While the food truck craze has perhaps died down some in other parts of the country, financial and legislative obstacles have stunted progress here, which means we’re just starting to really see the best of what local chefs/food entrepreneurs have to offer.
Roks Tacos seems to have come out of nowhere. The truck made its debut on campus in only a little over a week ago and has already established a more-or-less set schedule featuring lunch, dinner, and late night times, mostly in Downtown Champaign. This impresses me. Sometimes new food truck endeavors don’t have the capacity or staff or finances to make a schedule and stick to it, especially early on.
Roks Tacos serves Korean BBQ style tacos. This is not a particularly novel invention, especially because Roy Choi, a pioneer of food truck mania, launched his Korean BBQ taco truck in Los Angeles in 2008. Better late than never, I say. While there are a few places around here you can get some beef bulgogi, there aren’t any places you can get beef bulgogi tacos. Until now.
The menu at Roks Tacos is small. There are only six options: four different tacos, a flight of those four tacos, kimchi fried rice balls, and soda. (Kimchi is also available as a taco topping for $1.) The tacos are $4 each (this week they’re $3.50 — a customer appreciation special), and a flight of four are $10. The flight tacos are slightly smaller, or at least contain slightly smaller portions per taco. All tacos are served on white corn tortillas.
The What Up Field (aka Bulgogi Taco) contains beef bulgogi, cucumber, lettuce, pickled radish, and is finished with Roks spicy sauce and sesame seeds. I’ve had this taco twice already; it’s definitely one of my favorites. On both occasions, the meat has been well cooked and tender. It was incredibly well seasoned, with the signature sweetness of the bulgogi marinade pronounced. The pickling on the radish was quite subtle, but combined with the cucumber, the vegetables provided a refreshing crisp crunch to the tender/chewy meat and soft tortilla. The Roks spicy sauce was tangy and spicy, and complemented the sweetness of the meat well. The lettuce was green and fresh — no limp and lifeless iceberg — but the pieces were kind of large and over powered the more delicious components of the taco. Also, the spicy sauce was drizzled over the top of the taco, which meant that it was more or less drizzled on the lettuce. This was great because the sauce didn’t cause the tortilla to get all soggy, but bad because the spicy sauce was stuck to the lettuce that either fell off the taco, or stuck to my face. Spicy sauce on the skin? Not so great.
The Ace-Deuce (aka Spicy Pork Taco) is essentially the same as the bulgogi, but with spicy pork instead of sweet beef. The Ace-Deuce is also one of my favorites on the menu. The spicy pork was exactly that — spicy. It was tender and perfectly bite sized. The toppings were again bright and fresh and helped to cool the spicy pork and drizzle of spicy sauce.
The Hi-Lo (aka Pork Katsu taco) features fried pork tenderloin topped with hot mustard pickled cabbage and katsu sauce. Of the four tacos on the menu, this one looked the most different. The slaw on top contained carrots and cabbage — there wasn’t any green lettuce covering the golden, fried pork. Texture took a front seat to dynamic flavor combination. The tenderloin was very thin and crispy; it wasn’t very meaty or porky in flavor. The crispy, fried texture was really great with the crunchy slaw, but the creamy mustard sauce tied all of those textures and flavors together.
clockwise, from top left:pork belly, pork katsu, spicy pork, beef bulgogi
I’m going to venture a guess that the most popular taco thus far has been the Fire Bet (aka Pork Belly Taco). Because pork belly. Crispy pork belly topped with grilled scallions, lettuce, and spicy sauce was much in line with the What Up Field and the Ace-Deuce (way to make the most of a short list of ingredients!). The sharpness of the grilled scallions cut through the richness of the pork belly. The pork belly, though, wasn’t particularly fatty, which was great. There was some greasiness from the fat, but it wasn’t dripping out of the other end of the taco — everything was nicely lubricated.
After eating both full sized and the sampler sized tacos, I found the full sized tacos to be just a little bit overfilled and although very generous, it caused the tortilla to break down some under the weight. It might be worth the Roks folks considering a different tortilla, the double-tortilla, or a different way of preparing and warming the tortilla. So diners, ask for a fork. And extra napkins.
The tacos were all great (save for my comment above), but I was totally taken by the kimchi fried rice balls ($5 for five). These rice balls had kimchi mixed in, which made them spicy and just a little tangy. The rice was perfectly cooked and the balls were fried to perfection: crispy and golden on the outside with hot insides. The balls come with a spicy mayo squirted across the top. The mayo was indeed spicy, but tempered by the creamy tang of mayo. I don’t think the balls need the sauce, and since I don’t like mayo anyway, I will order my balls without sauce. At $5 for five huge balls, they might best deal in terms of amount of food to price — the balls are pretty big.
Roks Tacos’ menu is small but mighty. The four tacos and the kimchi balls are really tasty, and a welcome addition to the ever-growing food truck options in C-U. Prices are on the higher side for local tacos, but the portions seem to be a little bigger. If you’re picking up lunch, I recommend getting the sampler; it’s a good amount of food for the money.
For information on where to find Roks Tacos, follow the truck on Facebook or Twitter, or check out the website (which has thus far been regularly updated). Its Instagram feed has mouth-watering photos. The Customer Appreciation Week $3.50 taco special is valid through May 30th, 2015.
All photos by Jessica Hammie.