Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bulgogi Cart

Before you eat another boiled hot dog for lunch and lament DC's lack of unique street food options, pay a visit to the Bulgogi Cart located during lunch hours at the intersection of 14th and L streets northwest. It will change your mind.

The sweet mom and son duo that run this little yellow cart serve up chicken and beef bulgogi (marinated, bbq'd meat) and bibimbap. Huge portions for reasonable prices can lead to a line down the street and cause them to run out of food. Go early (noon was ok, but I hear 1pm is bad) to beat the crowds.

I've heard many tales of the magical yellow cart and its tasty food, but I don't work in the neighborhood and just haven't made the trek over to check it out. Luckily, B gets every other Monday off (lucky government workers!). One such Monday he picked me up at work and whisked me over to 14th and L so I could have a slice of Korean street food heaven. We ordered and paid for our food (cash only), and went back home to eat. On a nice day you could head up to Thomas Circle or down to Franklin Square to eat outside.

I ordered the bibimbap with spicy beef. Bibimbap is often served in a hot stone pot which allows the rice and egg to keep cooking while you eat. For logistical reasons, the Bulgogi Cart's bibimbap is served in a styrofoam container. I did miss the crunchy bits of rice that stick to the bowl in a serving of stone pot bibimbap, but for street food this was outstanding! The plate consists of carrots, sauteed greens, bean sprouts, kimchee, an egg (over medium, I think), spicy beef, and steamed rice. It comes with a side of Korean bbq sauce, but the meat is so flavorful you won't need much of it. Bibimbap tastes best if you mix it all together and pierce the egg to allow the yolk to mix in with the rice. It's a party in your mouth as the spicy meat and kimchee battle it out with the smooth rice and egg. This ain't your boring brown bag lunch.

B doesn't do eggs so he opted for the spicy beef bulgogi. It's served with lettuce, kimchee, and steamed rice. It's the same awesome spicy beef that was in my bibimbap and the portion is so large you won't be headed to the office vending machine at 3pm. For me, the bibimbap was enough for two large lunches.

Fear not if you don't like spicy food. They also offer a mild version of their chicken and beef.

Having a "case of the Mondays" at work? Get away from that computer and head over to the Bulgogi Cart for something different. You'll never look at those hot dog carts the same way again.

Second Thoughts from B

At its core, it is beef on rice in styrofoam. So what's the big deal, right? Wrong. To confuse the 14th and L Bulgogi Cart for run-of-the-mill street food is like confusing Chef Boyardee for Chef Mario Batali. Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration, but you get the point.

We recently returned from a wedding in Oregon and while there, we got a chance to sample the street food carts of Portland shortly after they were featured in Bon Appetit magazine. Using that as a frame of reference (The Original Schnitzelwich from Monika and Karel Vitek's Tábor street cart was the real deal!), I can unequivocally say that DC's best stack up quite nicely with others from around the country (Exhibit A: the fojol bros. of merlindia which you can read about here). Please note that I said "DC's best" because many of DC's other carts are rather pedestrian.

So yes, it is still is beef on rice in styrofoam but it is also fresh cooked ethnic food that is served with a smile. Add in the fact that it is quick and huge ($15 got us enough food for 3 meals) and maybe this is like the Iron Chef of street vendors.


Karena said...

I LOVE the Korean cart! Haven't been in a few months b/c it's SO, I hate stinking up the office ;) I usually go with the spicy beef bulgogi and have been curious about the bibimbap. One of my favorite things about restaurant bibimbap are the little crunchy rice bits from the stone bowl, but if the flavors of the yellow cart bibimbap are legit, I'm willing to sacrifice a little crunch :)

Hooray for spreading the yellow cart love!

J said...

Karena, it's definitely a different style bibimbap than the stone bowl kind but if you usually get the spicy beef bulgogi I think you'd like the bibimbap because it's the beef plus fun extras. I learned quickly how this can stink up the office when I reheated my leftovers. I think people were secretly jealous of my food though :)