It's hard to believe given the speed at which they've spread across the country, but Korean tacos are not even a decade old. Roy Choi, the chef widely credited with this Korean-Mexican mashup, first rolled his Kogi BBQ truck onto the streets of Los Angeles during a cold Thanksgiving weekend in 2008.
Choi's sole means of advertising back then was a relatively new app called Twitter. He had no idea what he was about to unleash on the world.
Seven years later, Choi's legacy continues to inspire new Korean-hybrids, not only among those who work the streets in food trucks, but also among those who operate safe and warm inside bricks-and-mortar restaurants. You can find bulgogi hoagies at Seoul Food D.C. in Wheaton, bulgogi sliders at the BonChon in the Navy Yard (and other locations), even a bulgogi burger at Cafe Kimchi on Barracks Row.
While working on the $20 Diner column dedicated to BonChon imitators, I stumbled upon two more bulgogi tacos, each offering a new riff on the familiar Korean-Mexican snack.
The tacos at DAK! Chicken in Shirlington took me by surprise, mostly because they channel the early U.S. industrial food era, otherwise known as the original sin of the American obesity epidemic. The crispy U-shape shells scream Old El Paso and "I love bagged cheese!" loud enough to wake the dead; they come stuffed with essentially the same toppings found at your standard Taco Bell, save for the kimchi, which is practically mandated by law to be present on every Korean dish.
If you had not suspected it already, I confirmed my knuckle-dragging status by digging on these Korean tacos (three for $12) by way of the American Industrial Food Complex.
DAK! Chicken, 4040 Campbell Ave., Arlington. dakchicken.com.
Over at Momo Chicken + Jazz in Bethesda, chef Me Yaun Kim has created bulgogi tacos that don't look stamped from a machine. They start with soft, griddled tortillas, almost steam-bun-like in texture. For garnishes, these tacos favor coarsely chopped tomatoes, a luscious slice of avocado, pungent squares of red onion and a colorful handful of scallions. This is the Cal-Mex antidote to snacks whose ingredients are as natural as laboratory meat.
The Momo tacos (two for $7.99) were not only delicious but they didn't make you feel as if you should start a detox diet in the morning. Or go to confession.
I wonder: If you ate Momo's bulgogi tacos right after the trio of crispy bad boys from DAK!, would the former's attributes cancel out the latter's sins?
Momo Chicken + Jazz, 4862 Cordell Ave., Bethesda. momofc.com.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of Roy Choi's Kogi BBQ truck.