Korean-Mexican fusion hits Lower Manhattan

From Korea Daily:

The Korean food business is evolving. The menu is no longer limited to authentic Korean food such as Bulgogi, Bibimbap or Galbi. Instead, it embraces a new concept of fast food for Americans who are health-conscious and looking for something new.

Kimchi Fried Rice Diners now have access to a variety of Korean fast foods like Bulgogi Kimchi tacos and burritos, Kimchi-bacon fried rice, Kim-cheese-steak, and BBQ nachos.

Korean restaurant business models have also expanded from traditional restaurants to fast food trucks and takeout restaurants.

Basically, you don’t need to go to Koreatown anymore to have Korean food. Food trucks like Korilla ignited the Korean fast food craze and expanded the base of Korean food lovers. Now, the first Korean fast food restaurant in the New York metropolitan area just opened in Lower Manhattan. Many more Korean takeouts are expected to come in 2012 to help globalize Korean food.

The Korean takeout restaurant, Kortako, opened its doors on Dec. 5, selling Korean-Mexican fusion-type street food, such as tacos and burritos popular with Americans, to residents and office workers on Wall Street. At the 1000 square foot takeout shop with eight seats, you can enjoy Bulgogi, Kimchi, Dakgalbi (spicy chicken) and Jehyook (spicy pork) in the form of taco, burrito, rice bowl, sandwich or noodle salad.

“As the first Korean takeout in the New York area, we wanted to differentiate ourselves from regular taco places by highlighting that we make Korean tacos and we used the word ‘tako’ instead of ‘taco’ in the name of the store,” said Raymond Cho, co-owner of Kortako. “Our strength is that we sell the new concept of healthy fast food at the same place so that people know where to come for Korean fast food all the time. That is quite a difference from food trucks that move around.”

All meat seasonings at Kortako are made in Korean style. Bulgogi mayo, mixed Bulgogi seasoning with mayonnaise, is one of the popular dressings for sandwiches. Since the joint opened, around 200-250 customers visit the shop every day and 95% of the clientele is non-Korean, with strong ethnic diversity.

“We are in the middle of making a new dressing based on Doenjang, fermented soybean paste,” said Cho. “We are now using Mexican food format, which Americans are quite familiar with, to promote the Korean food first. But I believe that there is a good chance that the non-Koreans who have experienced Korean tacos will try the authentic Korean food, which will lead to a big increase in the number of non-Koreans who  become fans of the national food.”

Another interesting thing with Kortako is non-Koreans also see the potential for growth of the Korean food industry and willingly invest in the business. “I love Bibimbap,” said Andy Lau, the Chinese co-owner of Kortako. “Korean food is well-being food with great taste and I think there is a good chance the Korean food business will prosper soon. It’s only a matter of how you present it.” Lau also owns BonChon Chicken on John Street.

More Korean takeouts will follow in the New Year. Several Korean food trucks, which have become a New York City sensation, are preparing to open takeouts.

Bulgogi Kimchi TacoKorilla BBQ, the first Korean food truck in the New York area, plans to open its first takeout restaurant this coming April in Midtown. “We are currently laying ideas for the interior design,” said co-owner Eddie Song. “We are targeting office workers but catering will be an important part of the restaurant too.”

Kimchi Taco is expected to open a 1000 square foot takeout restaurant in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn in February. “Based on popularity and the name recognition of the food truck, I felt the need to take it to the next level to serve more customers,” said Phillip Lee, owner of Kimchi Taco.

The effort to get more Americans exposed to diverse Korean food also continues.

Lee has recently added a couple of new menu items to introduce more Korean food to his clients. “About a week ago, we started serving Yukgaejang, a hot spicy meat stew with lime and crispy tortillas, and the response of our customers is good,” he said. “The skewered fried rice cake with sugar on top, which we introduced as a Korean dessert two weeks ago, is also getting good feedback.”

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