RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Forget Spago Beverly Hills. The hottest place to eat in Los Angeles serves food out of a truck, location changeable. Called Kogi, it offers a unique combination of food, Mexican Korean. It's a variation of the taco trucks that have long been popular on the streets of L.A., and it owes a large part of its success to Twitter.
NPR's Ben Bergman reports.
BEN BERGMAN: Here's what a rather enthusiastic reviewer wrote the other day on the Web site: Yelp. I tracked down Kogi Friday night. Life as I know it has ceased to exist. I want Korean BBQ tacos, I want them now and I want them every day for the rest of my life.
On a recent evening, pretty cold for L.A.'s standards, hundreds of people stood in line to try the much-heralded tacos. Among them, Chuck Chun. He drove in from Orange County, waited for an hour and a half and ordered $26 worth of food.
MONTAGNE: Okay, can I get a quesadilla, short rib burrito, Korean short rib tacos, spicy pork taco, Korean tofu taco...
BERGMAN: Chun found the truck in L.A.'s Little Tokyo with the help of a tool that has become the necessity of any serious foodie these days - a Twitter account.
MONTAGNE: You've got to go on Twitter to get the most up-to-date news on what kind of specials that they have on that day or where they are. And, you know, they actually got here late - that's what they announced on their Twitter, we're in traffic, and then I Twittered them, you know, I'm like, hey, on your Web site it said you guys are going to be here until 10:00. They're like, oh sorry.
BERGMAN: It's so 2009: being able to instantly know where the truck is, even if actually getting the food takes hours.
Mario Duarte also found the truck using Twitter. He's sitting on the ground just having scarfed down a spicy chicken taco.
MONTAGNE: It had the Korean sweetness from the kimchi mixed with the heat of Mexican food and the fire of a taco like you only get off a taco truck. It really was delicious.
BERGMAN: There's a sight here you don't always see in car-centric L.A.: People hanging out on the sidewalk eating, socializing, and listening to music.
It took the virtual world of Twitter to get all this face-to-face interaction. And that's exactly the point, according to Kogi's head chef, Roy Choi.
MONTAGNE: You have all these neighborhoods now where people come out when they usually just got in their car and went to a mini- mall. You know, now they're coming out to their streets, talking to their neighbors.
BERGMAN: Choi has spent most of his career in four-star restaurants. Now he's crammed into the tiny kitchen where he and other chefs prepare the food that goes out on what has now become two trucks. Kogi is Korean for meat, and the most popular item on the menu is the short rib taco stuffed with high-end ingredients, marinated beef, topped off with lettuce, cabbage, chili, salsa and cilantro relish.
MONTAGNE: Our vinaigrette has like 14 ingredients, our marinade has 20 ingredients, our meats are all natural meats. They have a purpose and they have a care and a philosophy, and we sell it for $2.
BERGMAN: So why does he do it? Well, for he and his partners, it all began as a hobby, a way to make new dishes while exploring new parts of L.A. The only problem was that when Choi brought his tacos to the streets of L.A., no one quite knew what to make of them.
MONTAGNE: The first couple weeks we were out there, people were laughing at us because they just couldn't conceptualize what it was. As a chef, I always think it's the food, but I think without Twitter it wouldn't be anything, because I could have made these tacos, but I would have had no one to sell them to.
BERGMAN: Now Kogi not only has over 8,000 followers on Twitter, it has customers so loyal they've created YouTube tributes, even a song on MySpace.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
U: (Singing in foreign language)
BERGMAN: But the Web hasn't been all so fawning.
One Kogi dissident created an imposter Twitter account, promoting items on the menu that don't exist. Worse, they lured people to locations that don't exist either. The real Kogi owners take it all in stride though.
Imitation, as the saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery.
Ben Bergman, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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