When Best Friend opens in Las Vegas in late December, it will represent one of the city’s time-honored traditions: a sure thing.
The restaurant, inside the Park MGM, is the brainchild of Roy Choi, the soulful chef who jump-started the food truck trend around 2008 by tweeting locations of his Kogi BBQ Taco Truck in Los Angeles.
The timing is as good as it gets in Vegas. Best Friend’s opening will coincide with the beginning of Lady Gaga’s residency at the neighboring Park Theater, which begins Dec. 28, and ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show, kicking off Jan. 8.
“If I can crush it in Vegas, it opens doors that normally I wouldn’t be looking at, like Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, Korea,” Choi says. It’s a change of heart for the guy who’s said no to Vegas projects for years while being recognized by the likes of the late Anthony Bourdain as a chef who personifies L.A.’s multicultural sensibility.
His restaurant is a key part of MGM Park’s blockbuster culinary lineup. The $550 million renovation of the former Monte Carlo hotel, which opened in May next to the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, includes the coming NoMad Restaurant and Bar within the NoMad hotel, and Eataly, which will welcome visitors early next year.
Best Friend is set on a corner of the casino floor, alongside Eataly and facing the Park Theater, where Gaga will perform. It’s also near the $375 million T-Mobile Arena, home of the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights, who made it to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s first season. Choi anticipates blurring the lines that separate tourists, who stay on the Strip, from locals who avoid it. “It’s going to feel a lot like L.A.,” he says. “I’m calling it ‘Los Vegas.’ ”
For the first time, Choi will serve a compilation of the food he’s cooked over the past 10 years at his destination L.A. spots. That includes everything from the rice bowls at Chego and the neighborhood Korean he served at POT (he’s since exited) to the next-level stoner food at A-Frame, the well-sourced fast food from Locol, and fare from his Kogi trucks. “Remixed and remastered,” is how the chef describes the food he’ll serve.
“Like the movie ‘Chef’ (which Choi consulted on), sometimes you have to play your hits,” he says. “It’s like Coachella — you can’t do your most obscure songs.”
He envisions customers eating dishes such as chili spaghetti or chow fun Bolognese along with Korean barbecue, uni crudo, grain bowls and Locol burgers.
“All on one table. It will have the energy of a busy dim sum restaurant,” he says. “But with spectacle.” The late-night menu will be an edited version of the main menu with some surprises.
Choi will serve his famed Korean tacos two ways: classic, for the neophytes, as well as a 2.0 version. Many of the dishes will be braises and barbecue, fragrant cooking styles that create the atmosphere of a family meal — something you don’t see much of in Vegas.
He also plans dishes like tangy tamarind cod with noodles and a braised spicy chicken from Korea, with lots of vegetables, that evokes a grandmother cooking a hearty, spice-filled chicken soup.
The Liquor Store
The restaurant’s entrance will be the Liquor Store — a bar designed as a store with shelves of snacks and Best Friend merchandise, plus a counter with fuzzy white bar stools. “It’s flipping the script on a secret speak-easy,” says Choi. Drinks will feature fresh-pressed juices and reimagined dubious 1980s classics like the fuzzy navel and pina colada. Also on the menu will be frozen alcohol-spiked yard drinks, including lemon soju, and snacks such as kimchi hot dogs.
The Liquor Store will also feature a video tunnel that doubles as an entrance to the restaurant. Will Choi create a drink for Lady Gaga? “That’s a good idea,” he says. “We will find a way to collaborate with her. And her fans. Our restaurant is literally right next door to her theater.”
It’s hard to walk a few feet in Vegas without bumping into a DJ. But they’re invariably stationed in clubs like Tao, and the Best Friend dining room will include a DJ booth, too. Choi plans a mix of DJs from L.A. and Vegas, some of whom will feature the hip-hop culture he grew up with, including the California-based Beat Junkies.