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Culture Entrepreneurship Film/Television Food Trucks Hit-Or-Miss

How Getting Fired Reignited Roy Choi’s Flame For Cooking and Lead To The Kogi Truck’s Success

Famed Los Angeles-based chef Roy Choi was a recent guest on Talib Kweli’s burgeoning podcast “People’s Party.” They discussed a range of topics which included Choi’s upbringing, hip-hop’s contribution to his culinary journey, as well as the importance of community. Likening the overly-corporatized world of food to that of music industry major labels, it took being fired from celebrity hot-spot Rock Sugar to reignite Choi’s flame for cooking. He recalled his sudden “writer’s block” while preparing for the restaurant’s opening:

“I became a deer in headlights [everything], almost like I had amnesia. I woke up and couldn’t remember almost everything I was very proficient at. Like if you were to wake up and not know how to rhyme.”

Choi’s dismissal was a blessing in disguise, resulting in a slew of successful independent ventures like Chego!, A-Frame, Commissary, POT, LocoL and well-known catalyst Kogi BBQ. That’s Kogi with a “hard G,” by the way. Shedding the corporate chains allowed Choi to engage his dormant creative spirit. It also helped to inspire an evolution in the food world, with many others following suit into the great food truck unknown

What separated this new school of culinary adventure seekers was the ability to reconnect with the everyday person. An industry once divided between fine dining and mom and pop spots was now experiencing a renaissance as fantastic fusions entered the fray. This freshly found zeal flooded the streets of Los Angeles, overtaking a land once occupied solely by Latino taqueros. With respect to LA’s OG food truckers, Choi admits his initial unease:

“I was always torn between it because for us, there was a whole life and generation before this modern food truck movement. And that’s the culture of the Latino taqueros, especially in Los Angeles. And I think it’s really important to respect your elders and the generation before you and really pay homage to the work that they did for the streets.” 

For Choi, the first bite is key. Without all of the various attractions of a traditional restaurant, a food truck’s first bite determines its success. Going beyond mere business exploitation, there has to exist a real love for the food and respect for the street culture connected to it. “If you don’t love the streets, I don’t see how your street food will evolve or be a success,” Choi says.

Believing money to be merely one ingredient in the recipe of life, it’s the connection to community and communion that has fueled Choi’s creative spirit. These are the pillars he’s built each of his ventures upon. Moving ever-forward while never forgetting the root of his inspiration, Choi further accentuates:  

“Those are the cornerstones of Kogi; hanging out in the parking lot, watching the sun go down, watching the street lamps go up, sharing with each other, talking to each other, going out of your way to be considerate and kind to each other, and still represent the streets.”

Check out Choi’s interview with Talib Kweli on People’s Party to hear more in depth about his growth, current beliefs, and future goals.

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Nightlife Restaurants

Roy Choi’s Changing Your Vegas Buffet Routine With AYCE Korean BBQ

Staying true to both Korean BBQ culture and Vegas buffet culture, Best Friend by Roy Choi has announced that it will be doing all-you-can-eat Mondays, where you can grub on all the restaurant’s meats and banchan side dishes for $65.

That means you can go in on two plates at a time, for as many rounds as you want. On any other day, the meats (Kalbi, Spicy Pork, BBQ Chicken, BBQ Veg, BBQ Shrimp) are individually priced, so this gives you a chance to try them all, as well as the banchan in one sitting.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to break the bank to whet your palate, as their sake and champagne magnums will be priced half off on Mondays, as well.

If you’re a noob to the K-Town-inspired restaurant, it is good to note that the menu also consists of “L.A. Shit,” such as carnitas tacos, elotes, and even an ode to Choi’s Kogi BBQ Truck short rib taco. But it also features grandiose Vegas-inspired menu items such as dry-aged tomahawks and Lobster Kung Pao.

In early 2019, Chef Roy Choi brought the streets of Los Angeles to the Las Vegas strip, opening up his “Best Friend” Korean restaurant at the Park MGM Resort and Casino.

“I wanted anyone that was from LA, that grew up around hip-hop as a brown skin, black skin or minority in Los Angeles, to walk in this thing and be like, ‘Oh f*ck yeah! This is it!” Choi told Foodbeast.

The $65 price point is definitely a little steeper than your usual Los Angeles Korean BBQ dinner, but is still pretty on par with high-end buffets on the strip. Plus, it gives you a chance to deviate from the typical prime rib/crab leg/oyster buffet combination you’ve probably been dining on since your parents took you to Vegas as a kid.

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Culture Features FOODBEAST Restaurants Video

Roy Choi’s Newest Restaurant Successfully Transplants LA Right On the Vegas Strip

“I wanted anyone that was from LA, that grew up around hip-hop as a brown skin, black skin or minority in Los Angeles, to walk in this thing and be like, ‘Oh f*ck yeah! This is it!”

For lauded chef Roy Choi, his fierce love and loyalty to the city of Los Angeles is one of his defining characteristics. Everything up to this point in the proud Angeleno’s culinary career has been an homage of sorts to the City of Angels. Given an opportunity to extend his culinary empire to Las Vegas, Nevada, Choi took that very flavor and vibe of Los Angeles’ Koreatown and successfully transplanted it right onto the Vegas strip.

Enter the latest Taste the Details episode highlighting Best Friend, the newest restaurant venture from the celebrated chef credited for sparking the gourmet food truck movement. For Choi, capturing the very nucleus and substance of his beloved KTown was of the utmost importance when first considering this latest venture. Since we’re talking about Las Vegas, the world’s playground for high-end escapism, virtually transplanting the one-of-a-kind vibrancy of a liquor store on Olympic Boulevard right in the heart of the infamous Vegas Strip was no problem, given the big budget that Choi was able to work with.

The end result is an honest snapshot of Choi’s Los Angeles, from the menu serving up his greatest Korean-inspired hits to Best Friend’s very own “Kimchi Chamber” to the regular rotation of veteran hip-hop DJ’s orchestrating the vibe — all within the brand new Park MGM Resort & Casino.

 

Photos: Audrey Ma & Travis Jensen 
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Celebrity Grub Restaurants The Katchup

Watts Restaurateur Shares How Roy Choi’s ‘Locol’ Could Succeed Upon Reopening

When Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson opened their first location of Locol in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, they hoped to bring a healthier fast food alternative at an affordable price. Fast forward a few years later, and the restaurant face of Locol has transitioned to a focus on catering while Choi works on developing Locol 2.0.

The chain had its obstacles, including significant drops in foot traffic over time and a particularly controversial zero-star review from the New York Times. As a result, money eventually ran out, as Choi explained on Twitter when the retail side shifted to catering. However, the question still existed as to why Locol had the problems it did. What could it do better in its next iteration?

Restaurateur Keith Garrett, the “Quesadilla Kingpin” of Watts and owner of viral sensation All Flavor No Grease, had some thoughts to share on the subject. As part of his conversation with Foodbeast’s Elie Ayrouth and Geoff Kutnick on The Katchup Podcast, he gave his take on what Locol was missing that the neighborhood wanted to see.

Garrett had almost nothing but praise for Choi’s concept and mission behind Locol. “Great guy, the building was beautiful, location was cool, prices were great!” he said on what people in the community thought. “You got an Asian guy that just opened up smack in the dead middle of Watts? Ooh, he hard for that! He gotta have heart! Let’s go see what the food do. So then you go in there, you see the whole staff is from the housing project and community over there… You’re like ‘Shit, let’s go support, let’s go see!'”

According to Garrett, all of Choi’s employees came from the projects, if not from Watts proper, then from nearby neighborhoods where he offered folks a chance to come together. It was an incredible undertaking and a project that opened up new possibilities for a community sorely in need of it.

But if Choi had such support from the locals for Locol, then why did it struggle? For Garrett, the menu played a big part into it.

“I think that Roy needed another dish on his menu, or three,” Garrett explained. “The dishes Roy came with were good, but were not fit for the hood. Don’t get me wrong, he had a veggie chili, BOMB… But there was just these other dishes on the menu that wasn’t getting bought a lot. You’re just not gonna survive on just some chili, or you’re not just gonna survive on one drink. You need something for the economy. Why would McDonald’s work versus Locol? They got a hamburger, fries, and a soda. He don’t.”

 

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Locol did sell burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets amongst their fast food staples. But for Garrett, those items tended to fall flat, mainly because they weren’t the same kind that the neighborhood was used to. That disconnect between what was being sold and what the community wanted may not have been the biggest reason, but it seems to have at least played a factor into foot traffic and sales.

It’ll definitely be something Choi addresses as he continues to develop his newest iteration of the concept, which should be ready to go some time in the near future. Meanwhile, the space is still being used to run catering and event operations. One also can’t understate the legacy that Locol left behind in its short time as a restaurant, as Choi made clear in a recent interview with GQ.

“No one talks about the two and a half years of jobs that we created,” Choi said. “Of attention, of discussion, of focus, of becoming LA Times Restaurant of the Year, of inspiring new generations… And the fact that we still have our catering operation going, and that we’re now raising more money to come back with the 3.0 version… maybe the retail part failed in its first iteration, but the business itself didn’t fail, I don’t think.”

When Locol’s return does come, Watts will be ready for the benefits it’s already shown to provide the community. Hopefully, the food resonates a lot stronger with them this time as well.

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Celebrity Grub Now Trending Restaurants

Cheetos Brought Back Its ALL-CHEETOS RESTAURANT To Los Angeles For Three Days

Last year, Cheetos hosted a pop-up restaurant in New York City where all of the items used some of their cheesy chips. After its viral success, they’ve decided to bring it back for another run, but this time, in Los Angeles.

The new Cheetos pop-up was helmed by street food legend Roy Choi, who’s developed an entire menu of creations based on his style of cooking. In total, there will be three appetizers, four entrees, and three desserts to choose from, with everything pricing between $11 and $32.

Below is a look at the entire menu Choi served up at “The Flamin’ Hot Spot,” the name given to his three-day Cheetos restaurant.

Appetizers

Flamin’ Hot Elotes

The buttered corn is covered with white cheddar and Flamin’ Hot cheese puffs in this Cheetos-packed take on the classic street food.

Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch Wings

These are like buffalo wings with the ranch already on top, since they’re crusted in Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch Cheetos. There’s still some on the side for dipping, though.

Cheetos Sweet n’ Spicy Chili Meatballs

A blend of sweet chili sauce and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos come together to create this fiery flavor combination.

Entrees

Xxtra Flamin’ Hot Rice Bowl

This rice bowl packs more of a punch than the other dishes since it uses Xxtra Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. There’s some sour cream to help cool it down if it’s too much for you, though.

Hot Cheetos Burrito

This burrito comes in both meaty and vegetarian options. You can opt for short rib or avocado to go along with cheese, chili sour cream sauce, and Cheetos.

Flamin’ Hot Fries

Loaded fries get an upgrade in this dish, as the crispy spuds are swapped out for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos puffs.

Five Alarm Cheetos Steak

Served sizzling hot to the table, this steak comes with a side of charred jalapenos and rice topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Desserts

Cheetos Sweetos Hot Cakes

Classic pancakes are twisted up with the addition of caramel Cheetos Sweetos alongside whipped cream and chocolate for a breakfast spin on dessert.

Chester’s Cheetos Churros

Probably the most intriguing dish of the entire set, White Cheddar cheese puffs are paired with caramel and sweet whipped cream. I’m curious to see how the white cheddar flavor plays into dessert.

“Hot” Chocolate Shake

Choi’s take on a chocolate shake blends in Hot Cheetos and raspberries for a blend of sweet, spicy, and fruity. They’re garnished with a chocolate-coated spicy chip, an interesting flavor blend for sure.

Reservations were booked at a lightning speed this year, but Foodbeast was able to check all of the dishes out firsthand. You can see how all of the food tasted in the above episode of News Bites. If you want to make these dishes at home, you can order the ingredients and recipes to make the items yourself via AmazonFresh.

All photos courtesy of Cheetos

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#foodbeast Alcohol Culture Features FOODBEAST Nightlife Now Trending Restaurants What's New

Roy Choi’s Upcoming Las Vegas Restaurant Has Finally Been Revealed

Prolific Los Angeles chef Roy Choi has famously ventured from a food truck to restaurants exploring varying styles of food pertaining to the theme of the restaurant, like Hawaiian food at A-Frame, and even, his game-changing Korean short rib taco birthed at the Kogi food truck.

With each new restaurant — whether the entire menu oozes with traditional-Korean flavors or is more of a fusion fare — he remains perched in Los Angeles, California. Choi’s status amongst Angelenos attributes to expanding in LA county, but at the top of this year, he announced his big move of opening a new restaurant in Las Vegas where a piece of L.A. will go along with him. After much anticipation for this new restaurant, Choi finally unveiled the entrance, dining area, and the name— ‘Best Friend,’ planning to open this December.

 

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It is located right on the Las Vegas Strip, in the new Park MGM Hotel, and this piece of Los Angeles pertains to Choi and Angelenos themselves. For Choi, the restaurants he opened in his hometown have a place at this establishment: “It is the only place to sink your teeth into all the flavors from Kogi to Commissary and everything in between, along with fresh new ideas I’ve been cooking up for years.”

 

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The first step into ‘Best Friend’ is the ‘Liquor Store’, which is essentially, a small neighborhood bodega: mildly quaint and retro — the mild barred by the extravagance of Las Vegas. This remixed version of Los Angeles with bright colors and neon lights makes it as Vegas as it could get.

“It’s Koreatown in a capsule — a portal to the streets of LA, but also rooted in what makes Las Vegas, VEGAS,” says Roy Choi. From the looks of it, the ‘Liquor Store’ boasts relics and iconic figures from the City of Angels along with nods to Choi’s musical tastes: an N.W.A poster, Biggie’s quote ‘It was all a dream’ fluoresced with neon lights, and a ‘Koreatown’ neon sign, too.  An early look at this entrance feels like a game of I Spy, the premise being: How LA is this LA-inspired restaurant?

In a previous interview with Foodbeast, Choi stated: “I want people from L.A. to walk in and be like, ‘FUCK YEAH‘ and ‘OHHH SHIIIT‘, you know? I want you to roll up with all your friends and feel at home. And then I want people from elsewhere to feel like they’re getting a good glimpse into what it’s like to live in Los Angeles. We’re very aware that this is gonna be a Vegas restaurant. So we won’t shy away from the big and spectacular. If they can recreate the cities of Paris and Rome in Vegas, I want to recreate Los Angeles, too, with varied levels of nuance.”

Yes, the food and the origins carry the culture of L.A., but what seems to matter to Choi more is the atmosphere. He wants to mirror L.A.’s laid-back, yet urban vibe; highlighting the quaint, corner-shops and passing cars bumping N.W.A, Tupac, and The Pharcyde (so, expect to hear all of the hip-hop classics blasting throughout the restaurant).

Los Angeles’ food in Las Vegas is a symbol of Choi extending his vision past the L.A. city limits, but beyond that, it is a creation made through collaboration with his own best friends — utilizing Sean Knibb and David Irvin’s design, Patrick Martinez’s neon art, and Travis Jensen’s photography.

As ‘Best Friend’ opens up in December, it will capture the vibe of Choi’s hometown but resonate around the culture — where diversity, is formed by the food and people— and that, is what makes this L.A.-inspired restaurant truly L.A.: “I want Best Friend to energize the minds of people looking to experience the best in life. Whether they are from Hollywood or Hong Kong, D.C. or Down Under, I hope all guests are licking their fingers with their mouths full saying ‘holy shit!’ as they reach across the table for another bite. L.A. food in Las Vegas. Los Vegas. Best Friend. Forever.”

Photos: MGM Resorts International
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Celebrity Grub Film/Television Video

Watch Jon Favreau Recreate The Infamous Chocolate Lava Cake From ‘Chef’

Jon Favreau’s got a knack for recreating the most iconic recipes from his culinary film Chef. After sharing the recipe for his Cuban sandwich that everyone began falling for on the Internet, the director/actor/chef has added another food from the item to his arsenal: chocolate lava cake.

For those unfamiliar, Favreau’s character in Chef, Carl Casper, had an epic meltdown over a food critic and his remarks on the chocolate lava cake Casper’s restaurant made. Casper blasted the critic for saying his cake was undercooked, saying that it was “fucking molten” instead thanks to a frozen ganache cylinder on the inside.

Favreau decided to recreate that recipe, and enlisted the help of Chef Roy Choi, who made the dishes for the film, and Andrew Rea, host of YouTube cooking show Binging with Babish. On Rea’s channel, the three joined forces to recreate the cakes just like they looked in the original film, frozen ganache and all.

It was an interesting experience for Favreau, who noted that “this is one the dish that was already plated” on set, meaning he got to learn as much from Rea as Rea did from him and Roy Choi. Rea also left the day with Favreau’s pasta fork from the set (the one used to make the sexy Aglio de Olio pasta), so he got a huge win out hanging with Chefs Choi and Casper.

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Culture Features Hit-Or-Miss

Roy Choi’s Upcoming Las Vegas Restaurant Will Be A Hip-Hop Themed Ode To Los Angeles

Roy Choi

As the godfather of the food truck movement, nothing seems too adventurous or intrepid for Roy Choi when it comes to culinary expansion. The esteemed People’s Chef has been riding for Los Angeles’ food scene and Angelenos for a decade now, using different vehicles in the form of varied dining concepts along the way to drive his vision of what a true Los Angeles food experience should be along with impressing upon us the crucial role a sense of community has with food.

That decade of experience under his belt has earned him a status as one of Los Angeles’ culinary torch bearers, and as such has lent his time and expertise to speaking panels and discussions highlighting the landscape of food today. Speaking at the recent dineLA discussion panel, he reflected on the restaurant week’s ten year anniversary along with what he’s contributed to the L.A. food scene within the decade.

“I feel like I’ve laid a lot of groundwork in the past ten years, in regards to what I’ve done for the food world and the community. And it leads me to right now, where I’m focused on prosperity, not only for myself and my businesses, but also for the things I’m involved in and everything we represent.”

2018 is definitely looking like a prosperous one for Choi, what with the recent news of him working on a new restaurant at the upcoming Park MGM in Las Vegas, the recent launch of his own line of food products with Williams-Sonoma, and the opening of another Locol location within a Whole Foods in San Jose. All of such are major moves and indicate just how much Choi wants to level up in this new year.

“I feel like I’ve been making independent films. But what if I had a studio budget, you know? What if I had a Pacific Rim or Transformers budget? Then really, what can we do? And the first piece to that is Vegas.”

This talk of big budget translates to an 8,000 square foot space where Choi promises, “It’s gonna be poppin’.” The genesis and mood board for the yet unnamed Las Vegas project comes from Koreatown and the Line Hotel, both hallmarks of his brand, ethos, and cooking. He’s honoring this connection by taking everything both are and supplanting it on the Las Vegas strip, creating an environment that’s proudly Los Angeles. He then goes into enthusiastic detail about the vibe and features of the forthcoming restaurant.

“I want people from L.A. to walk in and be like, ‘FUCK YEAH‘ and ‘OHHH SHIIIT‘, you know? I want you to roll up with all your friends and feel at home. And then I want people from elsewhere to feel like they’re getting a good glimpse into what it’s like to live in Los Angeles. We’re very aware that this is gonna be a Vegas restaurant. So we won’t shy away from the big and spectacular. If they can recreate the cities of Paris and Rome in Vegas, I want to recreate Los Angeles, too, with varied levels of nuance.”

Such nuances mean we can expect big speakers and the bombastic sounds of L.A. area hip-hop to fill the space. It means that the Beat Junkies will be deejaying some nights and rapper Dumbfoundead will be on the mic on others. It also means that Choi is eager to fill a void where hip-hop has not succeeded in Las Vegas. “I want this to be a hip-hop restaurant,” he declares. And in a city dominated by the grinding wobble and pulsing thump of EDM, having a spot dedicated to hip-hop would be a fresh and welcome addition to Sin City.

“I’m ready, man. I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not only looking to learn and grow from Vegas, but also offer everything that I can do with where I come from. I want to make an impact. I want to make a change. If I didn’t believe in this project, I would have created just a cookie cutter restaurant. But I’m here to create a feeling, an experience. I could fall flat on my face, but I’m willing to gamble on that.”

Whether or not the pun was intended, the statement is fitting. But from what we’ve seen from Roy Choi and what he can do with his passion for food and community, it’s a safe bet that his 2018 is looking to be one filled with the prosperity he’s craving.

 

Photos: MGM Resorts International