Korean BBQ truck Bulkogi hits the sweet spot
When Bulkogi first hit the road in 2009, it was one of a mere handful of food trucks in the Triangle. Since then, the number of mobile vendors has grown exponentially.
Meanwhile, Bulkogi has gone through a complete life cycle, and then some. The popularity of the pioneering food truck’s Korean barbecue fusion fare led to the opening of one of the area’s first brick-and-mortar shops in 2011. Then, in 2012, an illness in the family forced the owners to park the truck. The restaurant closed the following year. Another year would pass before Joe Choi and Shinae Lee, friends of the original owners, would put the truck back on the road.
It hasn’t taken long for Bulkogi to regain its status as a local favorite. After paying a visit (OK, two visits) to the truck one Saturday at a rodeo across from the Durham Farmers’ Market, it’s easy to understand why. Building on a foundation of Bulkogi’s original recipes and adding a few of their own creations, the new husband-and-wife owners have hit the food truck sweet spot: a distinctive menu that’s consistently well-prepared and served in generous portions at affordable prices.
The signature Korean BBQ burritos and tacos, which pair the meat of your choice (six options, from Bulkogi’s namesake traditional barbecue beef to curry chicken) with Southwestern-inspired toppings, are still popular. But the new best-seller, the Korean BBQ burrito bowl, is Choi’s brainchild. Basically a burrito without the tortilla, the bowl comes loaded with a cornucopia of roasted corn, black beans, tomatoes, cilantro and a half dozen other ingredients. I ordered the spicy pork bowl, and was rewarded with succulent tatters of meat laid on with such a generous hand you could barely see the colorful goodies underneath.
From the more traditional end of the spectrum, my wife and I scored some fried dumplings (mandu) that were on a par with the best I’ve had in restaurants. We also shared an order of kimchi fried rice with spicy beef, topped with a fried egg. Next time, I’ll try the classic beef without the spicy sauce, a tweak that I’m thinking will better allow both the beef (a mix of rib-eye and chuck) and the kimchi (which, like most everything here, is made from scratch) to shine. That said, we thoroughly enjoyed the dish as it was – and we had enough leftovers for another meal.
After an hour or so spent waddling off the calories at the farmers market and nearby shops, we swung by the Bulkogi truck for dessert. I wanted to try the Choco Pie, which the menu board describes as “Korean version of a Moon Pie.” The description turned out to be on the money, but I couldn’t help but wonder how it fits the Korean theme.
A few days later, I called Joe Choi, who explained that Moon Pies are something of a national treat for children in Korea. Then he told me how this came about. “I remember my father telling me about the time when he was a boy in Korea. This was during the Korean War, and the American soldiers would toss out Moon Pies to the kids. They became really popular; you can still buy a version of them in Asian markets here. That’s where I get them.”
OK, so that’s one thing that isn’t made from scratch at Bulkogi. I think we should let them slide.