Han Ly Hwang may be best known as the dude whose Korean food cart burned to smithereens just two hours after claiming the Judges Award at the 2011’s Eat Mobile festival. His Kim Jong Grillin’—possibly the best-named cart ever, with addictive Korean street food to match—was toast. Hwang disappeared like a blown-out match.
Last summer, after three years off the grid and two proudly fought battles on the Food Network’s Chopped, Hwang and his award-winning bulgogi and righteous Korean hot dog resurfaced in a cart parked at Southeast 46th Avenue and Division Street. Almost overnight, Kim Jong Grillin’ vaulted back into the top run of Portland’s food-cart scene.
Now, at last, the talented Hwang is stretching. A second Kim Jong Grillin’ cart just opened at 5427 NE 42 St, next door to the popular Mexican chicken spot, Pollo Norte. It’s the inaugural cart for the new 42nd Avenue Food Carts pod, which plans to hold six carts eventually.
On Southeast Division, Hwang is an outlier, with no street-food tribe to support his food vision, which is handed over in a take-out box, to be devoured in your car—or wherever you can find squatting rights.
The new Northeast location is the West Hills, by comparison, with covered picnic tables and soon, the OLCC gods permitting, beer, available from Pollo Norte. Meanwhile, another idea is simmering: by fall, Hwang hopes to serve Korean hot pots for two at the pod’s outdoor tables.
For now, both carts serve the same small menu: those Korean wonder dogs (Olympia Provisions franks doused in spice, funk, smoke, and pickled mangos) and a heavy-enough-to-bench-press box of bulgogi nestled with jicama slaw, blanched mung bean sprouts, fresh kimchi, and choice of meat, pork butt to short ribs (the wise get a combo).
The Division Street location will eventually have its own specialty: Korean fried chicken. Hwang just purchased a more spacious, updated cart with a semi-real kitchen, a freezer and a deep fryer. He’s lab-testing one of the foods of his youth: the juicy, super-crunchy chicken he used to inhale with his uncles in Daegu, south of Seoul, served with little more than daikon pickles.
Hwang’s next experiment is a collaborative dinner on July 30 with Woodsman Tavern chef Andrew Gregory: a Korean/Southern American BBQ dinner at Roman Candle Bakery. Among the offerings: homemade bugogi sausage, smoked and fried Korean chicken wings, and Hwang’s new gochujang salt to rim punch glasses. Expect cafeteria-style seating, just like a “meat and three sides” Southern barbecue house. “I’ve always wanted to do a Double Seoul Food menu like this,” says Hwang. “I get bored in the confines of my trucks. I like to jump to other kitchens, just do what I like. It keeps me sane.”
Kim Jong Grillin’
SE 46th and Division St.
Open daily, noon to 8 pm
Kim Jong Grillin’ NE
5427 NE 42nd Ave
Open daily, noon to 8 pm (except Sunday, closes at 6 pm)
Korean-Southern BBQ Dinner
July 30, 3377 SE Division St
Seatings at 5:30 pm, 7:30 pm, 9:30 pm