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NY Times restaurant critic Pete Wells demolishes LocoL's Oakland location

Photograph: Courtesy LocoL

Yikes. 2017 is off to a rocky start for Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson's Oakland branch of LocoL. Just yesterday, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells handed the fast food spot a zero star rating in a less-than-flattering review, where he dropped bombs like "Supermarkets sell canned chilis that are seasoned more persuasively" and, when talking about LocoL's chicken, "the best thing to do with it is pretend it doesn’t exist." He gives some praise to the cheeseburger and the $2 coffee, but for the most part, it's a brutal review that would send plenty of chefs into a knife-throwing rage.

Wells only recently started reviewing restaurants outside of New York City, with his first being Cassia in Santa Monica—a restaurant he bestowed three stars upon in September. But at Cassia, reservations are made and tables are loaded with dishes like pot au feu, homemade tandoori bread with chickpea curry, and Vietnamese coffee pudding. LocoL is not Cassia. LocoL is also not Guy Fieri's Guy's American Kitchen & Bar, which Wells pulverized with his pen in 2012, a restaurant that catered towards those willing to spend plenty of money in the thick of Times Square.

Reservations are not made at LocoL, nor is it a place where tourists should be warned about frequenting. Choi and Patterson launched the chain as an affordable fast food option, a place where honest ingredients and healthy alternatives mattered—as did the communities LocoL opened in. Wells writes that the staff at LocoL seem happy, a nice departure from nearby restaurants where employees look miserable and where the "design that reflects the surroundings is a wall of bulletproof glass." Isn't that worthy of at least one star? And if it's not, why is Wells choosing to apply his standards to a restaurant that has entirely different objectives than the ones in which the critic deems review-able?

Choi responded to the review with a classy Instagram post, noting that he welcomes Wells' criticisms and that he is now part of LocoL's story:



Zero stars. I know many of you want me to respond or snap back at him but the situation to me is much more than that. I welcome Pete's review. It tells me a lot more about the path. I don't know Pete but he is now inextricably linked to LocoL forever. So I'll share with you what I wrote to a friend and our team. We got that PMA: "The truth is that LocoL has hit a nerve. Doesn't mean all people love it, some hate it. But no one is indifferent by it. That's the spirit of LocoL. It has nothing to do with my ego. It's something bigger than all of us. Pete Wells is a component to its DNA. His criticisms are a reflection of us and the nerve that LocoL touches. And our imperfections. Also the nerve of challenging the binary structure of privileged thought patterns and how life is not just about what's a success or failure, but some things are real struggles and growth journeys. We all know the food is not as bad as he states. Is it perfect? NO. But it's not as bad as he writes. And all minorities aren't criminals either. And all hoods aren't filled with dangerous people either. But the pen has created a lot of destruction over the course of history and continues to.. He didn't need to go there but he did. That's why he's a part of LocoL. The power of this change and this nerve that it hits. It compelled him to write something he knows would hurt a community that is already born from a lot of pain and struggle.. Crazy, right? But I see it as a piece to this whole puzzle." #LocoL #Watts #Oakland

A photo posted by Chef Roy (@ridingshotgunla) on

Well said, chef. You just keep doing you.

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So glad to read Kate's comment. I had the same take on Wells' review and on Choi's response. I can't figure out if it was a bizarre leap of logic or Choi just has poor reading skills, but either way, implying racism without evidence is not "classy". Even if it were true, it would be just "clever." As it stands it is nasty, and immature.

False accusations and shaming to silence critics...I know I just saw this somewhere recently...Is that really the behavior we want to laud as "classy"?

Kate C

People keep saying Choi's is a classy response. But it's actually defensive and passive aggressive and ugly, linking Wells rhetorically to racism: "But it's not as bad as he writes. And all minorities aren't criminals either." That's some serious logical jujitsu there. And seriously nasty. I read Wells' review. He seemed warmly inclined toward LocoL and its mission, his criticisms coming from a desire for LocoL to be as good as it could--not to hurt it.