Review: Kalbi Taco Shack on Cherokee Street

The aptly named Kalbi Taco Shack on Cherokee Street’s Antique Row is a no-frills operation. But that’s not a mark against it – the casual setup reveals a focus on the Asian-Mexican fare coming out of the kitchen. Both the adored cuisines are craveably combined with a variety of meats, gooey cheese, fresh vegetables and condiments both creamy and fiery in choose-your-own adventure dishes.

banh mi at kalbi taco shack // photo by david kovaluk

Banh Mi
I’ll scarf down any banh mi, that happiest of marriages between Vietnamese and French influences. That said, Kalbi’s didn’t disappoint. This delicious sandwich starts with a crispy baguette with a soft, chewy interior. I tried mine with the sweet and spicy pork. Like most of the meat options here, it was fairly standard – I wouldn’t have minded a heavier hit of heat – but the meat was layered with vegetables and condiments, resulting in a medley of tastes and textures. Sliced cucumbers, daikon radish and sweet pickled carrots provided a cooling, satisfying crunch, while spicy jalapeno slices were counterbalanced by Kalbi’s signature aioli, a creamy, garlicky sauce laced with a hint of Sriracha. 

My first thought upon biting into Kalbi’s burrito: This would be hangover heaven. A flour tortilla, grilled just enough to give it a slight crunch, is stuffed with your choice of protein, along with jasmine rice, Jack and cheddar cheeses, pickled carrots, romaine, cilantro, sour cream and aioli. I went with teriyaki chicken, which was as unnoteworthy as the pork. Still, the other ingredients combined to such addicting effect that the burrito would be worth ordering with any menu choice. I loved that it’s hefty enough to satisfy, but not so overstuffed that you can’t pick it up. Each bite delivers a little bit of everything.

short rib rice bowl // photo david kovaluk

Rice Bowls
Essentially a burrito minus the tortilla, Kalbi’s rice bowl packs plenty of ingredients into one cohesive dish. I chose the beef short ribs (kalbi in Korean), which ended up being the best meat on offer with deep, sweet-umami flavor. The ribs, along with jasmine rice and a fried egg provided bulk and richness, while romaine lettuce, sweet pickled carrots and radish lightened things up. Like all good bowls, a lot of elements are at play here: soft, snappy, rich, refreshing, sweet and spicy. Be sure to top it off with a drizzle of sweet and spicy chile sauce to pull the whole dish together with heat and tang.

jackfruit tacos at kalbi taco shack // photo by david kovaluk

Kalbi Taco’s namesakes are hardly revolutionary, but craveworthy nonetheless. Corn or flour tortillas are topped simply with a crisp, punchy Asian slaw and Kalbi aioli and served with a lime wedge. The rich beef short rib provided a tantalizing counterpoint to the cooling slaw, creamy aioli and tart lime. The jackfruit, marinated in a sweet and spicy sauce, was reminiscent of pulled pork – a worthy addition to the vegetarian offerings.

The Downside
I was less wowed by the quesadilla. Already filled with Jack and cheddar cheeses, including both sour cream and Kalbi aioli was overkill. The addition of some vegetables would have helped lighten things up.

Kalbi Taco Shack
2301 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.240.5544,