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‘Food Will Be Sold on the Street Regardless’ ~ Roy Choi Checks Back in With L.A. Taco

12:01 AM PDT on October 16, 2018

    [dropcap size=big]R[/dropcap]oy Choi. It’s almost become a mononym. For sure, it’s one of the few names in the culinary world that commands respect on the streets, in the kitchens, and on TV. The L.A. native, creator of Kogi, and internationally renowned chef known as “Papi” is like a mix of Chalino Sanchez, Bruce Lee, Magic, Kendrick and Doña Olga, my favorite street cart lady.

    You can imagine the L.A. food’s media’s obsession with chef Choi’s every move. Or you can just re-read that first paragraph. But it comes with good reason. In the seminal moments of food history – as chronicled in Taco USAChoi’s Kogi BBQ is credited with mainstreaming food trucks, largely the reason we have so many fantastic options in L.A. and beyond today. So when Choi’s next revolutionary venture – to bring healthy fast food options to the inner city – hit a speed bump this past summer, the media world was frantic to report of LocoL’s perceived demise.

    L.A. Taco on the other hand took a step back to let the man, his partners, and his employees live their lives. As an L.A-born son of immigrants, for me personally Choi’s autobiography L.A. Son was inspirational in times of professional upheaval. And for Taco, Kogi was one of the first in a long line of finding culinary diamonds on these streets. We also realized Chef Choi was incredibly busy working on the launch of his new Las Vegas eatery Best Friend.

    But a lot has happened since late August, like statewide decriminalization of street vendors, rent strikes, e-scooters, and last month, Choi announced an opening day for the Vegas venture. The restaurant will open Dec. 28 at the Park MGM. So L.A. Taco reached out via email with a few questions which Roy Choi was kind enough to answer.

    We touched on a variety of topics including the legalization of street vendors, L.A.'s world ranking as a food city, how to evolve neighborhoods without gentrifying, and his new restaurant Best Friend. He also told us when and how he's planning to break down the whole LocoL thing.

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    The Lobby to Chef Roy Choi's new Las Vegas restaurant Best Friend. Photo courtesy of Best Friend/MGM.
    The Lobby to Chef Roy Choi's new Las Vegas restaurant Best Friend. (Travis Jensen / Best Friend/MGM Resorts International)

    L.A. Taco: Tell us about Best Friend. I've read a lot about how it's an ode not just to your best and favorite dishes but also to L.A. culture of sorts?

    Roy Choi: It's kind of a pin drop into everything I've cooked and become in these past 10 years in L.A. and now into the future with a new best friend, Las Vegas. It's nostalgic yet futuristic while being in the moment. Korean BBQ, tacos, rice bowls, kimchI, vegetables, fruits, noodles.

    Was there a specific reason why Las Vegas was chosen? I know most people here see Vegas as an extension of L.A. Even the Raiders, apparently.

    I'm actually a really shy dude riddled with anxiety demons of big stages. I like the streets in the shadows. But it's time for me to confront those demons and try something new. Vegas called, we answered, and are ready to deliver. Everyone has been so great. They genuinely like me and are excited and got our back to help in any way to succeed. The town loves Papi.

    In L.A. Son you paint this expansive, loving, and gritty picture of Los Angeles. An L.A. for the people. Some of these neighborhoods are changing rapidly, do you still see the L.A. you grew up in?

    It's weird. There is so much growth. I'm mixed. Growing up all the buildings used to be ugly but that was the beauty and now all the new buildings are so pretty yet kind of ugly. But L.A. has always been a city of the future and we are living through a new one now. But you ain't gotta look too far for the soul of L.A. It's still there and it ain't going nowhere.

    Is there a way to evolve and have successful businesses in the hood that don't push out the culture that's there? You seem to do it so well. Is there a secret? 

    Lead with love, generosity, kindness, care, and build into the neighborhood by including and listening to who is there already instead of just displacing and making way for a new transient audience. It can all coexist. It's that simple.

    What do you think is the hottest shit going on in L.A.'s food scene? And how do you keep evolving with it?

    I don't know about trends. Hot shits are for the toilet. Evolve by not trying to keep up but by setting your own course. Others will connect. Trust.

    Is there anything happening in K-Town specifically that you want to highlight?

    Dumbfoundead is coming out with a new EP.

    L.A. Taco Archive, Dec. 8, 2008.
    Where it all began for Kogi. L.A. Taco Archive, Dec. 8, 2008.

    The state of California has now passed two bills making home cooks, and street vendors more legit legally speaking. You were in the OG Food Truck Wars. What are your thoughts on that evolution?

    Food will be sold on the street regardless of any bill. Now we just can't get arrested for it. Instead, families can support their lives with a deeper smile and not have to hide. But hiding was fun too :)

    Is L.A.'s street food game on par with some of the places you've seen around the country? World?

    Country, we are leader. World, maybe top 10 towards the middle-ish of that 10.

    Where do you see Kogi or LocoL or just any of the Roy Choi brand 10 years from now?

    Worldwide. KogI por vida por el mundo.

    I know you were very honest and open on Twitter about the misrepresentations by some media outlets of the way it all went down. But do you feel like setting the record straight on LocoL?

    The truth will be told on Broken Bread early 2019. Tune in to KCET and Tastemade. Gonna get real. Thank you. Love what you guys do.

    RELATED: My Favorite Taco ~ Roy Choi

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