Roy Choi has arrived in Vegas, and he wants to be your best friend. If early tastes of his newest venue, Park MGM’s Best Friend, are any indication, you probably should let him.
Choi, a classically trained Korean-American chef from LA, is best known as the founder of the wildly successful Kogi food trucks, which not only thrust Korean-Mexican fusion into the mainstream, but also signalled the acceptance of the gourmet food truck while revolutionizing the use of Twitter to publicize his efforts.
Like Kogi, Best Friend is reflective of Choi’s heritage, showcasing dishes of significance to him and reflecting his SoCal upbringing. The menu collects Choi’s greatest hits—from his LA venues like A-Frame and the sadly defunct Commissary—along with new, Vegas-only offerings. The famous short rib tacos ($12) that sparked his empire are there, of course—caramelized Korean kalbi swaddled in a tortilla and garnished with salsa roja and slaw. It’s kind of Choi to save you the effort of tracking down his trucks on the streets of LA for such a savory treat.
The new uni dynamite rice ($19) is an epiphany, a small-but-hearty offering that’s practically a meal unto itself. Awash with sriracha and yuzu, its sauce imbues the dish with spice without obscuring the subtle saltiness of the Santa Barbara sea urchin. It’s a destination dish.
More traditional Korean dishes are equally successful. Cucumbers and jjang ($7)—Korean slang for “the best”—lives up to its billing, with the housemade doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste) imparting waves of umami. It’s a simple dish that shouldn’t be overlooked. And sizzling platters of spicy pork ($24) reminiscent of fajitas arrive wafting the scent of sizzling onions, delivering the right amount of heat via ample gochujang, or traditional Korean chili paste.
Chili cheese spaghetti ($33) is Choi’s ode to Bob’s Big Boy, a riff on a Cincinnati chili four-way. Chili, pasta, onions and cheese are accented with chilies for elevated heat. It might not be highbrow, but it’s an enormous bowl of rich and savory comfort food. Another homage is the slippery shrimp ($18), a take on LA-based Yang Chow’s dish of the same name. Best Friend elevates its rendition of what is essentially walnut shrimp by including spicy mayo. And save room for the transcendent date cake ($10), accompanied by burnt cinnamon ice cream. A killer dessert at a Korean-Mexican joint might seem out of place, but I suspect Choi’s just fine with that.
Everything about Best Friend is fun. You enter the venue through a fully functioning convenience store adorned with old-school posters and a neon sign straight out of Tom Cruise film Cocktail. (And if you can’t wait for dinner, you can buy yourself Andy Capp’s Cheddar Fries, Combos or even Dubble Bubble!) Best Friend’s menu, assembled in a bright-yellow loose-leaf binder, intersperses food offerings with various photos of Choi and his staff in high school (and one of a random Filipino street gang). And to cleanse your palate, refreshing adult slushies, including a rather tasty watermelon and hibiscus soju, mesmerize like a scene from the best 7-11 ever.
Best Friend is irreverent in a manner befitting Choi. It might seem somewhat out of place at the newly renovated Park MGM, but maybe uncomfortable is good. It’s welcoming and inviting, edgy yet comforting. Mostly it’s a fun meal and a welcome addition to both the newly renovated property and the Strip. Roy Choi isn’t my best friend yet, but if he keeps feeding me like this, he might be soon.
BEST FRIEND Park MGM, 702-730-7777. Daily, 5 p.m.-midnight.