Café Duke, Give Us Our Bulgogi Tacos!

At last... bulgogi taco

Café Duke is such a tease. Ever since initial reports that bulgogi tacos were being haphazardly offered as a daily special at their Korean entrée counter, I’ve been fascinated by these tacos. After all, Bann Next Door took on the Korean taco concept and hit a home run, so I don’t see why Café Duke couldn’t replicate this success (and it’s a few avenues closer to work.) Besides, assembling a competent Korean taco is laughably easy in concept – just jam Korean meat into a taco (no double entendre intended), and you’re the next Roy Choi.

Café Duke has always been a staple in my weekly lunch rotation, given that it‘s a smorgasbord of wallet friendly options that appease my co-workers’ finicky spectrum of palates. But for weeks, I’ve bolted straight to the back counter, only to see a non-bulgogi taco special coquettishly playing with my emotions. We even sent ML contributor, Jeremiah, on a wild goose chase to hunt down these tacos at the 41st Street location, to no avail. However after weeks of speculation, my dumb perseverance and gullibility was finally rewarded.

I came. I saw. I conquered the elusive Café Duke bulgogi taco.

But first, a burrito interlude. During one of my frequent visits, I happened upon the bulgogi burrito special. Though sufficiently plump with bulgogi, rice, and beans, at $8.95 this burrito came unadorned of accompanying sides to contrast the mushy, prosaic heaviness of the burrito. Unlike Tri-Tip Grill’s attempt at a Mexi-Fusion hybrid burrito, this creation is probably worth passing over.

Cafe Duke Bulgogi Burrito

On the other hand, the Café Duke bulgogi tacos ($8.95) are irresistible. During my successful bulgogi taco run, I was happy to receive four sizable tacos, generously packed with bulgogi. In my humble opinion, Café Duke’s bulgogi preparation has always been heavy handed in seasoning – the saltiness, sweetness and spice levels amplified to a nearly disagreeable level. In taco form, the aggressiveness of the bulgogi is tamed by the speckling of crunchy pico de gallo, cooled by the dollop of sour cream, and balanced by the earthiness of the corn tortilla, revising the flavors into a harmonious bite.

Cafe Duke Bulgogi Tacos

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t end on a happy note… yet. I badgered the manager on duty about the availability of their bulgogi tacos and learned that, I kid you not, they set their specials according to the current weather conditions. Milder weather means soup, while Korean tacos apparently pair nicely with the scorcher that New York underwent earlier this week. To Korean taco lovers, control freaks, and lunchers too busy or lazy to check up on Café Duke every day, it is simply unacceptable to leave our lunch at the whims of the weather.

Let this article be a modest proposal, an obliging request, a call to action – the next time any luncher visits either Café Duke location – please beg, plead, and cajole the manager on duty to schedule and publish a weekly menu of specials (and tell ‘em that midtownlunch.com sent ya). It is our right as customers, critics, food lovers, and Midtown Lunch’ers that are frankly too busy at work to deal with this spontaneity.

Let there be order. Let there be reason. Let there be bulgogi tacos!

Cafe Duke, 140 W. 51st. (btw. 6+7th Ave.), 212-445-0010

13 Comments

  • ah, fucknuts. I was hoping to have them for lunch, but now it’s going to be a shitstorm. sigh.

  • I should note that burrito’s are decidedly *not* photogenic.

  • Only Koreans would correlate food and weather. My peeps, you’re killing me.

  • Weather related lunch specials? Screw that!
    I rather eat at Chipotle if they’re getting all finicky with insisting on no tacos when it isn’t balls-sweaty weather. Yes, I said the C-word. :P

  • Maybe I should make them and start selling it outside of my office building…

  • Of course certain foods are tied to the weather. Would you eat cold soba in the winter, or drink stout in our current heatwave?

    • You think the temperature dictates when to drink stout? Do you hold your pinky up when lifting the pint?

      Heh. Amateur.

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    I’m usually lazy but will go today to check out if they have these bulgogi tacos..’tho I did notice a bulgogi rice on their Seamlessweb.com menu – http://www.seamlessweb.com/food-delivery/Cafe-Duke-New-York-City.9152.r

    Am originally a Cali girl. So, am on quest to try ‘em all! :) Does anyone know where else I can find korean tacos in NYC?

    In the meantime, if y’all don’t mind making a lil’ trek out to Williamsburg Bklyn on the L train- Bedford Ave (1st stop out of NYC) , DOKEBI makes 7 mouth-watering varieties under $3 each, served w/ a ton of banchan (side dishes). Check out their all-day HH menu: http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/dokebi-bar-grill/menu

  • Just had some and had to share: overall rating – pretty damn good for takeout lunch. Like the reviewer I’ve had issues with Duke’s bulgogi – it’s overtly sweet and the texture (due to over-marinating?) is pretty grainy. It falls apart in your mouth. And not in the melt-in-your-mouth way. The “pico de gallo” is basically red onions and tomatoes chopped up. They add some chopped up kimchi which has been blanched to the bulgogi for added flavor and texture but imho, the best way to eat this baby is to go whole hog and add both the “salsa”, a hard-to-describe not spicy or salty addition and the kimchi. I’ve always thought Duke has some legit kimchi for a takeout joint. Trust me, add the stupid kimchi with the salsa and all will be right in the world.

  • Just a heads up ppl, they’re selling tacos today at the 51st st location.

  • For the record, I drink stout year round regardless of the weather.

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