There are many factors to consider in choosing a Los Angeles Times Restaurant of the Year. An ideal candidate has delicious food – that’s a given – but also a sense of purpose, a place within its community, and the ability to drive the conversation forward, not just in Los Angeles but around the world. Its chefs should honor diversity, but not at the expense of focus; health, but not at the expense of flavor; and sustainability, but not at the expense of complexity. It should feel like L.A.
One might not expect the first Restaurant of the Year award to be won by a burger stand, but the choice was inevitable – no restaurant in years may have made more of a difference than Locol, Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s skater-themed fast-food spot in Watts.
Choi is known as the godfather of the food-truck movement, a chef who used skills honed in haute-cuisine kitchens to create a brand of cooking irresistible enough to draw huge crowds to parking lots in the middle of the night. Patterson won two Michelin stars for his abstracted vegetable-intensive cooking at San Francisco’s Coi.
What Locol serves is neither fusion nor fine dining, but an attempt to redefine fast food with kitchen techniques you usually find in restaurants that cost 40 times as much: lightening it, taking out much of the fat and sugar, using fresh ingredients, but staying true to the preferences of the neighborhood. The employees, many of whom had never worked in food service before Locol, come from the immediate area. The burgers and sandwiches are served on soft buns developed by Chad Robertson of the famous San Francisco bakery Tartine. The food — shrimp and grits, red beans and rice, chili and foldies — feels handmade. A lot of the recipes find use and flavor in the scraps and bits that some people call “food waste.” And while Locol may be only one version of the future of food, it is one that we all can live with: good food for all.