the small lot was packed with 626ers eager for their first taste of Kogi before the truck had even pulled in. By 11:15 the line snaked around the plastic folding tables set up for on-site taco consumption and stretched onto the sidewalk, and eager chatter filled the air as a variety of locals waited for their turn. The crowd included many high schoolers who had followed Kogi’s Twitter feeds, as well as middle-aged dads who had come on a co-worker’s recommendation. This was clearly a thing, with 200-plus people standing outside in a parking lot for something they’d never tried before.
Once these culinary Quixotes got a chance to order, their response was unanimous: unabashed delight. By far the most popular order was two or three short-rib tacos, although spicy pork sliders were highly praised as well. The tacos, affordable at $2.20, were that rarest of delights: an innovative but unpretentious and instantly accessible meal. Tender beef short ribs, on a fresh corn tortilla, topped with a mild kim chee-style slaw, the tacos hit all the major late-night taste cravings: salty, sweet and, yes, a bit fatty, with a tangy kick. There was, of course, a bottle of Sriracha chili sauce for those who like it hot.
Although there are myriad items to be tried — pork tacos, chicken burritos, short-rib sliders, the mysterious Chef’s Choices — there is little reason to look beyond the already-famous short-rib taco. Kogi BBQ is a fresh take on late-night grub, and one more reason to love LA.
Finally, while the novelty and excitement made the Kogi truck seem like more than a taco truck, it also made for an extremely long line. Diners waited up to 90 minutes to order, and the line was still depressingly long at 12:40 a.m., when the truck was only 20 minutes away from leaving. In a way, Kogi’s popularity may be working against it, because as delicious as the food was, there is little in this world worth waiting an hour and a half for, even short-rib tacos. That said, if KogiBBQ tweets that they’re outside your office and there’s no line, you need to try it.
To see when Kogi’s coming back Pasadena way, follow its Twitter feed (@kogibbq) or go to its web site, kogibbq.com, for locations and times.
— Daniel Siegal