1st Yellow Vendor
Read Queenedix’s previous reviews here.
For those of you who remember the dark days when chicken curry was merely a glimmer in a Fojol’s eye and food carts in D.C. almost exclusively served reheated half-smokes alongside “FBI” t-shirts, you might recall a small yellow cart run by a mother-son team that parked at 15th and L and served Korean food. This cart, the Original Gangster of D.C. food trucks, first appeared in 2007 and seems to have bred a curious phenomenon—in a city without many duplicative competing food truck concepts, there are at least 4 different trucks in the Greater D.C. area focusing on Korean cuisine. Even more intriguing—two of the carts, Yellow Vendor and 1st Yellow Vendor, are often assumed to be related but are actually in fierce competition with one another, and have taken to Twitter repeatedly to make it clear they are NOT affiliated…although their trucks, names, and serving methods are nearly identical. I can’t help but suspect there’s more of a connection, probably even a familial one, which makes the competition between these trucks especially interesting.
Given that this many similar trucks are in business, I decided to investigate the seemingly booming bulgogi market. Since we’ll be taking next week off for Thanksgiving, I reviewed not one or two, but three different Korean trucks in the Ultimate Bulgogi Battle. I checked out the bulgogi/chicken combo, spicy combo, and kimchi at AZNEats, Yellow Vendor, and 1st Yellow Vendor to determine the best option for your next Korean craving.
1st Yellow Vendor
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Bulgogi is a great example of simple comfort food—it’s traditionally made by marinating meat in soy, sesame, and garlic and cooking it on an open flame or grill. Based on this, you would think there wouldn’t be much difference among the carts that serve bulgogi—there couldn’t be that many ways to make, or screw up, bulgogi, right? Wrong. In my tasting trials, the Yellow Vendor (owned by a young man I recognized as the son-half of the OG Korean cart) is easily the best in the game. The chicken and beef were both tender and moist and had great flavor—you could taste the sweetness, the umami from the soy sauce, and the richness of sesame oil. Orders are $7 and come with salad, dressed in a light, slightly sweet sesame vinaigrette dressing, and kimchi. The kimchi at Yellow Vendor is not perfect, but is easily better than the other versions I tried—tangy, slightly spicy, and sour from fermentation, with bright red chili paste to give punch. The owner, Andy Kim, is cheerful and spirited as he serves. I also love that he and his truck-mate are cooking the bulgogi right there on the truck, making spicy versions to-order. The food tastes fresher and hasn’t had time to dry out, where other versions I tried did. My only complaint is that my rice was slightly overcooked, and was sort of mushy when sauce was added.
AZN Eats was a close second for bulgogi, but wasn’t quite there. They only offer beef bulgogi and the meat was chopped unevenly, so larger pieces were really dried out although the rest was juicy. The flavor was pretty much just sweet—tasting AZN Eats next to Yellow Vendor showed a major different in depth of flavor. AZN Eats serves smaller portions than the other trucks, and is slightly more expensive at $8, but orders do come with steamed vegetables. I was initially hesitant, assuming I would be eating mushy pre-frozen veggies, but they actually had crispness and bite and were well-seasoned with garlic, salt, and pepper. They are definitely frozen or from a packaged blend but I did appreciate broccoli, cauliflower, and orange and yellow carrots as a break from the other trucks. The kimchi was disappointing—I didn’t find it had much tartness, spice, or flavor at all.
1st Yellow Vendor, unfortunately, fell to the bottom of the list (and not just with bulgogi). I tried this truck with friends who each ordered something different, including the bibimbap. The chicken and beef were both extremely dry and lacked flavor, and the kimchi was extremely salty—and not spicy or tart at all. The salad was covered in a dressing that tasted like straight vinegar—my first bite resulted in a choked cough as a result. At $8, the portions are comparable to Yellow Vendor (and served the same way) but really disappointing overall, especially given how friendly the people working the truck were to every customer. Looking back over my notes, the only positive comment I wrote was, “Rice is well-cooked.” That pretty much sums it up.
In short, if you’re in the mood for Korean, seek out the young man from the OG yellow food cart at Yellow Vendor, and check out the spicy version if you’re game—it is really delicious. I definitely like the menu at AZN Eats (spoiler alert: full review to come soon) but I don’t think their bulgogi is anything special. As for 1st Yellow Vendor, don’t bother stopping by and DON’T mistake them for Yellow Vendor—you might be stepping in the middle of a telenovela-caliber food truck blood feud.