Korean Street Food Review: KoJa Kitchen truck, Larkspur, Calif.
|This is a view of the OtG Larkspur from the Ferry across the street taken last spring. (Tammy Quackenbush/Koreafornian photo via Instagram)|
KoJa (which stands for Korean-Japanese) Kitchen was on my radar for some time. The San Francisco Bay Area’s food truck scene includes several Korean food trucks in the mix, including Seoul on Wheels (based in SF and Emeryville, Calif.) and MoGo BBQ (based in San Jose, Calif.)
|Most of the trucks only had 1-2 people in line. KoJa had nearly a dozen people in line after 2:30 p.m., 1/2 hour before closing time. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)|
We showed up a half-hour before closing, and the line at the KoJa Kitchen truck was two to three times as long as those at the other half-dozen meal and snack trucks there.
|One lucky guy doesn’t have to wait in line anymore. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)|
The rolling restaurant’s specialty are sandwiches enclosed in “buns” of toasted sticky-rice discs. You can get a “KoJa” in several versions: 갈비 kalbi (beef short rib), 불고기 bulgogi (savory sautéed beef), spicy chicken and pineapple, spicy pork or “Teriyaki Zen” (vegetarian). Tamara P. on Yelp aptly described a KoJa burger as “a portable rice bowl.”
|Kamikaze fries (Jeff Quackenbush photo)|
Also popular are KoJa’s “kamikaze fries.” They dive-bomb your belly with crisscross-cut fried potatoes, smothered in diced kalbi, 김치 kimchi and a drizzle of mayonnaise and 고추장 gochujang (Korean red chili and fermented soybean paste).
For me, gochujang on fries is always a kick! Yet the mayo helps tone down the spiciness a little.
|KoJa Kitchen’s menu is posted on two large-screen TV’s. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)|
We ordered off the “kamikaze combo” menu. A kalbi KoJa burger, kamikaze fries and a soft drink came to $13.15. Opting for the chicken burger trimmed the combo cost to $12.15.
|Short rib KoJa with kamikaze fries (Jeff Quackenbush photo)|
The marinade for the kalbi KoJa burger was soy sauce–forward. A lack of distinct sesame seed oil flavor is common in mass-market “Korean barbecue” sauces and premade “kalbi.” Yet the marinade did have some sweetness, which is key to the appeal of the savory-sweet original. The rice “bun” did have sesame seeds, so my tongue was not totally deprived of sesame flavor.
|Spicy Chicken KoJa with kamikaze fries. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)|
The chicken KoJa burger had a blend of spiciness and sweetness, channeling the 닭갈비 dakgalbi dish. Unless you’re into Hawaiian cuisine, I’d recommend ordering it without the pineapple slice. It overpowered the other flavors for me.
For those allergic to or religiously conscientious of shellfish, keep in mind that KoJa kimchi has shellfish in the red pepper paste, as is traditional. You can order a vegetarian version of the kamikaze fries that excludes the kimchi.
KoJa Kitchen launched their food truck onto the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area on September 19, 2011.
After two years of traveling the streets of the Bay Area, KoJa Kitchen soft-opened a brick and mortar restaurant in Berkeley in early December 2013 on 2395 Telegraph Ave. The truck tours continue unabated.
KoJa Kitchen visits OtG Larkspur every other Sunday. OtG hours there are Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Marin County Mart shopping center is across Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. If you’re coming by car, you will see a line of food trucks from the road.