Food Daily Dish

Roy Choi on Chego's move to Chinatown: 'The space has a kind of spiritual glow to it'

Chego fans were bummed when Roy Choi's Palms restaurant closed in January for renovations (though he immediately set up a Chego truck in the parking lot), and then devastated when they found out the restaurant serving amped-up rice bowls would leave the Overland Avenue location altogther. But on Saturday Chego reopens in Chinatown's Far East Plaza, also home of Pho 97 and Wing Hop Fung Ginseng, among other landmark businesses, serving such hits as the Chubby Pork Belly (kochujang-slicked pork belly rice bowl), Beefy-T (hot chili fried rice with diced prime rib) and Ooey Gooey Fries.

Choi says he will be serving the original menu for a few weeks as the new Chego gets started, then incorporating new items that reflect its place in a historic neighborhood. "I had a lot of ambitious thoughts, let’s do a really crazy menu," says Choi, "and I still do want to honor Chinatown. But what I've realized now a couple of days before opening is that there a lot of people who might not have experienced the OG Chego menu."

He points out that the new Chego is conveniently located near four fish markets, four chicken markets and three produce markets, "literally 15 steps away." Later he says he'll "start doing catfish, wok-fried tilapia, a lot of 'Chinatown' dishes that blend the old and the new, riffs off the kind of old-school Chinatown lunch specials with a Chego flip, char shiu and duck -- a reflection of Chinatown but through our eyes." 

Choi says he decided to move because, one, his lease was up and negotiations with the landlord "just weren't working out," and two, simultaneous conversations with George Yu, head of the Chinatown Business Improvement District, led him to Far East Plaza. "We just had this mutual idea it’d be great to do something in Chinatown," says Choi, who has strong memories of the neighborhood: Phoenix almond cookies, buying kung fu shoes, Bruce Lee posters, drinking boba teas, hanging out after Dodgers games. "It's a huge deal to come back as an adult."

As soon as he walked through what was once a Thai restaurant tucked into a corner spot in what has been called "the first modern ethnic mall," he knew it was the right space. "It was Chego, it was totally Chego. I already saw it fully existing .... The space has a kind of spiritual glow to it. I felt like I had been there before. I felt like our spirit or our identity was already there at some other time, it just took me this long to find it. It’s not as kooky as it may seem. I think we restaurateurs, when we connect to a spot it’s almost like walking through a portal."

A month and a half of cosmetic changes and cleaning up the kitchen and Chego 2.0 will open with a grand opening celebration on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Choi announced on a flyer on his Twitter feed: "We don't think anyone's been as excited about Chego in Chinatown as us. And, well, maybe you. Which is why we're sending you the invite. Finally. Ooey Gooey Fries and Chubby Pork Bellies shall be had once again ... With maybe a little ping pong on the side. Trust. It shall be a Grand Opening that Far East Plaza shalt not soon forget."

Far East Plaza, 727 N. Broadway, No. 117, Los Angeles, www.eatchego.com.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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