It’s only the third week in January, but I already know what the year’s Best New Restaurant is: Locol Watts, in Los Angeles.
The brainchild of two superstar F&W Best New Chefs—Roy Choi (class of 2010) and Daniel Patterson (class of 1997)—Locol supports the unlikely concept that fast food might just save the world, and make it a party in the process. (“We believe that chefs should feed the world, not suits,” says Locol’s website mission statement.) Set next to a bodega on East 103rd Street in the underserved neighborhood of Watts, the menu boasts staples like $4 Burgs: Fried Chicken, BBQ Turkey and, of course, a Cheeseburg, with Jack cheese melting on top. There are $2 tortilla Foldies, stuffed with carnitas and beans and cheese; and $6 bowls—Messy Beef Chili; Noodleman with Chile and Lime; Crushed Tofu and Veggie Stew. It’s not necessarily full-on healthy fare, but on every level, this food feels good for you.
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I’m outrageously proud of Locol. (I introduced Patterson and Choi at Rene Redzepi’s MAD conference in Copenhagen in 2013; by the 2014 MAD, the two were presenting the concept of Locol.) Here are a few things to know about Locol Watts, and why you should get there as soon as you possibly can.
Locol lines start early.
On opening day, the camera crews arrived at 6 a.m.; the first customers showed up an hour or so after for the 11 a.m. opening. They’re also sprinkled with famous faces. I stood in front of the adorable Jesse Tyler. (Who tried to get the 7-year-old girl in front of me to order the veggie nuggets. She didn’t, but not for his lack of trying.) I missed Jim Brown and Jon Favreau.
Locol is very into their neighborhood.
They employ 30 Watts residents, with another 20 on call. The staff does everything from flipping cheeseburgs to griddling bean-n-cheese foldies ($2) to expediting and clearning up. They also hired neighborhood liasons, like Anthony (who wrote a gorgeous poem about Locol, which Daniel Patterson keeps on his phone). Locol sits across the street from an elementary school, which hung up a huge welcome sign.
Locol’s sourcing is incredible.
The delectable toasted Burg buns were created by baker extraordinaire Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery. The $1 cups of coffee were masterminded by the guy who launched third-wave-styled Tonx coffee. And then there are the $4 soft-serve sundaes, which I heard are made with a base from elite Straus Family Creamery; no matter what, the airy, creamy chocolate one I had was outrageous, covered with dark chocolate sauce, plus mini marshmallows and graham cracker bits.
Locol has crowd-pleasing best sellers.
Hundreds of Cheeseburgs were sold on opening day (they were one of the first things to run out in previews). Chili bowls are the runner-up most popular dish so far.
Locol has unconventional menu items, too.
One of the other best things I got to sample was beef and onion gravy with a steaming hot flatbread for dipping (both $1 on the Yotchays menu, which also includes spicy corn chips, messy greens, and rice). “A woman from Watts first made the beef dip for us," says Choi, "and it became the Watts Special and we partied.”