Roy Choi put his first Kogi BBQ truck on the streets of L.A. 11 years ago to sell drool-worthy Korean tacos for two bucks each. It started a multiethnic comfort food revolution on four wheels. Brick-and-mortar restaurants followed—A-Frame, Alibi Room, Chego!, LocaL, and now, Best Friend at Park MGM Las Vegas, Choi’s first eatery outside of California.
Along the way, Choi wrote a cookbook memoir, consulted and appeared in the movie “Chef,” cooked and judged a smorgasbord of food shows and collected major accolades: Food & Wine’s Best New Chef, L.A. Times’ Restaurant of the Year, TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, and more. But Choi’s never really left the streets, not even now that he’s Vegas’ newest celebrity chef and the executive producer of “Broken Bread,” an inspiring documentary series for KCET and Tastemade spotlighting grassroots efforts that make a difference in communities through food.
What made you want to gamble on the Vegas culinary scene by opening Best Friend in Park MGM?
MGM reached out to me about the Vegas project and it felt right. I’d been looking for a way to expand because … I don’t know how to describe it except that it’s like when the X-Men and Cyclops shoot out all his rays, and after all the rays are gone you’re completely exhausted and you have to rebuild again. That’s pretty much how I build stuff. Obviously with that composition in life, it’s hard to open restaurant after restaurant after restaurant in New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, Chicago. Not that I don’t want to or won’t, it’s just that I haven’t figured out the formula where I don’t walk away totally exhausted. I thought that Vegas could be a good bridge to figuring that out.
When did your history with Las Vegas begin?
I love it, man. I started going to Vegas, like, two years before the restaurant opened, during the development process. I love that nobody judges you in this city. Because it’s a town where you don’t have to hide in a corner to smoke. You don’t have to pretend that you don’t have vices in your life. You don’t have to pretend you woke up at six in the morning when you really woke up at 2 pm. You don’t have to act like you’re something you’re not. That’s why I like Vegas. Everyone accepts you as you are.
What makes you feel most at home in Las Vegas?
The people who come from Vegas have a dry sense of humor because they’ve seen it all. It’s a very small town when you get to know it. I’ve lived in a lot of small towns. Vegas is a small town in a suit that’s three sizes too big. The framework is huge but when you get into it, it has small-town politics and a small-town personality. Everyone kind of knows each other like in a company town where everyone works in the steel mill—but in Vegas everyone works in hospitality, so when you meet a stranger in Vegas you can get right to the shorthand. That’s why I like Vegas. They’re either working as a manager, a bartender, a busser, a runner, a cook or stewarding. Right away you can get to know someone. Vegas has been good to me from day one.