Roy Choi's Best Friend fires up a whirlwind of tastes
When Roy Choi opens a restaurant, high expectations come with it. For those unfamiliar with the Los Angeles-based chef, if you’ve eaten at any type of trendy food truck in the last decade, you owe Choi a debt of gratitude. He reinvented the mobile dining game during the economic recession selling Korean tacos—they weren’t a thing before him!—off his Kogi BBQ truck, using Twitter in a way that hadn’t been done before, creating a buzz for his cuisine.
Choi’s first Vegas effort, the recently opened Best Friend at Park MGM, has already become a fresh scene, as much a place to hang out—there is a DJ booth that assorted beat blasters use to set the evening’s vibe—as it is to eat. The bright space feels right out of Choi’s home of Koreatown, but fits Vegas perfectly as well.
The menu plays like a greatest hits list for Choi along with some newer items. Of course, you can begin with banchan, the small dishes traditionally served with a Korean meal, from daikon radish to kimchi. Then get that palate going with cucumbers and jjang, an aggressively marinated cucumber dish with soy bean chili paste and sesame oil. It’s banging. Dumplings feature bits of pork, beef and tofu and are studded with ginger. These potstickers pack big taste into small packages. Korean wings highlight the flavors of chili and citrus plus lychee.
Bowls include a luxurious uni dynamite rice and Choi’s Chego classic pork belly bowl. The Frito Misto Rogers is the chef’s take on tempura, with a light and tasty batter coating sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans and shrimp.
In the barbecue section, Choi pays homage to his Korean roots in a more classic fashion. Proteins include kalbi, the flavorful bone-in short rib, and a spicy pork belly thanks to Choi’s gochujang marinade. However, nothing touches the garlic chicken. Chicken thighs are marinated in the chef’s signature soy sauce and once it hits the heat, it creates a crunchy, caramelized exterior layer. Sliced onions adorn the plate, and you’ll just keep going back for more and more of the simple and delicious dish.
Moving down the large menu to the LA Sh*t area, this is where Choi loyalists will find some of the cultural mash-ups that made the chef a star. Look no further than the Kogi short rib tacos, a dish that created many converts to the cult of Choi. Korean short ribs, salsa roja, chili soy slaw and cilantro, onions and lime sit inside a tortilla and the first taste will make you a believer. Elotes bring a more traditional sense to the crave-worthy street corn, here slathered in Kewpie mayo, lime juice, Tajín seasoning, cotija cheese and cilantro. It’s damn tasty.
Still hungry? Choi brings some inspiration from his shuttered Line Hotel project POT with a variety of large stews. Tamarind black cod stew pulls in glass noodles ginger and onion. Meanwhile, Itaewon hearkens back to army base stew (budae-jjigae) and is a collision between post-Korean War U.S. Army provisions and common Korean ingredients. This iteration uses corned beef hash, sausage, fish cakes, Spam, hot dogs, ramen and herbs. It’s wild.
Desserts are freewheeling and fun. Mango budino puts a tropical twist on a pudding that is usually chocolate or caramel. Date cake is moist, sweet and a must-have. Wash everything down with a watermelon and hibiscus soju slushy (one of four slushy options) and you’ll be making new best friends in no time.
Park MGM, 5-10 p.m. daily. 702.730.7010