Kim Jong Grillin' went down the same year as its namesake. In 2011, on the same night it won a judge's choice award as the favorite food cart at Willamette Week's Eat Mobile festival, Han Ly Hwang's cart caught on fire and had to be shut. But just like Jong-il, Grillin' is "immortal as sun," undergoing a rebirth on Southeast Division Street in early August.
The menu should be familiar to fans of the original; if anything, it's even more focused on the hits. The hot dog ($6) is still a toasted baguette from Binh Minh Bakery delivering one mighty foot of meaty Sabrett snap, pickled mango sweetness and daikon kimchee spice. Which is to say, it's one of the best dogs in town—an All-American three-way rolling in flavors from Korea and colonial Vietnam.
But it's not even the best thing on the menu. Get the bibim box ($10), which is exactly what it sounds like: a box of bibimbap, with your choice of chicken, pork, or beef bulgogi or short ribs. The cart's marinated bulgogi is both charred and tender, and drenched in umami-rich soy flavor. Throw in a perfectly sunny-side-up egg flavored with the still-new grill burnt into its edges, and a handful of light-as-air spicy kimchee, and you've got one of the best Korean plates this side of Beaverton. The kalbi (short ribs) likewise are excellent. The only miss on the menu is a too-dry lettuce wrap ($4) that could do with the option to add the same gochujang sauce spicing up the bibim box.
Ly Hwang might have gotten edged out by fellow Portland cart cook Nong Poonsukwattana on the Food Channel's Chopped this year, but apparently the show gave him the kick in the butt he needed to finally get back in the truck. It's perhaps the first positive thing reality television has ever done for America.
- Order this: Bibim box with bulgogi ($10) or hot dog ($6).
EAT: Kim Jong Grillin', 4606 SE Division St., 929-0522. Noon-8 pm daily.