Roy Choi is once again cooking in a mini-mall in Palms, as his highly anticipated brick-and-mortar Kogi Taqueria opened Tuesday morning. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Choi and his team, as the new Kogi — the restaurant version of his four Kogi BBQ taco trucks — is about two blocks south of the original location of Chego, which opened in Palms and relocated to Chinatown in 2013.
“People love us here,” Choi said, as he took a break from making tacos, burritos and kimchi quesadillas for the crowd that had already gathered for lunch, about an hour after the doors opened for the first time. “We didn’t leave on purpose.” (Chego closed over a lease issue.) As if to underscore his point, diners kept coming up to the chef to welcome the chef back to the neighborhood as they sat down to plates of carne asada and carnitas tacos.
If those don’t quite sound familiar to longtime patrons of the trucks, that’s because Choi has put four traditional tacos on the Kogi menu, in addition to the spicy chicken wings and fries and the salad that have long been on the menu at the Alibi Room.
“It’s an homage to the tacos I ate growing up,” said Choi, wearing a Dodgers T-shirt with “Kogi” on the back, of the new, more traditional tacos — carne asada, carnitas, pollo asada and cebollita y aguacate — which he says aren’t in any specific style, but rather could be from anywhere in Los Angeles or Orange counties.
The location of the new taqueria, on the corner of Overland and Palms, in a mini-mall that’s also home to a yoga studio, a doughnut house and a pizza joint. It is small, though larger than the Chinatown Chego, and decidedly bigger than any of the Kogi trucks. And there’s outdoor seating, for those who miss eating their Pacman burgers, short rib tacos and Sriracha bars under open skies.
Choi said that he and his team wanted to replicate a classic taqueria, albeit one that’s meant to remind people of the trucks themselves. Thus one entire wall is painted like the exterior of a Kogi truck. “It’s like you stepped into Kogi’s garage,” said Choi, noting the shop lights on the ceiling.
“We built this with the idea that we could finally grow up a little. Every truck we built was on the fly.” The taqueria is meant to be a kind of template, Choi said, for other shops that he and his team can open in other areas.
“A huge part of our DNA is going out to the neighborhood. It’s that feeling, like hearing the ice cream truck,” said Choi, considering the impact that the Kogi trucks have had not only on this city’s mobile food scene, but the rest of the country’s. It’s something that he doesn’t mean to change; rather, he envisions the taqueria as a kind of extension of this mobility, rather than a retreat from it. “It’s an extension of who we are.”
Kogi Taqueria is now open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, and is closed Monday.
Kogi Taqueria, 3500 Overland Ave., Los Angeles.
Because taking pictures of food is almost as much fun as eating it, check out @latimesfood on Instagram.