Way back in the dark ages, before cell phones with built-in GPS, Jill and I trekked all over San Francisco in search of that city’s famed Mexican fare. Our destination was the Mission District, our route circuitous, but the pay-off was worth it: For an afternoon spent navigating an unfamiliar public transit system and wandering foreign streets, we got great burritos and wound up on a beach, brown-paper-bagging beer and watching the sunset. Not half bad.
Our establishment of choice was a stationary one, but imagine the trouble the geographically challenged (read: us) would’ve had tracking down mobile vendors in the days before Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare allowed them to broadcast their locations to the masses. These days, it should go without saying that social media is an integral part of most savvy restaurateurs’ publicity efforts, but it’s arguably even more important for the food trucks and pop-up spots that are running rampant all over town.
A new addition to the New York food-truck community is Kimchi Tacos, another East Coast version of the smash fusion concept pioneered by L.A.’s Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go. I endured several weeks of Twitter-induced mouth-watering before roping a friend into joining me for a street-side lunch.
We ordered two sides to share; Tom’s pick was the spicy rice cake. It wasn’t at all what we expected, but only because I hadn’t really thought about what to expect— they were a much better version of the snack we had in Koreatown during the World Cup. Nicely chewy squiggles of dough, drenched in a Korean red-pepper glaze, sprinkled with queso blanco and garnished with scallions, made for a primarily authentic dish with just a hint of a twist.
When I checked out the menu online prior to our visit, the kimchi arancini immediately caught my eye, so my selection process was simple. A spin on traditional Italian rice balls, these guys—cheesy and spicy, served piping hot and perfectly fried—might be better than the original.
When it came to the tacos, we both went for the same order: one pork, one chicken, one beef. (There’s also a vegetarian option. Falafel. In a taco. Topped with kimchi. We decided to save that one for another time.) We had the same consumption strategy as well: Reserve the presumed favorite for last. So, first up was the chicken, which turned out to be a bit dry and stringy, with no discernible flavor other than the ubiquitous kimchi topping. Next, the pork, which was better than the chicken, but also overwhelmed by the strength of the fermented cabbage. Our initial intuition proved correct as we dug into the bulgogi-flavored beef, by far the best of the bunch. I ate the kimchi separately so as to savor the tender meat itself, regretting the decision to sample all three carnivorous offerings.
While the flavors of these Korean tacos may not be as well-balanced as their Mexican brethren—the Asian pico de gallo was invisible in the shadow of that funky kimchi—they did leave me wanting more. And, when consumed on a sunny day, on a bench overlooking the Hudson River, they made me glad I was in New York—no California dreaming necessary.