L.A. Diet

Roy Choi Eats Korean BBQ With James Syhabout and Downs a Kush Cookie Before Bed

Roy Choi at Chego
Roy Choi at Chego Photo: Lesley Balla

In less than three years, Roy Choi has moved way beyond street food and taco trucks. After toiling as an executive chef for the Beverly Hilton, he took to the road with the Kogi truck and launched a mobile food craze. Soon after, he scored a “best new chef” title from Food & Wine, then debuted more celebrated SoCal fusion with his packed rice bowls at Chego and beer-can chicken and furikake popcorn at A-Frame. While working on a new Caribbean-inspired concept in Venice, Choi insists on juggling three trucks and four restaurants himself. “I try to see every person in my company every day. That’s my goal,” he says. Fortunately, his hectic pace still affords him plenty of time to eat. Today Choi shares everything he ate this week, from the tail-end of a vacation in Hawaii to a four-day pig-out through The Taste, in today’s L.A. Diet.

Wednesday, Aug. 31st
I was still in Hawaii on a vacation with my family in Oahu. I was going golfing, so I grabbed an egg salad sandwich at the clubhouse. The thing about clubhouse food is that it’s never really horrible. Anyone who’s eaten a clubhouse egg salad sandwich knows what I’m talking about. So I jumped on the course in the morning, had my egg salad sandwich, and a grape Gatorade.

Later, we went over to the Ala Moana Mall, a big mall in Honolulu, and I ate a chicken rice egg bowl. It’s just marinated chicken, diced, and the pan is de-glazed with an egg wash, and just when the egg gets really soft, you put it in with the rice. It’s delicious. Along with that I had miso soup, Japanese tsukemono (pickles), and a Mountain Dew. It was really good, especially after a round of golf. We walked around the mall a little bit, then I grabbed some mochi — red bean and strawberry and a Madeleine cookie with an iced coffee — this was all about an hour after lunch. And then I chilled, went to the Ala Moana beach, and jumped in the water.

I had a late dinner with a bunch of friends at a place called Side Street Inn in Honolulu. We ordered a lot. I had a fried pork chop, kimchi fried rice, edamame, and mochiko chicken, which is made with the rice flower you make mochi with, so it’s a little chewy and gelatinous. I had some crispy pork belly, kula green salad, and sizzling rib-eye steak. For dessert we had molten chocolate cake, lilikoi crème brulee, haupia (coconut) ice cream, and macadamia cookies. Everyone shared everything, family style.

Thursday, September 1st
I woke up in the morning and grabbed a croissant and cup of coffee from a store near our place. I came back home and made some seaweed with white rice and just grubbed. We went outside and went swimming. We were on the West Side of Oauhu, Macaha, and just enjoyed the ocean. Spiritually just living life, you know. Then I grubbed on some gummy butterflies.

We were leaving that day, so we drove down to Waikiki, which we avoided the whole trip. But there is this crazy, crazy tonkatsu spot called Ginza Barin that I had to check out, so I had a thick cut Berskhire pork tonkatsu that came with shredded cabbage, miso soup, and tsukemono. Had a glass of water with that.

Then we went over for some shave ice at Uncle Clay’s on the east side of Oahu, the windward side in Aina Haina, where some of my friends live. I’m in Hawaii, and I had four hours until my plane, so we just chilled at the house. They live right across the street from the ocean, so I jumped in the water before we headed to the airport.

We were taking the red-eye out, so I had airport food that night. A pepperoni pizza from CPK Express, which was really good in that moment. And then I grabbed some greasy chow mein, I don’t even remember the name of the place. And a medium original swirl with Fruity Pebbles from Pinkberry. It’s the first airport Pinkberry I’ve seen. On the plane I had some peanuts and a ginger ale. And we were back in LA in the morning.

Friday, Sept. 2nd
The first thing I like to do when I get off a plane, especially in the morning, I go get Korean soup. I went to Han Bat Sul Rung Tang on Fifth and Western. The soup is cloudy clear beef soup, usually made with intestines, bones, sliced brisket and flank, and has some noodles. It comes out unseasoned, and I put in sea salt and black pepper, and eat it with kimchi. It’s a whole cabbage kimchi, and you cut it yourself, and a whole daikon radish kimchi. One looks like big lego blocks, and you cut it up. It’s so fucking delicious. You’re facing down for five minutes, you don’t even look up. It’s just so good.

And then I grabbed a coffee at Starbucks. I was going to go work, but trying to get my bearings together. So I just chilled into the day. For lunch I had more Korean food that I picked up at Koreatown Plaza on Western and James Woods. I got dukbokki, spicy rice cakes, and kimbap, which is kind of like sushi rolls, but Korean ones have meat inside instead of fish. These were filled with Spam. After my late lunch, I was on the road to get back to work.

I try to hit all the trucks and prep kitchens every day, usually go to the truck yard, at least one lunch truck stop, the office and then the restaurants. This day, since I was just getting my bearings together, I hit a truck for lunch first, had a short rib taco to taste it. Then I rolled to the Alibi Room, said “wassup wassup wassup” to everyone, and tasted the chicken taco. At Chego I tasted all the sauces, the rice, but didn’t really eat anything; just went through the kitchen and checked every container. Then I went by A-Frame. We had tweaked a bunch of new dishes on the menu, so our new chef, Jude Parra-Sickles, I think the first Momofuku alum to hit L.A., brought out our new mussel dish, and an heirloom tomato salad with garlic yogurt and fresh herbs. Our crudo now has cured fluke, so I tasted that, and it’s working out good.

After I got resettled a bit, I went to Beverly Hills and stepped right onto The Taste red carpet for the Burgers & Beer Bash. I ate my way through the event, but I can’t tell you everything I ate. I liked Spice Table’s burger with shrimp paste sauce, it was really good. And I ate some chocolate at the chocolate stand, the 85% cacao stuff. I had some green tea, and that was it. I went home.

Saturday, September 3rd
I woke up to some hummus, pita bread toasted in my little toaster, a soft poached egg, and hot sauce. It’s this sandwich I make every once in awhile. It’s so good. I had some coffee and water, then I went to Beechwood to check on the guys since I couldn’t do it on Friday and was gone for a couple weeks. I tasted everything there, corner to corner, everything. Just as I got there, the sous was pulling off some red beans and collard greens that we have on the menu right now, so I had a spoon of that. Every kitchen that I’m at, any kitchen, if there’s something coming off the stove, you can bet my spoon’s coming out of that motherfucker. I want to know how it tastes. It’s all instinctive and fun. It’s just the way I do it. I had a fresh squeezed orange juice there, too.

Then I headed over to the Taco Tequila Tryst for the Taste. I was the host, so I showed up about 4:15 P.M. at Paramount. The event didn’t start until 7, but I wanted to stop and say hello to everyone working it to thank them for being a part of the party, greet them, show them my love. It was great to see everyone. Right before the doors opened, I checked on our Kogi truck to see the set up. Tried a short-rib taco there, and it was soooo delicious. Sometimes Kogi throws me on my ass, it just wakes me up. I’ve been eating it for two years almost every day, and there are still these times when Kogi just slaps me across my face, and says, “I’m still here motherfucker!” That was one of those times.

And then I went into the party and tasted just about every booth, I ate almost all the tacos, except for a few stands. They were all great, especially the Latino spots like Antojitos Carmen, Flor del Rio, and Mariscos Chente and Chichen Itza. But all the restaurants were great, too! Everyone was so happy. I was there from the time the first person walked in until the last person walked out. I had a beer. It was a great party. I hardly ever drink, so it was a big deal that I had a beer.

When I got home, I was spinning, my spirit was rising high. To anchor me down, I had some junk food. I threw down some chips and salsa, and some salted caramel ice cream from Trader Joe’s. It’s not the best ice cream I’ve ever had, but it was in my freezer. Then I went to bed.

Sunday, September 4th
I woke up and had a banana. Then I made kimchi fried rice for my family. I caramelize the kimchi, add a stick of butter, and let it bubble up beautifully, and add the rice until it gets really crispy. Then I de-glaze the whole pan with kimchi juice, and add some eggs to poach. We eat it like a frittata right out of the pan. It’s so fucking amazing. Had that with some salted nori, water, and coffee made at home. We have LAMILL at the house right now.

Then I went out with the family and just chilled. We had to go to Sports Chalet on Olympic and Bundy area, so we went to Asahi Ramen on Sawtelle for lunch. Had zaru soba, cold noodles, and you put in some wasabi, shaved green onions, and grated daikon in the sauce, dip the noodles and slurp it up. I also had a Japanese yogurt soft drink called Calpico.

Then I headed out alone to the Street Eats event at The Taste, where I had to speak on a panel with Sang Yoon, Jet Tila, and Mario Alberto. I walked around the whole event, saw a gang of chefs and people. I loved the the lamb flatbread with yogurt and dill from Palate. Sooo delicious. Octavio always kills it at these events, every time, he just brings it. Had an Indian meatball from the Great Balls on Tires guys, peirogis from that new Steeltown truck, and a bean taco but I don’t remember from where. I had this walnut ice from Sno-Cone Amore, which is like a sno-cone but topped with a creamy walnut sauce. It was pretty delicious. It actually kind of stopped me in my tracks, so I went back and got another. Had some water, and a glass of wine, which is a big deal. I don’t drink, so two days in a row I had something. Amazing.

I left around 8pm and went home. I was in my own world from there. Didn’t eat anything the rest of the day.

Monday, September 5th
I went to the gym in the morning, and had a banana and some water before. Afterwards, I went and got a chorizo and egg burrito from Benitos in the Fairfax District. I live over there. Then I had a peach in the late morning.

I had a friend in town, James Syhabout from Commis in Oakland. I consider him one of the best chefs in America. The guy is amazing. He’s walking on another dimension compared to a lot of us. He was down for a wedding, so we grabbed lunch together. We went to Chosun Galbee on Olympic, near Western, and just grubbed. We had two full beautiful orders of marinated galbi that we grilled at the table. It comes with all the sides, different kimchis, different pancakes, and pickles. We had rice, and a Korean salad. When I first started making the Kogi taco, I was trying to mimic the flavor of that salad, the shredded lettuce with soy chili vinaigrette. We just ate and ate and ate. Like a two-and-a-half hour lunch. The place was packed, every table smoking. We also ordered braised rock cod, slow braised in a chili soy sauce, like a soup, with daikon and green onion, shredded onion, bell peppers, things like that. So good. Had a Coke and a smile while I was there. And then I was in a food coma for a minute.

Later I ended up in Glendale. Our intention was to eat at Palate, to say what’s up to Octavio since I just saw him at the event. We never ended up there, though. We went to the Glendale Galleria and shopped around. It was packed, so busy, but a lot of fun to walk around. I was with my family, and we ended up eating at BJs for dinner. We had a deep dish pepperoni and sausage pizza, Chicago style, some chips and salsa, New England clam chowder, and a beautiful draft root beer.

Later, right before I went to bed, I had an edible kush oatmeal cookie and just faded out.

Roy Choi Eats Korean BBQ With James Syhabout and Downs a Kush Cookie Before Bed