Exactly one year ago, Los Angeles food truck mogul Roy Choi stood on stage in Levi's Stadium and shared his vision to revolutionize fast food. With intentions that were admittedly naïve, Choi and local empire builder Daniel Patterson (Coi, Alta, Plum, Alfred's Steakhouse, Haven) set out to inexpensively provide large numbers of people with high-quality food.
One year and many hiccups later, the dream is finally becoming reality. In January, Choi and Patterson opened LocoL, a fast food concept designed to bring real food to "the local homies" in LA's Watts neighborhood. Four months later they opened a second location in Uptown Oakland. While not exactly a food desert (the Oakland location is next door to Patterson's Plum and surrounded by numerous restaurants), the menu and price range are far different from anything else available in the neighborhood.
When I arrived at 7pm on a Wednesday (one hour before closing) the place was bustling. Friendly staff are aided by two checkered kiosks equipped with electronic tablets from which you can browse the menu, place orders, and pay for your meal with the swipe of a finger (though they were out of service on my second visit). LocoL serves affordable items that provide a healthier alternative to typical quick serve establishments, and menu items fall in the impossibly low range of $2-$7.
While the menu proved a little difficult to understand—food is divided into abbreviated categories such as foldies (tacos), burgs (burgers), crunchies (nuggets), brekkie (breakfast), bowls and yotchays— I ordered the crushed tofu and veggie stew ($7) and a side of messy greens ($2) from a teenage girl with dark braids and a big smile. Less than five minutes later, my number was called and I picked up my tray from the kitchen and found a spot on one of the versatile black and white cubes that serve as seating.
Customers wait in line for affordable eats at LocoL in Uptown Oakland. (photography by Audrey Ma)
LocoL's menu items are substantial, but not exactly what you would call health food—often fried and heavy on rice, noodles, and other low-cost calories—but they're good in a real and satisfying way. The tofu and veggie stew was flavorful and filling, and the messy greens served as a savory salty add on. On a second visit I tried a foldie made with machaca, veggie nuggets, and an agua fresca. The foldie ($3) was reminiscent of a frozen taquito—flavorful, but greasy, with no condiments or add-ons. An order of crunchies ($4) included three fried nuggets dunked in a layer of zippy creamy sauce, with the veggie option resembling falafel. All items are made as is—no holding the mayo or dressing on the side.
Fried chicken and an agua fresca at LocoL. (photography by Audrey Ma)
Great improvement from typical fast food fare can be seen in the buns and beverages. Patties of ground beef, fried chicken and BBQ turkey are served on spongy dense buns designed by bread master Chad Robertson of Tartine. The bun is substantial and slightly sweet, which works well for the brekkie egg sandwiches. An apricot orange agua fresca (flavors vary) contains real fruit juice and is substantially lower in sugar than a soda, and at $3, a spicy fresh "green juice" may be the cheapest reboot you'll find in the Bay.
The small dining room—where LocoL's signature comic book cartoons, including Noodleman (the official mascot of the Oakland location), look down on customers— was boisterous with conversation undergirded by rap music. Though it caters to a young urban population, the space wants to be for everyone—families, students, professionals, kids. LocoL wants to serve the neighborhood, but it also wants to change the world.
// LocoL: Open 8am-8pm, 2214 Broadway St. (Oakland), welocol.com
(photography by Audrey Ma)