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Twitter chase to hottest dining spots

  • Story Highlights
  • Rain or shine, Kogi fans wait in line to dine in parking lots at night
  • Two Kogi trucks with Korean-Mexican fusion food roam streets of Los Angeles
  • Customers follow tweets on Twitter to find the current location of trucks
  • Tacos cost $2, and burritos, sliders and kimchi quesadillas cost $5
By Sara Weisfeldt
CNN
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Finding one of the newest hot spots for dining in Los Angeles may require Twittering and a GPS, because the locations of the Kogi trucks are always changing.

Some Kogi fans perfer sharing a multicourse Kogi meal in the privacy of their car.

A hungry crowd gathers one night around a Kogi truck in Los Angeles.

"We were like the first ones here, and we didn't know. It's gotta be somewhere around here, so we went around for a good 20 minutes trying to find the place. But we heard the tacos were insanely good," said Robert Rabis, who was dining with his wife, Tiffany Tang.

Those mouth-watering tacos are a fusion of Korean and Mexican food and are served from two company trucks that have drawn a devoted following over six months. Word from those satisfied mouths and the social network Twitter has people lining up at the trucks for up to two hours.

First-time Kogi customer Rabis said it was worth the wait. Video Watch how even celebs love the food »

"Plus all of my co-workers are going to know about it. They want to know the new 'in' thing. The whole hospital staff is going to know by tomorrow when I get to work, and they'll be sure to go on the Internet trying to find the next location," he said.

Two Kogi trucks, named Verde and Roja, roam the streets of the Los Angeles area from noon until about 2 a.m. Kogi co-founder Caroline Shin-Manguera sometimes has a hard time wrapping her head around their success.

"It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. We make our people wait in line for two hours, and we make them wait in the rain, and we don't give them chairs to sit on, we don't take reservations, we're late half the time, but we must be doing something right."

It may be the fresh gourmet food at low prices during a recession.

Katherine Clouet, a 20-something who drove 30 minutes in Los Angeles traffic and waited about an hour in line, likes the prices. "You go to a restaurant, you're going to spend at least 20 bucks. It's only $2 for tacos. I mean so that's great."

Kogi frontman Mark Manguera, who has worked in some of L.A.'s most prestigious restaurants, came up with the idea for Kogi while hungry after a late night out. A small group friends pitched in to make this small business a booming success.

The trucks offer customers reasonably priced fare: tacos for $2, and burritos, sliders and kimchi quesadillas for $5.

One of Manguera's friends, chef Roy Choi, creates the recipes; another friend, Eddie Gonzales, manages the operation; and his sister-in-law, Alice Shin, handles the tweets from across the country in New York.

Choi trained at the Culinary Institute of America and cooked at places like Le Bernardin in New York and Trader Vics in Los Angeles before jumping into the taco truck business.

His recipe for success is mixing great ingredients with his passion for good food.

"So if it starts with that love and that passion, it's got to be great no matter what it is. Now you pair that with great natural beef, short ribs, all-natural pork, all-natural chicken, pure sesame, pure sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, scallions. Everything made fresh every day, marinating overnight."

The company launched in November 2008 with one truck and basically had no customers, so the owners ate the tacos themselves. Today, they have more than 25,500 followers on Twitter, and they can't even estimate how many people they feed a day.

Choi says the goal is to "serve the best possible food for the cheapest price, and just try to get rid of everything you have, and you made everything fresh that day."

Dining from the trucks late at night can be a community or family affair.

"There's sometimes 600-1,000 people in the street. Sometimes they wait for us even before we get there. Sometimes late at night, even midnight, they bring their 2-year-old, 3-year-old, 4-year-old kids and they wait in line," notes Choi.

Clouet was pleased with her first Kogi experience and says it's "something to do. Ya know, to spend an hour of your life in line and mingle with people. You've never seen these people before, but they're here for the same reason."

Locations can change at the last minute, so diners better have a phone or BlackBerry with them so they're not standing in some parking lot by themselves waiting for nothing.

Some parking lot owners welcome Kogi, and others do not, but the chef simply takes it all in stride.

"I look at our food as graffiti, ya know, so like some people look at graffiti as a beautiful thing, some people think that it's a menace to society, ya know. I think it's the same thing with Kogi. Some people embrace us, enjoy our food, invite us into their places and their parking lots; some people look at us as a menace."

One song was commissioned by a customer who is wild about Kogi.

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The Kogi folks have high hopes of expanding, but they want to do it carefully. They rent the two original trucks from a friend, and in a few weeks, two more trucks will be in circulation in Southern California.

Shin-Manguera, who handles the finances, says, "We're looking actively to do a location in New York as kind of one of our goals at the moment. We got a huge response from New York and the New York market wanting us to be out there. Hopefully, a couple of the other major cities. And in the far future, possibly internationally to certain different countries."

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