Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ode to Choi

Roy Choi is a genius. He brings the most flavor out of the most recognizable ingredients, and combines them in ways that just make sense. Almost all of his food feels like the product of flavor profiles that have been sitting under our noses for decades.

Not only are his flavors incredible, but so are his creative business strategies. Roy Choi single-handedly redefined the street food scene in LA. Sure, Portland has had food trucks for years and years, and LA and NYC have had street carts forever, but Roy Choi's food truck was the first to bring high-quality and interesting food, meals on wheels, and Twitter-based guerilla tactics together to create a revolution in the food world. The second Roy Choi's food truck blew through the roof, novelty food trucks started popping up everywhere, each one trying to best the next. After a couple years of reinventing the food truck scene, Roy Choi used 2010 to try to reinvent the restaurant scene, and he's done so with flying colors. The best part about Roy Choi? He does this all at a surprisingly affordable price.

My first bite by Roy Choi came from the Kogi Truck.

The first time I came here was with the insatiable baker. Back when Kogi Truck first came out, I remember the hugest complaint about the place was the lines.

I actually enjoy waiting in lines, so no problems there. And besides, now that they have their army of five trucks roaming the lengths of Los Angeles and Orange County, lines are relatively manageable. The wait is worth it.

When this truck first came out, everyone knew that Mexicans love Korean food, that Koreans love Mexican food, and that everyone loves Mexican and Korean food. But why did nobody think of Mexican-Korean food? Because Roy Choi is a genius.

The tacos are great. My favorite tacos are the Korean Short Rib Tacos. They're so good that I never remember to take a closeup picture of them. The beef is tender, sweet, and savory, and the refreshing rice-vinegar-and-sesame-oil-loaded veggies on top mix in with the addictive hot sauce they use on everything. I have no idea what goes into this sauce, but it's a great combination of sweet, barely tangy, and mildly spicy flavors. This sauce needs to be sold in humungous sri racha bottles.

The Korean Spicy Pork Tacos and the Korean Tofu Tacos are decent, but just don't have that same balance of flavors that their short rib sibling has.

The Kimchi Quesadilla comes slathered in that same sauce. The quesadilla itself is actually really good. Each bite has a bit of a kick to it from the kimchi, but doesn't have that typical kimchi intensity with the sauce and the cheese to balance it out. Cheese melted over Korean food has been around for a long time, but for some reason, nobody thought to stick some kimchi in a quesadilla. Genius.

Then came Chego.

Roy Choi describes Chego to mean that moment when your mouth is full and your mom has been "watching you like a hawk and putting more stuff in front of you, and asking you if it's good," and you put your thumbs up and say, "Mmm." Some would translate this to mean, "the best," but neither definition is a misnomer.

I got to hit up this place in December with my friends June, Jon, Matt, and Steph C.

It was definitely interesting right from the beginning to be walking into a Roy Choi restaurant.

There's no way you can eat here without sitting with or hearing strangers' conversations, which makes this place fun and casual with no bells or whistles.

Chego is known for modernizing the rice bowl. Think Yoshinoya, but updated with amazing flavors and quality ingredients for almost the same price. Even though the place is known for rice bowls, there are some great starters.

When I first heard about the Ooey Gooey Fries, I was hoping for something along the lines of a poutine. Unfortunately, there's no gravy involved here. Fortunately, there's a mountain of sour cream sambal, chilies, cilantro, pickled garlic, cheese, cheese, cheese, and cheese. I love the way the intense flavors of the spicy sour cream , pickled garlic, and cilantro really kick the fries up a notch. I also love the gooeyness of all the melting cheese. And then to top it all of with cotija cheese? Genius.

The 3PM Meatballs are just as delicious, if not better. The meatball itself is packed with flavor and comes smothered with sesame and green onions. This basically tastes like a galbi meatball, which I have no qualms with.

People swear by the Chubby Pork Belly, but it was actually my least favorite that night. Half the pork belly was really dry, but the other half was perfect. The pork had a nice punch of spicy sweetness from the gochujang, too. Overall, it was still a really delicious bowl, but relatively, I liked it less than the star of the night: the Buttered Kimchi Chow.

The bowl comes smothered with sweet sesame and seaweed furikake, as if to hide the contents of the bowl. After a little investigating, the top layer opens up to a deliciously sloppy fried egg.

The yolk runs all over the rest of the ingredients in the bowl: hot and buttered kimchi, tofu, sesame leaves, edamame, and chicharrones. Each bite was heavenly, and each bite featured a great marriage among Japanese, Korean, and Mexican flavors. The sesame leaf, spicy tofu, and kimchi gave it a distinctly Korean flavor that briefly reminded me of many meals at Korean BBQ joints. The sweet furikake and neutral edamame reminded me of many college days when I was too lazy to do anything more than heat up some frozen edamame and sprinkle some furikake over a bowl of rice. The distinctly Latin American chicharrones could do nothing else than remind me of how much I love Mexican food. All of this had a tint of garlic soy jus that made this dish feel like some kind of a traditional Asian dish that I'd never had before. So comforting and so full of flavor, in retrospect, I would've rather gotten two of these bowls with the gochujang kurobuta added on top from the Chubby Pork Belly.

We also squeezed in The Beefy T. Packed with Thai basil, ssamjang, and glistening fried rice, this bowl is another that I'd gladly get again if I ever felt like getting two bowls for myself. Each bowl, unfortunately, is more than enough for one person, so that basically means I'm not getting The Beefy T again until I go with a couple friends.

I have no idea how, but we managed to squeeze in some Ghetto Malasadas.

These are pretty straightfoward malasadas. Nothing too crazy inventive here, that I know of, but they're solid.

One last thing I love about Chego is that, while I love the atmosphere of the actually place, I would probably love phone in my order just as much so that I could just pick up my food in my pajamas and eat at home while watching a movie or chatting with friends. This restaurant is just another testament to Roy Choi's ability to make incredibly casual food with sophisticated creativity.

His most recent endeavor is A-Frame, and A-Frame had me at Furikake Kettle Corn.

Using an old IHOP restaurant and only changing the interior to have even more wood paneling, A-Frame feeds off of the wood panel theme to create the atmosphere of a friendly picnic. Sure, there aren't any trees or lakes by your table, but the communal seating, shared plates, and optional utensils make A-Frame a walking-distance departure from the traditional.

The Furikake Kettle Corn sets the same stage as his other two joints, reminding the diner that his food is about comfort food and new combinations of flavors that have been sitting right in front of your nose the whole time. Kettle corn and furikake both have that sweet-lacquered taste to them, so why hasn't anyone thought to put them together? Because Roy Choi is a genius. The rest of his food did not disappoint.

Some of the food was sweet and refreshing,

Island Farmer's Market Salad.

and some of the food was a little bit more straightforward, but still very picnicky.

Baby Back Ribs.


One of my favorites was the Kitchen Fries.

Every place seems to have yam fries or sweet potato fries these days. And don't get me wrong. I love those kinds of fries. But Roy Choi takes it to the next level and adds purple Okinawan sweet potatoes and Korean sweet potatoes to the mix. Not only that, but he also supplements these with this amazingly tart, spicy, and savory kimchi sour cream. The sauce was just as addictive as the fries themselves, if not more. The fries are deliciously wedged and fried, giving just enough crunch and just enough substance to make them incredibly satisfying.

The Bittersweet Tempura was another favorite. The thinly sliced kabocha and broccoli rabe were nicely bitter and barely fried. The dish was light and addictive.

The Dyn-O-Mite was also good. The dish comes out looking like a mound of crusted potato mash. But each bite is like taking a bite out of the best baked potato you've ever had. The mashed potato interior already has a good amount of sour cream mixed in, and the parmesan exterior adds a great crunch that reminded me of the crispy skin of a baked potato. The chives are just one last reminder that what you're eating was meant to taste like a baked potato. Genius.

The Carne Asada Torta was another table favorite. Hands were reaching from one end of the table to the other for a bite of this sandwich. The carne asada itself was juicy and satisfying, and the pickled red onion added a delicious brightness to the sandwich. The heavy hand of queso fresco was perfect, and the sandwich had just the right amount of salsa to give it some heat. Amazing.

Since A-Frame's recent opening, it has become known for its Cracklin Beer Can Chicken, and for good reason. If you get just the right bite of crackling skin and juicy chicken, this plate is unstoppably addictive. A whole chicken also makes sure that you feel like you're at a picnic. Some parts of the chicken can be a little dried out, so make sure to save some of that beautiful chicken skin for those pieces. Another great thing about getting this chicken is that you can dip the chicken in any of the previous, addictive sauces from the other dishes as well.

Completely satisfied and full, the table took the only logical next step: to order all three desserts.

Thick Ass Ice Cream Sandwich of the Day: Cinnamon Ice Cream and Oatmeal Cherry Cookies.


Fried Apple Pie.

The first two desserts were pretty straightforward, but pretty delicious. The ice cream sandwich features some great ice cream and some chewy cookies. The Chu-Don't-Know-Mang is like a divided Mexican chocolate milkshake. The best dessert, hands down, was the Fried Apple Pie. Every single part of this dessert was so freaking good, I wanted to order another all to myself. The ice cream was solid. The apple pie filling was solid. The caramel drizzle was just right. The crust? Oh the crust. The crust is thick and almost tender, but crispy in the way that an apple crisp might be. Each bite never got repetitive. Genius. To the max. Fried Apple Pie, I'll be back for you.

I love the way all of his food endeavors have such a great, casual feel to them. Sure, you might have to eat on the sidewalk at one, stand at a table at another, and reach over your friend's head at yet another, but Roy Choi isn't about "proper" dining. He's about bringing people back to the original purpose of food: to bring people together and to make people happy. I guarantee that you and your friends will leave any of these three places with satisfied bellies and smiles on your faces.

Needless to say, I'm a fan. And Roy Choi is a genius.

This is my ode. My Ode to Choi.

Kogi Truck

GET: Korean Short Rib Taco; Kimchi Quesadilla.

3300 Overland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 287-0337

GET: Ooey Gooey Fries; 3PM Meatballs; Buttered Kimchi Chow with Pork Belly.

12565 Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 398-7700

GET: Kettle Corn Furikake; Kitchen Fries; Bittersweet Tempura; Dyn-O-Mite; Carne Asada Torta; Cracklin Beer Can Chicken; Fried Apple Pie.


  1. MMmmm, kogi truck was SO LONG AGO!!!!! But yeah, that kimchi quesadilla was so tastyyy. Who knew. Cheese and kimchi would taste so yummy...

    MALASADASSSSSS!!!!!!! EDBM twittered he was at Leonard's in Honolulu, have you been? The girls went when we took that post-graduation trip to Hawaii. INSANE. I don't usually like doughnut-y type pastries. BUT MALASADAS I LOVE. I can't believe it's been 8 years since Hawaii. Damn I feel old.

    Sorry for leaving such a long rambling comment. :D

  2. "I got to hit up this place in December with my friend June, Steph C., and effing dericious."

    heh thanks for sharing chego-- one thing though....i've never been. maybe you've got me mistaken for someone else?

  3. Jan: I haven't been! I don't remember the last time I even went to Honolulu! Maybe middle school??? Hahaha. Good to know for next time though.

    Dy: Hahahaha, why did I write that??? It was DEFinitely my buddy from high school hahahaha. Amazing.

  4. Hahaha also Matt was there! But he didn't eat with us... Ode to Choi made laugh out loud. Soooo sullung. Speaking of sullung, I went to Han Bat today. And Ricky's. And Pazzo Gelato. And Golden State. Yay for chubby V-day.

    Jan, I remember those malasadas. That was way too long ago.

  5. Oh yea! I have such a bad memory...hahaha.

    Your day also sounded deliciously gluttonous. Awesome.


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