Kogi tacos, Chego rice bowls, Hawaiian food and Korean stews are worth betting on in 2018.
L.A. chef Roy Choi will open his first Las Vegas restaurant in the fall, and we expect it to redefine destination dining on the Strip. Vegas has a lot of ultra-luxurious restaurants, but Choi is a street-food king who likes to get down and dirty.
Choi, as you know if you’ve read his L.A. Son book, is also someone who used to spend a lot of time in casinos. So he understands the rhythms of late nights and early mornings (something he’s also repeatedly experienced in L.A.’s 24-hours-a-day Koreatown). He has a particular insight into the type of food people like to eat when they’re celebrating a jackpot or in the middle of a bender.
Choi know that being a chef in Vegas is about serving many different purposes, so he’s all-in. He’s promising a “multifaceted, multisensory experience” at the new Park MGM casino resort. And he welcomes ideas from the public as he plans his still unnamed restaurant.
Last week, soon after the restaurant was announced, Choi posted an Instagram caption asking his customers to tell him what they want to eat in Vegas. We’ve been lucky enough to dine at all of Choi’s restaurants in Los Angeles, so we have some suggestions.
Here are five things we’ve love to see Choi do in Vegas:
This is the biggest no-brainer of all. Choi became a street-food legend when he put the flavors of Korean barbecue into a tortilla and launched his Kogi food truck in 2008. His short rib, spicy pork and chicken tacos continue to draw crowds all over L.A., and Kogi greatest hits like the blackjack quesadilla (with spicy pork, salsa verde, caramelized onions and oozy cheddar and jack cheese), kimchi quesadilla and Pac-Man burger (with all three meats, two salsas and a lot more) are messy, wonderful and habit-forming. We should also point out that Choi’s brick-and-mortar Kogi Taqueria has excellent taqueria-style carne asada and carnitas that work well for street tacos and are even better inside hearty burritos.
Chego rice bowls
Chego, Choi has said, is the soul of the what he does. Chego is where Choi serves ultra-comforting rice bowls that merge salty, sweet, spicy, fatty, herbaceous and #putandeggonit bliss. Vegas should hope that Choi brings his chubby pork belly bowl and prime rib rice plate to town. Our favorite, though, is the sour cream hen house bowl with grilled chicken, fried egg, Chinese broccoli, sour cream sambal, Thai basil, toasted sesame and red chiles.
Any of these Chego meals can fortify you for a long night of gambling or partying. But this is also the best kind of recovery food for those days when your body needs carbs and protein and big flavors that will jolt you back into feeling like a human being. Chego really could be everything in Vegas.
We have some L.A. friends, not to mention one particular Food & Wine editor, who will leave the Strip and head to downtown Vegas for musubi and loco moco at Aloha Specialties inside the California Hotel & Casino. Choi could make things a lot easier by simply bringing some of the Hawaiian food he serves at L.A.’s A-Frame to Park MGM.
What Choi likes to call his “ono grindz” menu at A-Frame includes furikake kettle corn, assorted musubi, loco moco, Kalua pork ramen and other island-inspired greatness. No trip to A-Frame is complete without an order of Choi’s cracklin’ beer can chicken alongside rice, kimchi, salsa roja and verde. Plus, we bet that A-Frame’s Hawaiian-themed all-you-can eat pancake brunch could become a sensation in Vegas. Choi’s pancake flavors include lilikoi butter, banana/macadamia nut and pineapple/orange/guava.
Choi says his Park MGM restaurant will be influenced by the energy of L.A.’s Koreatown. So knowing Choi, you can can expect him to bring some of the flavors, funk, sizzles and smells of L.A.’s Koreatown to Vegas. Our money’s on Choi serving kimchi fried rice and big pots of galbi jjim (braised short rib stew) built for sharing. You’ll probably want some beer or soju with your feast.
We’d also be down with some offal-heavy stews and some seafood stews, and there will no doubt be moments in Vegas where only Korean army stew will do. Army stew, also known as budae jjigae, is a fierce concoction with instant ramen and canned meats like Vienna sausage, corned beef hash and Spam. This could work well for a really late dinner or a really early breakfast.
Choi is a beast when it comes to pop-ups in L.A. Right now, he’s testing his new nighttime POT Pizza Joint on Fridays and Saturdays at Koreatown’s Line hotel. The Line is also where he’s sold Cubano sandwiches at a pop-up inspired by the work he did for Jon Favreau’s Chef . The hotel is also where Choi’s hosted special dinners with New York talent like Marcus Samuelsson and Alex Stupak, and where Choi and David Chang threw last month’s blowout POTLuck fundraiser for José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen.
We’d love to see Choi bring some guest chefs into Park MGM, whether it’s his LocoL partner Daniel Patterson or Vegas off-Strip stars like Flock & Fowl’s Sheridan Su and Sparrow + Wolf’s Brian Howard. Speaking of LocoL, that fast food chain/social enterprise has a food truck that we hope makes some appearances in Vegas. We like the idea of eating LocoL’s foldies (taco/pupusa hybrids) and turkey chili after a concert or boxing match at the T-Mobile Arena steps from Park MGM.
Choi serves the kind of food you want to eat when you’re amped and when you’re buzzed. Having him in Vegas is going to be a lot of fun.