It’s 10 p.m. on a chilly Saturday in Los Angeles. Some 30 people, braving 48°F weather—hat-and-scarf cold for L.A.—line up along the sidewalk in front of a converted step van parked on the street. The windows slide open, and the phenomenon that is the Kogi BBQ food truck kicks into high gear.
Kogi BBQ has been drawing crowds, and accolades, since 2008, when two friends hatched a plan to fuse Korean barbecue with Mexican tacos and then hawk them from a truck on L.A.’s streets. Food trucks aren’t new to the city’s landscape. For decades they’ve offered cheap eats along roadsides and at construction sites across southern California. But they were often disparaged as “roach coaches.” So a Korean-taco truck was “a crazy idea,” writes Kogi BBQ founder Roy Choi in his memoir, L.A. Son. (Join National Geographic’s #streetfood photo assignment.)
That idea turned out to be “genius and ingenious,” says Barbara Fairchild, former editor of Bon Appétit and a longtime L.A. resident. The genius came in the kitchen.