Food news to go: Korean tacos and pho are on the horizon

A new food truck, El Kimchi, is set to open in downtown Asheville in the next few weeks. El Kimchi will feature Mexican-style street food — quesadillas, tacos, tortas — with big Korean flavor.

Bulgogi beef tacos, for example, will fold Korean-style barbecued beef in soft tortillas with lettuce and pico de gallo ($2 each, or three for $5). Quesadillas ($4-$6) can be filled with kimchi (a traditional condiment of spicy fermented cabbage) and teriyaki chicken. And yes, there will be bibimbap, a spicy and satisfying rice dish with vegetables, chili sauce and fried egg ($8). View the entire menu on the truck’s Facebook page.

While Korean and Mexican may seem like an unusual combination to some, the concept is prevalent in larger cities. In fact, some credit the rise in popularity of the gourmet food truck to the Korean-Mexican Kogi BBQ-To-Go, operated by Roy Choi in Los Angeles, Calif. Choi, sometimes referred to as the “godfather of street food,” famously utilized Twitter to broadcast the whereabouts of his truck, prompting Newsweek to dub Kogi “America’s first viral eatery.” (Incredibly, the use of the word “viral” when referring to an eating establishment did nothing to diminish Kogi’s popularity.)

“You go to bigger cities, there’s at least one Korean barbecue truck there right now,” says Jimmy Lee, who will help his parents (Don and Chung, both born in Korea) operate the truck with the assistance of his sister, Iris. Chung, the matriarch of the family, is a trained chef who owned two different restaurants in South Korea for over 10 years. “My mom makes the best kimchi in the world,” Jimmy says. “Some kimchis you buy at supermarkets are Americanized. We try to use local produce as much as we can. It’s authentic kimchi that no one else in Asheville makes.”

Jimmy and Iris, both college students, are the current faces of El Kimchi, helping to spread the word through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, just like Kogi did in L.A. But, unlike in L.A., food vendors in WNC cannot move from spot to spot. “A lot of people seem to think that we have a truck and we can just go anywhere and sell food, which is true in bigger cities, but here in Asheville, you have to get a permit for each site, turn in a schedule for each site and tell the city where you’re going to be and when you’re going to be there,” Jimmy says.

El Kimchi will open in the next few weeks in the food-truck court under construction on Coxe Avenue in downtown Asheville. While El Kimchi may get permits for vending in various other locations, the Coxe spot is the exciting place to be right now, says Jimmy, who imagines the lot as a future draw for tourists and downtown workers alike. Xpress reported on the construction of that lot here and more recently here.

The preparation of the Coxe lot for mobile food vending is being led by Nate Kelly of the Lowdown food truck, Marni Graves of the Pink Taco Truck (and also, helpfully, an architect) and Suzy Phillips of Gypsy Queen Cuisine. El Kimchi is one of the food trucks that will be allowed to rotate through one of the four available vending spots on the property. The food-truck family, Jimmy says, has been more than gracious.

“It’s so great to see these people who hadn’t met before these food trucks started, but now we’re all together, working as one team,” he says. “And all kudos to them. We’re hoping to do everything we can do to help them. It’s going to help our business, and we think it’s going to help Asheville.”

The truck is ready to go, but El Kimchi is waiting for the permits to come through from the city. Follow @El_Kimchi on Twitter to stay updated.

Want more food-truck news? We’ve got some pho ya:

Another food truck, Phoyabelly, is bringing pho (and other Vietnamese) back to Asheville. Says the website:

“Our mission is simple — we want to warm your bellies with delicious food. pho is the new ‘chicken noodle soup,’ meaning it’s just good, down-home cooking.

Our love of Vietnamese cuisine has been an almost decade long stretch in which we have continuously worked to improve, eat, salivate and pine over and it’s finally time for us to share our hard work with our community.

We will be serving banh mi sandwiches, spring rolls, rotating specials and, of course, pho! We are still in the works but will hopefully be coming to a location near you soon.”

Phoyabelly is likely to set up shop at the Coxe lot early in 2012, but is looking for a permanent location.



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