Three bites into the Bibimbap from Num-Nums Food Cart, and I had already declared it one of the best food carts in town. Relatively new, Num-Nums opened two months ago, on Armistice Day, November 11—and adds an important, previously missing piece to the food scene in Bend: Korean food.
As we pulled into the small lot off Century Drive, the smoky smells emanating from the cart were enticing. Unlike the more common Chinese food, which encompasses a wide swath of rice dishes, or Thai food, with its emphasis on noodles and fiery spices, or even Vietnamese, with its pho soups and French-inspired sandwiches, Korean dishes are a unique flavor palate, often a balance of smoky and sweet.
Kimchi is probably the best-known Korean dish. Like cole slaw for Texas barbecue, the kimchi at Num-Nums was doled out in tiny scoops for most of the dishes we ordered, and was crunchy, zinging with spice; less vinegary than often served, it was bright and soothing.
We ordered four dishes—and what most stood out was how they each were a tossed salad of spicy, sweet and pickled, yet held together by a sum-greater-than-its-parts: The side dishes and various ingredients had common and complimentary flavors that created a pleasant balance.
The Bibimbap is a sort of greatest hits of Korean foods, and the container was so filled to the brim that it took support from both hands to make sure the box didn't sag and flop. With a fried egg on top, the meal was a collection of sesame-encrusted cucumber, barbecued beef, and a wilted spinach tucked into the corner that popped with rice vinegar sweetness.
On a teriyaki chicken dish, spicy bean sprouts lay alongside tart pickled carrots and cold teriyaki potatoes that were browned with a sesame-heavy marinade and dusted with black and white sesame seeds that made them taste almost candied.
The short ribs were crispy and tender with a sweet and spicy, sticky barbecue sauce.
"That needs to be in a restaurant," declared our accounts manager Kayja Buhmann. With the array of novel dishes and flavors, it is easy to see how Num-Nums could easily jump from a startup food cart to a full-time restaurant.
But not everything was eye-popping amazing. The vegetarian option was a Korean vegetable pancake filled with potatoes and zucchini, sliced into strips and laid atop a generous helping of white rice. The pancakes were savory and slightly spicy with a doughy, eggy texture—good, but not remarkable. Even so, the uniqueness of the dishes still makes Num-Nums stand out as a recent, and top, addition to the nascent food cart scene in Bend.