Coreanos food truck's overwhelmingly tasty offerings made their first Bayou City appearance on Saturday, March 3. The restaurant on wheels, which offers an exciting hybrid of Korean and Mexican ingredients and cooking styles, was recently named the No. 1 food truck in Texas and No. 8 in the nation by Smithsonian Magazine. Its Houston truck is the second of the "fleet," the first being their Austin truck that has been in operation since September 2010.
Hughes Hangar on Washington served as the locale for the food truck's launch party, although the gastropub and lounge's staff weren't even aware of it. When I mentioned to the guy at the door that I was excited about the launch of Coreanos , he looked at me dumbfoundedly and asked, "Oh, is that what this is?"
Moving right along, my companion and I entered Hughes to have a pre-dinner drink, which we consumed standing in the middle of the place, as the few areas to lounge were taken. After a first round of drinks and some highly entertaining people-watching, my companion and I were ready for some grub. We headed out to the food truck, parked on the side of the Hughes building.
We placed our order and, while waiting for our food, met Louis Cantu, the Executive Chef and part-owner of Coreanos . His eyes glistened with excitement when he told us that opening the Houston truck was simply "surreal." His down-to-earth manner gave no insight into his background in the culinary world.
Louis, a Houston native, was the Executive Chef that opened Maria Maria, a popular Mexican eatery in Austin . He also worked under Chef David Bull at Second Bar and Congress, another Austin restaurant currently considered to be one of the best in the U.S. Perhaps most impressive, he served as the Executive Sous Chef of Imperia, the contemporary Asian restaurant and bar in the heart of Austin -- at the age of 20, straight out of culinary school. Louis says that it was that position that he considers his "big break," but a culmination of all of those experiences has equipped him with the skills necessary to take Coreanos "to the next level".
A taste of each item we ordered from Coreanos revealed that the food was indeed "next level." The first item we tried was the Three Wise Fries - french fries topped with a medley of meats, including beef short rib, spicy chicken, spicy twice-cooked pork belly, grilled onions, cheese, and Coreanos specialty scorcho sauce, a creamy, spicy sauce made with chipotle, garlic and a bit of lime juice. Wowza. We sat there taking bite after bite, silently.
The fries entranced us. The best way to describe them is as "ultimate comfort food" or the "ultimate drunk food." If the list of ingredients is not sufficient to encourage you to try them, here's more encouragement: Each ingredient is bursting with flavor, the meats cooked to perfection. The crunch of the onions combined with the texture of the meats and french fries and the silky, yet spicy, scorcho sauce make you want to clap your hands. But you can't, because they're too busy scooping more and more fries into your mouth.
After devouring the whole of the fries, we tried the generously portioned L.A. hotdog, wrapped in bacon and topped with grilled onions, grilled jalapenos, and mayonnaise. The hotdog was juicy, and the bacon it was wrapped in was flavorful without being overpowering. The onions and jalapenos were nicely grilled, but perhaps their flavors were dimmed a bit by the mayo topping it. And the bun, seemingly freshly made, was fluffy and flavorful and slightly toasted. The L.A. hot dog went down as another winner in our books.
Our final sampling was of two Korean BBQ tacos, one stuffed with marinated beef short rib and the other stuffed with spicy twice-cooked pork belly. Both were served atop two corn tortillas and topped with Korean slaw, onion, cilantro, and a sesame oil vinaigrette. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the tacos, the poor, innocent things were a bit cold. They had been neglected while we were busy trying the other Coreano's creations. And it was quite a windy, chilly, night. Nevertheless, the tacos made an impression. The meats were again flavorful and cooked well and the sesame oil vinaigrette was memorable, with plenty of sesame seeds intermixed in it. The Korean slaw did its job but was a bit excessive in quantity. Its not that we didn't like it, we simply enjoy meats being the star of the show.
The only lamentable thing about the whole Coreanos experience was that we didn't have a cerveza to pair it with.
Looking to quench our thirst, we went back to Hughes' entryway where we stood, ignored, for a good ten minutes in front of the doorman who was too busy bowing down and kissing the incoming (apparently VIP) ladies' hands to notice that we were standing there waiting patiently. When he finally deemed us worthy of a glance, the first thing out his mouth was disapproval at the way we were dressed.
"Seriously? We were just inside," I informed him. "Well that must have been for happy hour," he responded smartly. "Actually no, it was 30 minutes ago," I replied just as smartly. "Well, we'll just have to talk to the other guy that was here at the door," he trailed off as he turned his back to us to do some more bowing and hand kissing. As if on cue, my [well-dressed] companion and I exited the line. We were going home. We weren't so desperate to get back in that we'd beg. Suddenly, it clicked why the guy in the parking lot had accepted our $10 while telling us that the parking fee was non-refundable.
Luckily, the positive after-thoughts about the delectable food we tried at Coreanos lingered far longer than the negative impression left by Hughes Hangar. The truck has so much going for it.
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Although the Houston expansion just took place, the Coreanos team already has its sights set on the future. They plan on having two Coreanos trucks in Austin and two in Houston by the end of this year, as well as eventually expanding to Dallas. Ultimately, they want to become one of the first franchise-able food trucks in the nation. But, at this moment, their focus is to get this Houston truck up and running successfully.
While the coordinates of the brand-new Houston Coreanos are yet to be determined, their daily location will be announced via the @coreanoshtx Twitter account. But your mouth will have to water in anticipation for at least another two weeks, as the food truck will be heading to Austin for South by Southwest, where both the Austin and Houston Coreanos trucks will be catering private and public events.