There are so many things to say about Locol (currently open in Watts, California) that the food almost becomes an afterthought. The restaurant aims to offer a healthier alternative to traditional fast food with fresh, local ingredients, and is spearheaded by Coi’s Daniel Patterson and Kogi’s Roy Choi (a man so integral to the LA food scene that he was even included in the city’s pitch video to host the Olympics).
The goals of Locol are so important and noble and necessary that it almost doesn’t matter what the food tastes like. Because even if the food was awful, or just as good as normal fast food chains, Locol should be celebrated for providing affordable and nutritious food in a neighborhood where McDonald’s advertises on liquor stores.
But Locol isn’t a symbol, it isn’t a charity, and it isn’t a feel good story. Locol is — we hope — the future of fast food, and the future looks goddamn amazing.
Locol’s flagship location is at 1950 East 103rd St. in Watts — a street that was so badly burned during the 1965 riots that it was called Charcoal Alley. Like most of the city, the street still appears to be recovering from the trauma of those days. But as hard as it is to separate the restaurant from the city, and what Locol stands for from what it actually is, these distinctions are important. Because before I bit into the Locol Cheeseburg, I thought of the restaurant the same way many people probably still think of it today: a noble cause. And we don’t expect much from our noble causes; besides the warm fuzzies we feel when we give them money. Just like the stale muffin we buy at the church bake sale, or the plate of overcooked noodles we force down at the charity spaghetti feed, or the car wash we buy at the junior high marching band’s fundraiser that somehow makes our car dirtier.
But after the first bite of that cheeseburger, I wasn’t thinking about good causes or food deserts (Choi’s preferred term for neighborhoods that don’t have access to good food). I was only thinking one, very loud, and soon to be repeated exclamation:
Holy sh*t, this burger was good. Not just good for fast food; this cheeseburger would be delicious in any setting. The jack cheese actually tasted like and melted like cheese, which should not be an impressive statement for a fast-food restaurant, but most definitely is. Then there were the charred scallions with lime juice, the appropriately (if somewhat Guy Fieri-an) named “awesome sauce,” and the freshly baked bun (from Tartine Bakery’s recipe). All these parts of the Locol Cheeseburg were fantastic, but what made the burger special — and should always be the case, but so rarely is at fast-food restaurants — was the beef.
The hamburger patty was well seasoned, but spiced with enough restraint to not obscure the simple, wonderful flavor of the beef. Letting an ingredient stand on its own is a courageous move for any restaurant, and near insanity for a fast-food joint, but Locol does exactly that. This move, basic and ballsy as it may be, is the only choice when a restaurant can deliver a product that tastes as incredible as this burger.