At a time when trained chefs and owners of food trucks seemed to be coming out of two different spheres of the food world, Roy Choi rented a truck of his own and hit the streets of Los Angeles with his unique Mexican tacos stuffed with Korean BBQ—style meat. With a pedigree that included a degree from The Culinary Institute of America, and working at Le Bernardin and the Beverly Hills Hilton, Chef Choi might not have seemed the most likely candidate to go roadside, hawking tacos—but that is exactly what he did.
As an Angeleno, Chef Choi’s vision was to bring Korean cuisine to the entire city, beyond the obvious, Koreatown. “Instead of forcing your customer to come to your restaurant, why not bring the restaurant to them?” Choi explained. To create a Korean dish that would plug into the diverse culture of Los Angeles, Chef Choi borrowed from another ethnic cuisine that the city loved—the humble taco.
In 2008, in partnership with Mark and Caroline Manguera, Chef Choi launched Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go. Kogi’s popularity grew and the business became a phenomenon. Newsweek called it “the first viral eatery,” after it began using Twitter to let its fans know where the Kogi truck would be.
Building on the success of his mobile culinary business, Chef Choi now has restaurants and catering food trucks under his company 10 Grand Hospitality including Alibi Room and Kogi Taqueria.
Chef Choi is the author of L.A. Son—My Life, My City, My Food, co-written with Tien Nguyen and Natasha Phan. He also hosts his own food show, Broken Bread, a new series made in partnership with local public TV station KCET and global entertainment company Tastemade. The series peels back the layers of a complex Los Angeles to highlight locals taking on issues affecting the city, the nation, and beyond.
On December 19, 2018, Chef Choi opened Best Friend in the Park MGM in Las Vegas. The restaurant is a showcase of Chef Choi’s cooking over the last decade in Los Angeles and features an authentic Koreatown bodega at the entrance. “This will be the first time in the last ten years I’ll be able to explore high-end items like caviar and truffles,” he says. “This will be the only place where you can get a Kogi taco and put osera caviar on it.”
Chef Choi has developed a line of sauces, seasonings, and a spicy Ramen kit available at Williams Sonoma stores and online.
Follow in Roy’s Footsteps. Earn Your Culinary Degree at the CIA
Roy Choi trains Actor/Director Jon Favreau for his role in CHEF in this behind the scenes video.
Watch our interview with Roy Choi at the CIA’s campus in Hyde Park, NY.