Forget Spago Beverly Hills. The hottest place to eat in Los Angeles right now serves food out of a truck and owes a large part of its success to Twitter.
Kogi, which offers a unique combination of Mexican and Korean food, is a modern variation of the taco trucks that have long been popular on the streets of L.A.
“I tracked down Kogi Friday night,” reads a posting on Yelp, the local-business review site. “Life as I know it has ceased to exist. I want Korean BBQ tacos, I want them now and I want them every day for the rest of my life.”
Standing In Line For Hours
On a recent evening, hundreds of people stood in line in L.A.’s Little Tokyo neighborhood to try the much-heralded tacos. Chuck Chun, who drove in from Orange County, waited an hour and a half to place his order for $26 worth of food.
Chun found the truck with the help of a tool that has become the necessity of any serious foodie these days — a Twitter account.
“You’ve got to go on Twitter to get the most up-to-date news on what kind of specials they have that day or where they are,” Chun explains. “They actually got here late — that’s what they announced on their Twitter.”
It’s so 2009: Customers instantly know where the truck is, even if actually getting the food takes hours.
Mario Duarte also located the truck using Twitter.
“It really was delicious,” Duarte says after scarfing down a spicy chicken taco while sitting on the ground.
“It had the Korean sweetness from the kimchi mixed with the heat of Mexican food and the fire of a taco like you only get off a taco truck,” he adds.
There’s a sight here you don’t always see in car-centric L.A.: People hanging out on the sidewalk while eating, socializing and listening to music.
It took the virtual world of Twitter to bring about all this face-to-face interaction. And that’s exactly the point, according to Kogi’s head chef, Roy Choi.
“You have all these neighborhoods now where people come out when they usually just got in their car and went to a mini-mall,” Choi says. “Now they’re coming out to their streets, talking to their neighbors.”
From Four Stars To A Truck
Choi has spent most of his career in four-star restaurants. His Kogi biography points out that he finished in the top of his class at the Culinary Institute of America.
Now Choi is crammed into the tiny kitchen in Culver City, Calif., where he and other chefs prepare the food that goes out on two trucks. Kogi, which means meat in Korean, also recently added a bricks-and-mortar location.
The most popular item on the menu is the short rib taco stuffed with marinated beef and topped off with lettuce, cabbage chili salsa and cilantro relish.
“Our vinaigrette has 14 ingredients, our marinade has 20 ingredients, our meats are all natural meats,” Choi says. “And we sell it for $2.”
With lines so long, it seems like Kogi could easily double prices and still attract plenty of customers. However, Choi says he wants nothing more than to cover expenses and make a very small profit.
Culinary Exploration Of L.A.
He also wants Kogi to stay true to its roots, even if the company is only a few months old.
Kogi began as “an idea born from late night hunger,” the business’ Web site says. Choi and his partners were interested in a hobby, not a job. They wanted to make new dishes while exploring new parts of L.A.
The only problem was that when Choi brought his Korean tacos to the streets of L.A., no one quite knew what to make of them.
“The first couple weeks we were out there, people were laughing at us because they just couldn’t conceptualize what it was,” Choi recalls.
He credits a large degree of Kogi’s success to hiring a new-media consultant who helped spread the word of Kogi virally.
“As a chef, I always think it’s the food, but I think without Twitter it wouldn’t be anything,” Choi says, “because I could have made these tacos, but I would have had no one to sell them to.”
But the Web hasn’t been all so fawning.
One Kogi dissident created an imposter Twitter account promoting fake events like taco bikini Saturday, and fake dishes like solar-cooked pork, cooked on the roof of the truck. Worse, they lured people to fake locations.
The real Kogi owners take it all in stride.
Imitation, as the saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery.