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TESS VIGELAND: Here in L.A. we’re not known so much for turkeys as tacos. And for our taco trucks. Big wagons from which some of the best Mexican food in town is served. Well last Thanksgiving, L.A.’s Kogi food truck started wandering the city’s streets, serving tacos stuffed with Korean Barbecue. They are awesomely delicious, and the concept became so popular, it kicked off a nationwide food-truck craze. Brendan Francis Newnam caught up with Kogi back in January, just as interest was heating up.
Brendan Newnam: What are you guys eating?
Customer 1: I’m eating a Kogi…
Newnam: A Korean beef taco.
Customer 1: It’s so good I forgot what it was called, dude.
Customer 2: I’m Korean and I love Mexican food, so this is perfect for me. I was kind of worried at first, because I thought it might just be Korean food in tortillas. And I was like, “Eh.” But then I tasted it and it was way more. It was like way good.
Customer 3: I was just walking down the street and I saw a long line for a taco truck, which is something you don’t see very often, and I asked somebody in line what so many people were standing in line for. And he said, “Korean barbecue and it’ll change your life.”
Newnam: Can I get your full name?
Mark Manguera: Mark Manguera.
Newnam: What is your title here at Kogi?
Manguera: Oooh boy, I guess I’m the founding father of Kogi.
Newnam: And when did you find it?
Manguera: I was out with my sister-in-law. We went out. Of course, we got drunk and everything. And we came home — and I live in Koreatown. I’m Filipino and I married into a Korean family.
Newnam: Oh, OK.
Manguera: So I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if somebody put Korean barbecue meat in a warm corn tortilla?”
Newnam: It’s outrageous, it’s so simple, but it’s mind blowing.
Manguera: You’re absolutely right. It’s a perfect marriage of the society we live in every single day. We live in a Latino/Hispanic community and Korean barbecue and Korean food is so unplayed right now. Everyone knows Japanese food as teriyaki, everyone knows Chinese as sweet and sour pork, but no one knows Korean barbecue.
Newnam: For people who don’t understand Korean barbecue, can you explain to them what makes it special?
Manguera: Korean barbecue is basically a simple marinade of soy sauce, ginger, scallions, a little bit of sugar, a little bit of all these Asian basic ingredients, marinated for 24 to 48 hours, cooked on a grill. It’s a done deal.
Newnam: Hey, thanks so much for chatting with me.
Manguera: Of course, of course. It was my pleasure.
Newnam: What are you guys eating over there?
Customer 4: I think I’m eating a chicken taco.
Newnam: What do you think about the prices?
Customer 5: Well, I mean, after they make you wait an hour, you’re willing to pay just about everything.
Newnam: Well, if you go two blocks that way, crack is $5. Two dollars for a beef taco is not so bad.
Customer 5: But my new fix is beef tacos.
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