Small Kingdoms: Soulful Cuisine With LA Chef Roy Choi

Chef Roy Choi | Facebook, Roy Choi

Chef Roy Choi | Facebook, Roy Choi

Having the reputation of spearheading the food truck craze would be enough for some chefs to retire upon. Yet not for Roy Choi. Not content to rest on his laurels, after the success of the famed Asian fusion Kogi Truck which introduced Angelenos to the entirely new concept of gourmet, mobile dining, chef Roy Choi has kept busy, creating a number of unique concepts that serve a variety of cuisines ranging from late night, Asian fusion bar snacks to soulful Hawaiian inspired fare.

So how has the chef maintained success while continuously exploring new concepts and culinary styles? And what is he up to next? Read on to find out.

Kogi Truck – A Culinary Revolution

Perhaps what the chef is best known for, the Kogi Truck is a culinary institution in its own right. Choi’s now legendary food truck launched in 2008 with little critical recognition. Serving up $2 Korean BBQ inspired tacos, only months later the Kogi Truck would blow up the culinary scene in Los Angeles, inspiring a new wave of mobile, gourmet eateries, inspiring a new culinary style of Asian-Mexican fusion cuisine, and garnering the chef the title of “Godfather of Food Trucks.”

Since the food truck’s success, Choi has been behind a number of unique concepts throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Chinatown’s Chego serves up Choi’s quick-serve rice bowls and signature “Ooey-Gooey fries.” 3 Worlds Café opened in South Central to act as a community coffee and smoothie shop, operating in an area of Los Angeles known better for gang activity than any culinary destinations.

Culver City’s A-Frame was inspired by the chef’s time spent on the Redondo Beach pier, operating initially as a picnic inspired eatery that encouraged diners to enjoy a number of casual style offerings, all meant to be shared and eaten with their hands. Only recently, however, the restaurant has undergone a complete concept change. While still maintaining the restaurant name and relaxed vibe, this year A-Frame became “Aloha’d,” as Choi refers to it, changing over to a Hawaiian inspired concept, with a complete menu and décor revamp.  

“I never try to do something unless I understand a culture and feel we can represent it and respect it,” explains Choi on the revamped A-Frame website. “But [I] also have the courage to push it and morph it like a DJ would a song.”

A-Frame now serves what Choi refers to as “delicious home-style food with a true aloha spirit that makes you smile.” Favorite dishes include poke samplers, the Huli Huli rotisserie chicken and a hoisin glazed rack of “OG Ribs.”

Nearby to A-Frame, Choi also operates the Alibi Room, located just down the road, which serves late night bites from the Kogi Truck, which Choi still operates, alongside a number of craft cocktails and microbrews. Also close by, Choi’s Caribbean inspired Sunny Spot caters to the Westside diners looking to spend hours enjoying the sun in the restaurant’s outdoor patio, enjoying a number of culinary offerings and libations inspired from traditional island fare.

The Line Hotel's Commissary Restaurant | Foodable WebTV Network

The Line Hotel's Commissary Restaurant | Foodable WebTV Network

One of the most exciting additions to the chef’s growing culinary empire, however, was the Line Hotel, which opened in Korea Town as part of a collaboration with the chef. Commissioned to design the entire culinary program at the hotel, Choi cooked up a number of concepts that included traditional, Asian style room-service to the ultra-chic, vegetable driven Commissary, located on the rooftop overlooking the hotel pool. Also part of the hotel’s restaurant line-up is POT, a modern take on traditional Korean hot-pots as well as a number of other Korean inspired dishes such as the “Beep Beep” uni dynamite rice and the Korean spicy chicken wings.

Tackling the Next Frontier: The Fast Food Industry

Despite the impressive slew of restaurants he has established throughout the Los Angeles area, to stop now would go against Choi’s “always moving, always creating” persona. His next feat may be his most impressive yet: reinventing the concept of fast food.

Partnering with Daniel Paterson of San Francisco’s Coi and the nonprofit Cooking Project, Choi announced his plans to revolutionize the fast food industry with his LocoL concept that aims to serve healthy, soulful fast food made with real ingredients but remaining entirely affordable. Realizing that the fast food industry is what is feeding many lower income families, Choi wanted to give them a healthy alternative they could enjoy at comparable pricing. Choi even went as far as eliminating soda from the concept, choosing to serve agua frescas in its place.

Yet far more than just a culinary concept, LocoL’s first two locations are in the historically impoverished Los Angeles’ Watts and San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhoods. Choi hopes the concept can do much more than feed the hungry residents but empower the local community as well.

“We have to act if we want change,” says Choi. “If we can open profitable restaurants that are inexpensive and serve delicious food made with real ingredients; if we bring new options to places that currently lack quality food; if we cook with heart; if we create an environment of warmth, generosity, and caring; and if we value the people with less money just as much as the ones with plenty, we can make a difference.”