Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why I Was Bummed on Kogi Korean BBQ in Los Angeles

The Kogi Korean BBQ truck is synonymous with L.A. food truck culture (dare I say pioneer?), and over the last few years my rabid worship of truck dining had been tainted by the social-media savvy truck on the move through the City of Angels. I had never run into them or their world-famous tacos or burritos, and this saddened me deeply. Plus, Korean BBQ being the most insane cuisine known to man, I knew that I could not rest until I had sampled what may very well be the best (or at least best known) Korean BBQ truck on the West Coast.

When I saw them pull up outside Agenda yesterday, despite the insanely long, slow moving line, I knew I had no other option than to buck up and snatch the opportunity for life-changing kimchi! The line slowly shuffled forward, but despite rumblings in my tumbly I stood my ground. I knew, I just knew, that the wait would be worth it.

Happily, I'd made sure that the Visa/Mastercard sign was hanging in their ordering window, and even from wayyyyyyy in the back I could see cards being swiped. Oh happy day! The last of my cash had gone to parking, so I was in luck bearing plastic. Or was I? 

After approximately 4 million people had ordered and walked away smiling, I was close enough to the front to let the smells of spicy pork and short rib wash over me. I could see the ice-cold beverages glistening under a sheet of ice, and I already had my eye on a refreshing orange soda to wash down my forthcoming short rib burrito with kimchi. As I stepped to the front of the line after OVER AN HOUR in line (yes. I was patient!) I was greeted with a snarling man barking out "Cash only. Machine just went down."


What do you mean, no credit cards?

There was no sign out front.

There was no announcement made.

I was literally so shell-shocked that I just stared at him and said "What?"

"Cash only."

"I... I just waited in line for over an hour."... at this point my knees were getting weak. All that I had anticipated, all that I had dreamed of, was about to be snatched away from me by an unsmiling order-taker looming high above me from a sticker-covered truck. I could immediately see why the line had moved forward so abysmally slowly. Inside were a bunch of loitering cooks that obviously couldn't see the snakelike line sneaking into the convention center, or they were so used to the demand that they just didn't give a crap anymore.

He shrugged. "I can try the machine, but it won't work."

I figured at least trying would be better than me jumping through the window and causing a scene, so I handed over my card and crossed my fingers. I could feel my blood pressure rising as we waited for a beep from the machine, and the entire scenario ran through my dazed head. It's the 21st century! What business in their right mind shows up to an event without a backup plan?! Where's the courtesy "cash only" sign? Where's the communication with loyal customers?! Where's the thoughtfulness for those like me (for surely I wasn't the only one without cash!) who waited uncomplainingly patiently in the longest line in history?! And although I can be pretty feisty on the (wonderfully anonymous) internet, I never. Ever. EVER. make a scene during foodservice. I've worked too long in the industry, and despite my obvious business logic, I did understand that it's not THIS guy's fault that the machine crashed. 

What pissed me off was his attitude. His absolute nonchalance and apathy blew my mind. I had built up this vision of legendary Korean BBQ that I had been looking forward to for YEARS, did my waiting time, MADE SURE that plastic was OK, and got completely slapped down by a guy who just couldn't be bothered with a little bit of A) customer service or B) A FREAKING BACKUP PLAN. Shit happens, I get that, but this was unacceptable.

I'm happy to say this story has a happy ending. I'd been chit chatting with the group of venture capitalists behind me for the better part of the hour, and since my interaction with the truck dude actually only lasted a few seconds, they stepped right up to save the day. I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard these sweet, sweet words...

"Oh, no way that's happening. You just waited for over an hour. You're on our tab."

Seriously, even a day later I am overwhelmed with absolute gratitude for my angel investor. Not only did he spare me complete humiliation (there are few things more embarrassing than not being able to pay for something you thought you could), he fulfilled a dream I'd had that had quickly turned into a nightmare. He even leaned into the screen at the back of the truck and encouraged them to put up a "CASH ONLY" sign (which apparently was not the obvious thing to do?) and was greeted with blank stares and turned backs. 

The burrito was absolutely worth the wait. Juicy, tender, full of flavor... it was everything I had hoped for. Unfortunately, it was tainted with a very, very bad customer experience, one that I  hope no one else has to suffer through. Believe me, they aren't the only truck in the world that has suffered through issues with credit cards, but the attitude is what turned my opinion VERY quickly. I can absolutely deal with problems outside their control. It happens. But what they CAN control is how they present it to their loyal customers. And that's why I was disappointed with my first (I can't say only...) Kogi Korean BBQ truck experience.

HUGE thanks to Richard from Irvine. Seriously dude, if I ever need capital for something, I've got your card, and I promise there will be $10 in the mail to you soon. Decent people exist, hooray!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Top 10 San Diego Food Trucks

It's no secret that I'm a legitimately crazy person- just most notably when food trucks are involved. If I could eat at a food truck for every meal every day, I would without hesitation. I'm not quite sure what my fascination with the mobile revolution is, but maybe I'm just enthusiastic about any major trend in American dining and I happen to live in a place where it's nice outside constantly. Maybe.

Anyhoo, this list has been a long time coming for me personally. I'm sure that many, many people would disagree my list below or want to throw me off a cliff for not mentioning their absolute favorite San Diego food truck, but no matter. I've done the research (a.k.a. stuffing my face) as much as I can, and with my (limited) knowledge and (unlimited) enthusiasm, I've come up with what I think are the best San Diego food trucks around.

My somewhat loose criteria are things like a mix of menu options (creativity, number of dishes, rotation, etc.), locations (more mobility is a good thing), cost (over the top gourmet food trucks really might just be missing the point), taste (duh, but also very arbitrary), friendliness (you can tell the legit people who are stoked on what they're doing vs. those cashing in on a trend who carry the shit kitchen attitude to the streets), and marketing (some have got it and some don't. Not a dealbreaker, but everyone likes a fun truck gimmick). I didn't make an actual grading scale or anything. I just know what I like and have no qualms about telling you what you SHOULD like.

I'll also note that I personally tend to gravitate towards the more gratuitous trucks (sorry MIHO - I tend to dig cheeseburgers more than beet salads) and more savory than sweet, so even though there are some BOMB dessert trucks on there, I'm gonna lean towards the lunch/dinner ones and leave the dessert trucks to another post. Last disclaimer: I haven't eaten at EVERY SINGLE food truck in San Diego. If there's one that I absolutely MUST TRY and I really should kill myself for writing this without trying them, then let me know (minus the death threats, please). There's always time for Round 2!

Without further ado... the top 10 San Diego food trucks.  

10. Asian Persuasion
This truck is solid. Their pork sliders are seriously amazing, their sauces are great, and even their complimentary won ton chips with sweet and sour dipping sauce aren't your run of the mill stale chip shards so often served at shitty Chinese restaurants. There's certainly a time and place for cheap Chinese food (you know the kind- the farty, bloat-inducing, MSG-laden limp beef with soggy broccoli that you really shouldn't enjoy as much as you do), but Asian Persuasion hits it right every time. They really could work on changing up their menu a bit, and I've heard a few horror stories about working with them to arrange an event, but overall, top notch stuff. Definitely the best Asian food truck in San Diego.  

9. Mangia Mangia
Italian staple of San Diego. They're at every food truck gathering and their staff always has big smiles on their faces. There's no real surprises (ever) on the menu, but what you get it always stationary-restaurant quality fresh ingredients from friendly people. Two thumbs up.  

8. MIHO Gastrotruck
O.G. S.D. food truck. Everyone knows 'em, everyone loves 'em. As far as I'm concerned, MIHO speared the food truck revolution in San Diego. They are to San Diego what Kogi is to LA. They're all over the place, they give a crap about sustainability and local sourcing, and they are creative as hell on their ever-changing menu. A little pricier than run-of-the-mill trucks, and this isn't the place for gluttons (woe is me), but their marketing hits it spot on. Not to be missed.  

7. Operacaffe
Their meatball sandwich made me want to cry. Placing them over MIHO will be sacrilege for some (despite their excellent cuisine), but what can I say. I'm a sucker for them. I also tend to run into them more than other trucks, which makes me pretty brand loyal. Seriously. Get the meatball sandwich.  

6. New York on Rye
Most legit Jewish deli style sandwiches in San Diego since the German deli on 30th in North Park closed. They don't toast their bread (legit!), they have big ass pickles (legit!), and they pile their thinly sliced meat to the sky. LEGIT. Pastrami on rye and Ruebens are NOT to be passed up. Dammit. I'm salivating.  

5. Devilicious
Another San Diego fave! They're nationally known and adored, plus babes man the truck. My only qualm with them is they steer a little too far over into the crass gratuitousness with their signature butter poached lobster grilled cheese sandwich, but I mean, seriously? What's not to like? I'm SUPER bummed that their kimchi dog didn't stay long on the menu because OMIGOD, but you will never, ever, EVER be disappointed with ANYTHING you get off this truck. Plus, their logo of a baby devil eating a sandwich is rad.  

4. Mariscos on Texas
Yup. I gave a "roach coach" the #4 spot. Wanna know why? EVERYTHING HERE IS BETTER THAN ANYTHING YOU'VE EVER EATEN. What they lack in marketing or even menu rotation is 100% made up with their food, plain and simple. Do yourself a favor. Drop what you're doing and drive to the liquor store on Texas and Meade. Park. Get ceviche. Also everything else on the menu. Do not trust the white man with your ceviche. Only trust Mariscos with your ceviche. Eat it. Order more. You'll thank me.  

3. Super Q
BBQ fans from the South, rejoice! Your time has come to SoCal on 4 wheels with Southern hospitality to boot. Best BBQ truck in San Diego. Everything is slow cooked and an extra bonus is they don't take forever to make it for you. It's not fussy and it's not rocket science. It's just damn fine eatin'.  

2. Hoangies
Banh mi sandwiches are maaaaaaaaaaaaybe my favorite food ever, so I'm perhaps a little biased on Hoangies. Nah, it's just that good. The menu is straightforward, and even though I have to admit that it's not the most unbelievably authentic banh mi in the entire universe, it does the trick and then some. It's family owned, they roll all over town, and it legitimately makes me weep when I see them. I'm ALL about Hoangies. I want everyone and their mom to patronize it. The people rock and are always super appreciative, plus they remember you! I may or may not have freaked out with ecstasy in front of them more than once (which tends to make an impression), but I think I bankroll them pretty hard so whatever. Fun fact: I almost wrecked my car when I drove by them one time, started screaming, pulled an illegal U-Turn, and then hopped my way across the street in glee. I. Fucking. Love. Hoangies. They ALMOST made it to my #1 absolute favorite food truck in San Diego spot, but there's only one other place that is higher in my heart.  

1. Tabe BBQ
Korean BBQ. Are there any sweeter words in the English culinary language? I'm honestly having a hard time not jumping in front of a car because I don't have a plate of sweet pork in front of me. Tabe's marketing sucks, they're hard to find, and their menu never changes. WHO CARES. It's absolutely, unequivocally, the best truck in San Diego, I'd wager it would give any truck in the country a run for its money. It gets overlooked because their branding is garbage and it honestly could pass for a roach coach, but it's so, so, so much more than that. I honestly pity you if you've never experienced the glory of Tabe. I VIVIDLY remember eating it for the first time and after my first bite I had a revelation. I've eaten some damn fine food in my life, but there are very few things that come close to Tabe. Tabe, I love you.

PLEASE feel free to recommend your favorite food trucks and dishes to me! I can always use a good excuse to check out a new place.