Back in late 2008, a former hotel chef named Roy Choi launched a taco truck that put a spin on traditional Mexican fillings with Korean flavors. Over five years later, the gourmet food truck craze has both exploded and subsided (at least in Los Angeles where it all began) and now, with the opening of Kogi at LAX, a new cycle begins. We’ve made it to Gourmet Food Truck 2.0.
Tracking food trucks all over the city via social media feels like a blast from the past in LA; a quaint late night hobby when everyone was still figuring out the power of 140-character missives. While gourmet mobile eateries could be found all throughout the city starting back before 2010 (in addition to the taco trucks that have been prevalent for decades), nowadays they feel a bit irrelevant. Even the mere idea of tweeting the location of a food truck has been co-opted so many times that it became a plot point in a movie (Jon Favreau’s CHEF). What once was chic and fun is now just a meal without a table. That said, the trend has taken root in cities all over the country and food trucks are still slinging their very specific fusion tacos/lobster rolls/crazy burgers on streets across America. Now normalized, food truckers have been searching for the next iteration of the trend and ironically, Kogi, the progenitor, may have the answer.
Officially opened in the first week of December, Kogi at LAX is a food truck inside an airport terminal. It’s a literal truck plunked down at the end of Terminal 4 at LAX where a renewed focus on local LA favorites has turned the terminal into a true dining destination. Kogi is the last piece of the puzzle and judging by the line that formed before the clock struck 11am on a recent Saturday, it’s going to be very, very popular.
All of the classic Kogi staples are here: tacos and burritos filled with galbi and bulgogi; quesadillas, sliders, and hot dogs; kimchi as far as the eye can see (as long as your eyes have $1.20 to pony up for the fermented side dish/topping). There’s even a new breakfast menu:
The prices aren’t bad at all, with the markup on Kogi’s street menu ranging anywhere from $.50 for tacos to $1.50 for quesadillas. It’s a small price to pay to get Roy Choi’s flavor-packed creations instead of a grab-and-go turkey wrap.
I opted for the Blackjack Quesadilla, a superstar amongst a menu of heavy hitters. It’s described online as:
“Caramelized onions and spicy pork married together with melting cheddar and jack cheeses. Each side of our massive flour tortillas is grilled until it gets as crispy, tender and pliant as a great Neopolitan pizza before being ladled with citrus-jalapeño-roasted-garlic salsa verde.”
In answer to your question, yes, it is as tasty as it sounds. It’s also super dense and that’s not always what I’m looking for before a flight. That’s both the blessing and the curse of Kogi at LAX. It’s head and shoulders above most of the other airport options in terms of pure satisfaction of what you get. It’s also a gut bomb that will hitch a ride along with you to your final destination. Think of it like an internal carry-on. Like a colicky baby, by the middle of my flight from LAX to ORD, I started to feel the quesadilla kicking. Despite my stomach’s protest, though, I still enjoyed every bite. The pork was less spicy than I would like (I think the recipe has been toned done for mass traveler consumption) but the combination of pork + cheese + awesome salsa made it one of the best things I’ve consumed at an airport since I launched Fly&Dine. [side note: I ate this in the terminal. If I had brought it on the plane with me to enjoy, I would have expected a full mutiny from my fellow passengers. This food has a strong smell that would NOT be welcome in any airplane cabin.]
When you really think about it, a spicy pork quesadilla is not much different than inhaling a Big Mac and fries before a flight. It’s actually right on par with my beloved Tortas Frontera in terms of the devil’s bargain you make when you decide to chow down before you fly. Kogi at LAX also matches up with Rick Bayless’s airport mecca in that I can easily see if making the next round of “Best Airport Food” lists. It’s that good and, perhaps sadly if you’re marketing-averse, that buzz-worthy.
There will definitely be problems with lines. The location in T4 is just not going to be able to handle the crushing flow of customers once word gets out that Kogi is the best option in the terminal (and it really is). There’s also not nearly enough seating. Those problems aside, Kogi at LAX will quickly grow into a must-have at LAX and I’m glad I got in early. Six months from now, I’m sure I’ll be writing about how it’s not worth it to get to the airport early just to wait in line for an hour for a taco. Right now, however, it’s like the end of 2008 and people are just discovering the Kogi truck. It’s back to the future with an emphasis on the “fly” in McFly.