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 a stable of restaurants and catering food trucks including Chego!, Pot Lobby Bar and Pot Café at The Line Hotel in L.A.’s Koreatown, and Dole Food International, Commissary, Alibi Room, A Frame in partnership with Chef Dave Reiss, Kogi Taqueria, and LocoL.
LocoL is the brain child of Chef Choi and Chef Daniel Patterson, owner of Coi in San Francisco. The fast-casual restaurant focuses on sustainability as well as healthful, whole foods at an affordable price that serves citizens living in neighborhoods where good food is not always available. Locations include the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles, West Oakland outside of San Francisco, and in the Whole Foods market in San Jose, CA. Chef Choi also has two LocoL trucks in Los Angeles and a catering van in Oakland. In 2017, LocoL was named Restaurant of the Year by The Los Angeles Times.
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 stars in Street Food, which appears on CNN’s digital platform. Street Food is a series of five-minute clips showing Chef Choi interviewing musicians, artists, and community leaders while highlighting LA’s inner-city neighborhoods.
Chef Choi recently partnered with Munchery, the meal-delivery service. “It fits really well with what I’m doing now,” Choi says. “There are communities where there are no restaurants, but everyone’s got a phone.” Munchery has a one-for-one program; for every meal you purchase, they donate a meal to a local food bank.
In fall 2018, Chef Choi is opening a restaurant in Las Vegas at the Monte Carlo property, soon to be renamed the Park MGM and NoMad Hotel, and is working on a new line of sauces and seasonings for William-Sonoma.
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.