In bigger cities, Korean food trucks have long been bully, some commanding lines 50 deep. The American Public Television series Kimchi Chronicles picked favorites last year from markets like New York and Los Angeles that dished fusion plates like falafel-kimchi tacos, "kim-cheesesteak," kalbi (short rib) sliders and even caramelized kimchi fries.
"It seems that virtually every week, there's a new truck popping up," the show mused. "At this rate, there could be a danger of overexposure."
Well, not here, kimchi-migos, as Wada Wada only opened shop at Falcon Stadium for the launch of the Air Force football season, and joined Curbside Cuisine days later. Sure, our city's east and north ends boast ample sit-down spots for banchan snackin' and bulgogi steaming atop cast iron, but nobody's yet taken fermentation to the streets in force until now.
To be clear, Wada Wada isn't aiming for creative fusion, even though a kimchidilla would seemingly be as at home here as in Austin, given our plethora of Tex-Mex. (Oddly enough, Wada Wada's neighbor, The Local, does do a kimchi quesadilla version.) Instead, owners and Korea natives Sun Park (32, and the main chef) and Suk Im (Park's aunt, with 20 years' restaurant management experience in New York) have designed a menu built out of traditional Korean methods with only a couple of Americanized departures.
To approach the tiny orange truck is to be presented with three easy options — a rice bowl ($8), salad ($7) or flour tortilla wrap ($7) — followed by a protein choice. The chicken chunks see an egg yolk, rice vinegar, garlic, onion and sugar marinade before meeting heat. The excellent bulgogi, be it the pork shoulder or thin-cut ribeye strips, soak for three days with sugar, garlic, a kelp-inclusive soy sauce, pickled radish and fruit such as kiwi, pineapple or pear for tenderizing the fat.
Granted an alluring glisten and char marks, the soft, semisweet bulgogi also see a sesame-seed sprinkle and side ramekins of house-made soy ginger sauce and a blindingly bright citrus-vinegar "orange dressing." Each sports enough character, on top of the flavorful marinade, that MSG is thankfully neither used nor needed for the umami edge. Get the bowl, as the addition of a fiery romaine kimchi (versus cabbage) and rice is well worth the buck.
For sides, the truck offers limp sweet potato fries or the likable Crab Lagoon ($4 each), like Chinese crab Rangoon but wherein crispy wonton wrappers are stuffed with veggie bits and a sweeter-than-usual creamy filling spiked with Soju (a rice-based spirit). Intermittent specials include a fulfilling mound of kimchi-, veggie- and bacon-laced fried rice ($6) garnished with a crosshatched squirting of ketchup lines that somehow work and, typically, a fried egg. (Our day, they were out; during each visit at least one item was unavailable.)
You can also get our single favorite dish, an awesome trio of kimchi pancakes ($5), which are like Hanukkah latkes gone to Seoul: thick rice, potato and regular flour rounds jammed with green onions, kimchi bits and spiced with gochugaru, the hot, smoky and mildly earthy sun-dried Korean red chili pepper powder present in kimchi.
Though they may sound like a fusion item, they're actually a humble Korean appetizer called kimchijeon, further illustrating how Wada Wada's roots remain classical, even in the contemporary setting — fit for your next good lunch, if not TV just yet.