We were immediately glad we had done so. The menu looked great and featured several obvious vegetarian options. After a brief chat with the friendly window staff – during which we learned that we had stumbled upon the truck’s “soft opening” – we ordered three of them: Mandu (Korean dumplings), Kim Bap (Korean sushi roll), and Rice & Kimchi with marinated mushrooms. I realized after we had ordered that the lettuce wraps and Korean chile cheese fries could also be made with mushrooms instead of meat, leaving the spicy pork tacos as the only non-veggie-friendly item on the menu. There was even a vegan kimchi option (kimchi usually has fish sauce and/or dried fish or shrimp in it): dandelion kimchi.
(By the way, in case you missed it, they have Korean chile-cheese fries – fries topped with green chile, cheese, kimchi, and your choice of beef or mushrooms. Does that sound amazing or what? A nice patron offered to let me try his when he saw me staring, and I regret to this very moment that I was too shy to take him up on the offer.)
The dumplings, which are available fried or steamed (we got them fried on staff recommendation), were beautifully done to crisp perfection. The golden wrappers cradled a light filling of glass noodles and vegetables. To those used to Chinese pork dumplings, they might seem a little too light, but their elegance is part of their appeal. A simple soy dipping sauce kept them from seeming underseasoned. We inhaled them and waited eagerly for the next course.
After a bit of a wait – it was, after all, their first day, and they had a number of orders in – we received our Kim Bap and Rice & Kimchi, both served in classic paper boats. We had chosen the dandelion kimchi on our rice – never heard of such a thing before, so of course we had to choose it – and it was very good. I had feared it would be bitter, but it wasn’t. The dandelion was delightfully crunchy and accented well by the hot, salty, sweet pepper paste that clung to it. A half-dozen meaty mushrooms completed a very satisfying trio. I have just one complaint, which is that the perfectly cooked rice had a tendency to stick to the paper lining of the boat, making it impossible to eat every single grain like we wanted to.
And last, the Kim Bap. In theory I love Kim Bap – a variety of vegetables rolled in rice and nori, fresh and uncomplicated – but in practice it often comes out bland and boring. Not here. The element that raised this to the best Kim Bap I’ve ever had was the house-pickled daikon. Crunchy, tart, and lively, it complemented everything else and really elevated the roll to “I don’t want to eat this last bite because then it will be all gone” status. This despite the fact that the roll was not just delicious, it was also huge.
I can’t wait to try Soo Bak again on a meat week. I bet those spicy pork tacos and marinated short ribs are incredible. They also have a daily special – sometimes it’s kimchi stew, and apparently sometimes they branch out from Korean to other cuisines. Given the owner-operator’s early childhood in Germany and international travel, I don’t doubt they come up with some great and interesting specials.
Check out the menu on Soo Bak’s website, and like them on Facebook to keep up with their schedule; the truck seems to hang out most often at Tractor and Free Radicals (a ridiculously cool clothing store on Yale), but they also hit Talin, Marble, La Cumbre, and Anodyne.