Recently from a cart… Korean Tacos   9 comments

That's right, Korean Tacos. The concept originally became popular in L.A., but a food cart dubbed "Koi Fusion" has brought them to Portland OR. I say food cart, but really this particular cart is actually mobile and sometimes can be found at PSU for lunch, by PGE park in the evenings, or other places depending on where they decide to park. So, really, a food truck a la what I've seen in Chicago and New York is more accurate. Even for a food truck, this is one nice ride. Sure, it's pretty new since they just launched in May and they have been producing only in limited hours on certain days… but look how spiffy they look! They have their nice beverage fridge as well as a tub with ice for drinks (just to the left and below those girls in the first picture), shelves for snacks like fried pork skin (above the girls' heads), and even a mini condiment station to the right by the driver's door and a trash center. When I visited on Friday, they also had a simple white table set up behind the truck with two bottles, one of green and one of red, Mexican chili sauce waiting.

During the lunchtime that I visited at their spot between 6th and Broadway on College, they only had one order guy (who was sweet but a bit clueless of how the truck menu worked and the pricing scheme) and the cook (obviously running the show). So, an order might take 20 minutes to get! But, we all waited pretty patiently I think, and the cook always was apologetic and thanked everyone for their patience, trying to get at least pieces of orders out as soon as possible.

Koi Fusion (Koi stands for Korean organic infusion) offers tacos and burritos as well as some other specials, but using organic meats and the meats are prepared Korean style, i.e. marinated to tender deliciousness. You choose your meat of bulgogi (they really need to say korean "bbq"/marinated beef after that as I heard someone ask in confusion what that was), spicy chicken, spicy pork, or spicy tofu for $2 taco, or $6 burrito. For $1 extra, you could upgrade to short rib meat. The specials I saw that day included sliders, kimchee quesadilla, and k-dogs for $6.

Unlike from the review from Portland Food Cart, it was a two man operation- no mom making fresh tortillas, though it did allow the order guy to pump out music loudly on the radio while the customers waited making the wait more tolerable. The real referral though was Lizzy from Lizzy Dishes Portland, which I discovered even before I moved here, and have only started reading again recently with new-found free time not working during a company shutdown week. She can get pretty detailed in her review, but I think that means she's thinking about the food too much- this particular review was much more light and just simple enthusiastic, which got me enthused. Yelpers had raved about the slider also, so when I saw it as a special, I knew that was what I was getting.

I got thrown off by order guy though, who asked how many sliders I wanted. Oh? I thought there were a couple on a plate, but maybe that wasn't cost-effective for them so they scaled back. So I thought I had capacity to also order tacos. Ha ha… I wouldn't get the sliders from the cook until after he finished making the tacos (same thing with burritos- they take a lot longer than tacos)- so I didn't realize how screwed I was until way too late, and no one else before me had ordered the sliders, and I saw the tacos looked small… so I ordered 3.

First to come out was the short rib taco. Savory juicy tender kalbi meat that had been shorn from the bone (the only annoying thing about eating kalbi is the bones, and no problem with that here), and this had a kickass marinade applied to it. I even added a bit of the green sauce and it held up fine. The tortilla was nothing much to comment about except it was soft and held together even though it was also stuffed with lots of shredded cabbage (this was the only thing I would improve upon), crunchy fresh bean sprouts, chinese cilantro, cucumber, and a wedge of lime to squeeze on that bit of acid. Maybe the cabbage  is supposed to stand in for the Mexican side (besides the fact I could squeeze the green or red sauce on this) but then shouldn't it be fresh shredded lettuce? I didn't think the cabbage was contributing as much as the others- it was a bit soggy and taste-wise the bean sprouts had more impact. At least get a salad spinner guys. If it was supposed to be wet because of a sesame oil vinaigrette, using cabbage alone isn't working, just makes it slightly slimy and doesn't hold the flavor- maybe use it on the bean sprouts, as that does come together in a popular Korean side.

I had almost finished devouring this – so say give it 2 minutes- when I was being called again to pick up my other 2 tacos, the spicy pork and the bulgogi. The bulgogi… well, it just couldn't compare now that I had had the short rib. Sorry man, the meat just wasn't as rich with flavor, though it is a much thinner cut of beef. The spicy pork was great though- tangy with a bit of a burst of spicyness just at the end, it gets the silver in the medal rankings of the 3 tacos. I tried the red sauce with both of these latter two, and only the spicy pork held up.

When I had picked up the second taco tray, the order guy sheepishly asked me what kind of meat I wanted in the sliders. Apparently, I had the choice of any meat, and he had forgotten to ask (even when I ordered them, he had to ask the cook how much they were). I asked for the short rib. Oh, realized the order guy, its a $1 extra? Yes, I'll take it, I knew the quality of the short rib from my half eaten taco already. Well worth it.  I had barely finished eating the bulgogi taco and taken a bite of the spicy pork (and then hastily remembered to photograph it) when I was called about the slider pickup. And then I knew gluttony was upon me.

These sliders definitely are the OMFG rating that Lizzy had given them. Ok, she didn't have the F but I think they deserve them, because even though I was expecting greatness, they *still* surpassed my expectations with their deliciousness. These were insanely good- soft doughy roll with a touch of crunch from being toasted, spicy creamy sauce (the kind you would expect drizzled on some fancy Japanese roll, and there's a judicious dollop here that doesn't overwhelm) with the cheese and (still the same soggy) cabbage and savory meat, and a lime wedge to squeeze for a accent of tangyness. I cannot imagine how popular these would be after a late night at PGE park- how satisfying on a bit of an alcohol tipsyness? Since I usually work in Beaverton I won't be able to do this lunch thing again, but I am going to have to make a late night run to Koi Fusion again and just test that out.

And there's still those kimchee quesadillas that I was interested in…

One last note- the tacos are extremely messy. Despite the best efforts of that lil soft tortilla, that soggy cabbage was all over the place. Maybe the burrito is the better way to go if you want to do the Mexican style rather then sliders. Really though, I haven't found the tacos too Mexican- and the sliders aren't either but they are definitely killer infusion going on of a very accessible way of getting those great grilled Korean meats so I'll let it slide (ha ha…). I'll like to continue to diligently test that too.

To save yourself frustration because these guys are on Asian time aka late, make sure to follow them on twitter if you are a casual twitter follower- I check twitter when I want to, and it doesn't go to my phone harassing me all the time, because they tweet half a dozen times a day. But considering they are still figuring things out, I am not expecting the Kogi truck, who has an impressive exec chef uncle to lean on- don't go looking for gourmet. You're still getting something fantastic and fresh and tastes like it should be a guilty pleasure (and would rock after a game at PGE park)- and is very very kind to your wallet, as long as you are also willing to wait.


9 responses to “Recently from a cart… Korean Tacos

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  1. wow, these look so amazing. i hope they open some trucks here in sf so i can try a short rib taco! 🙂

  2. This sounds like a taco you would find in Portland: familiar name, strange organic ingredients, a little Mexican, a lotta Asian. Not sure if the 20-minute wait is worth it, but I’d be willing to try. 

  3. [this is good] where in chicago can i find a korean taco cart??

  4. [this is good] Yes, definitely OMFG.

  5. There are no korean taco carts in Chicago… or many carts period. The closest you will get is to try making tacos on your own from the recipes at Gourmet or perhaps go to Crisp for their korean chicken and they make burritos as well, so the concept is pretty close…

  6. [this is good]
    So… much…recipe…ideas!!!

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Can you make these at home? Email me the receipe. I love international cuisine. I am from Germany living in the USA> Life is good. 

  8. [this is good] Portland is 3 hours from where I live (southeastern WA state)… maybe a trip someday.  We can get authentic Mex here (plenty of taco wagons, shops, etc.), but Korean cuisine is hidden away stealthily in teriyaki restaurants– so these would be a rare sight around here.

  9. I went yesterday to the PGE Park and also on Thursday (also the PGE Park location). Both times, the service was much faster: burritos were coming out in 5 minutes, so perhaps that was a particularly bad day for the Koi cart.

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