Flatiron Lunch: KalBQ Serves Decent Korean Tacos
Every Friday our man UltraClay goes south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch. This week Brian H. is stepping in for Clay…
Back in August, Clay got a sneak peek at KalBQ, located inside the Atomic Wings on Lexington bw 23rd and 24th Street. Now that it’s been around for a few months, we thought it was time to check out some of the food and see how it stacks up against some of the other Korean fusion options out there.
I’ve only tried Korean tacos from food trucks, so I was excited to actually eat them sitting down for once. The atmosphere here is total fast food dive and the smell of hot sauce from the spicy wings pervaded the air. I almost decided to forgo the Korean food and get down and dirty with some atomic wings. Instead I checked out the KalBQ menu, which features traditional Korean platters of kalbi, bulgogi, or grilled tofu; a selection of bibim rice bowls; and a handful of ramen noodles. Yet I was most excited by their Korean Mexican fusion items – namely the tacos, sliders, and quesadillas.
The menu stumped me a little because nothing sounded big enough for lunch. The cashier recommended four tacos for a good size meal – that would come out to a total of $12 before tax. Looked like I wasn’t going to get out of here without exceeding the ML limit. I ordered a Kimchi Taco, a Ssäm Steak Taco, and some sliders. It seemed like I would need all that to be full and I decided to splurge in order to try as much as possible.
As I ordered, the cashier asked me a series of ridiculous questions. “Do you want cheese?” “Do you want kimchi?” “Should I put on the sauce?” He explained to me he had to ask specific questions with each order and he thought it was as weird and silly as I did. He seemed embarrassed to have to go through this whole ordeal. I was impressed when the same guy came by to check on my meal and asked for feedback. It may have been the best customer service I’ve ever had at a fast food restaurant. Either that or he was suspicious because I was taking photos of the tacos.
I ended up having more food than I expected. The kimchi taco (I picked chicken) was much larger than most tacos. Instead of two small tortillas, this was wrapped with a single larger one. It was easier to eat but I think it took away from the flavors of the stuff inside. The chicken was on the dry side and lacked strong flavor. It was topped with pretty good kimchi, some cheddar cheese, and their secret taco sauce, which was really a smoky aioli of sorts. It reminded me of Korilla’s signature korilla sauce, but with less complexity and a stronger mayonnaise aftertaste.
The sliders were also bigger than the name implies. They came two to an order for $7, which probably would not be quite enough on their own for lunch, but could work with an extra taco. The sweet and soft buns reminded me of the ones they use at White Castle. The first slider contained bulgogi, which was pretty tender and well-seasoned, but didn’t have much spiciness or sweetness. The spicy pork slider fared better with a spicy red sauce and nice chunks of pork. Both had a generous helping of crunchy kimchi and shreds of cheddar cheese. They were by no means difficult to eat.
The Ssäm Steak Taco was a little more difficult to eat – literally. It was impossible to pick this up with my hands without losing all the ingredients. Instead of a tortilla, it’s wrapped in lettuce and a sesame leaf. I had never even heard of a sesame leaf before, but its citrus tang reminded me of shiso. Upon further research, it turns out they’re the same leaf! The kalbi was cut into cubes and I found it a little tough. Although flavorwise, I thought this was the most successful, with a nice balance of sweet and spicy. The carb-less taco was garnished with what I believe was Asian pear slices, which added a nice fresh crunch.
It might be possible to get your fill of the food here at under $10, but it’s a shame you can’t mix and match items. Overall, I thought the Korean Mexican dishes were decent. I do prefer the slightly more refined versions from Korilla BBQ and Kimchi Truck, but here you won’t have to wait in enormous lines, which is a nice change of pace.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Surprisingly great customer service
- Korean tacos without the line!
- Pretty good flavors and filling
- The portion sizes are bigger than expected
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Some of the meat is tough and dry
- This is fast food, but at slightly expensive prices
- Not spicy enough
- The smell of spicy wings gets in the way
KalBQ, 36 Lexington Ave, between 23rd and 24th Streets