Locol is the high-profile fast-food restaurant concept by Oakland resident, chef-restaurateur Daniel Patterson and LA food truck star chef Roy Choi.
The pair’s Northern California outlet of Locol has been highly anticipated after they floated the idea of opening affordable and “healthful” fast-food eateries in under-served communities. Their first Locol opened in Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood (and there are plans for one in San Francisco’s Tenderloin).
Oakland’s Locol is in the city’s trendy Uptown neighborhood — home to luxury condos, hipster restaurants and bars. Not exactly what you’d think of when you think under-served community (seems like Fruitvale would be a more appropriate spot). But it’s apparently an opening of convenience because the space is the former home of Patterson’s Plum restaurant (his PB bar is still next door).
It’s also convenient for me as a lunch option because my offices are in the Uptown neighborhood. Since opening around Memorial Day weekend, the Oakland Locol has been buzzing with people drawn by the loud hip-hop music pulsing from inside the stark black-and-white interiors. Choi, who’s known for LA’s Kogi BBQ trucks and restaurants like A-Frame, can be seen during these early days supervising the work flow and greeting customers.
The menu is limited, and takes awhile to understand how it works. As reported by the food media, Patterson and Choi want to provide affordable meals that are more healthy than your typical fast-food restaurant. (The most expensive item is $7.) But this doesn’t mean the menu is filled with salads. On the contrary, I hardly found vegetables unless you count the sides (known as “yotchays” for $2 each) of “messy greens” (cooked collard greens) and cole slaw.
There are four “burgs” or burgers at $5 each: cheeseburger, fried chicken sandwich, BBQ turkey burger, and veggie burger, and the size is about what you would get at McDonald’s. The four bowl options ($7 each) are interesting alternatives and can sometimes be the most value (meaning a decent price and filling for lunch) but they can also be the most confusing in terms of a balanced meal. The “Noodleman,” for example, is simply a bowl of noodles tossed in a sauce of ginger, chili and lime.
I’ve seen people actually build their own creations using parts of Locol’s menu. For example, people might top the Noodleman ($7) with an order of chicken “nugs,” one of two items in the “crunchies” section at $4 each. (So by doing this, people are spending $11 for lunch, which doesn’t seem that affordable.)
There’s also a section called “foldies” ($3 each), which are like mini quesadillas. You can get them filled with carnitas, BBQ turkey, “machaca” (or beef), and bean and cheese. But really, all the foldies are made with a spread of beans that I find too much, making the “foldies” all taste like a bean quesadilla. Also, in the few times I’ve order the foldies, they’ve always come out with a sheen of grease around the shell, like the grill has been in use for years as opposed to less than a month.
And that’s the mixed blessings of Locol. On the one hand, these two high-end restaurant owners know a lot about quality ingredients and quality preparations. But on the other hand, they’re hiring a fast-food crew who aren’t necessarily trained. So the food sometimes has this feeling of potential but with just average preparations.
The Locol cheeseburger, for example, was perfectly fine but I hardly tasted any of the “awesome sauce” or scallion relish. Just like the BBQ turkey burger, which is shredded turkey meat in a BBQ sauce. It was easy to eat and was fine for a quick lunch, but I could hardly detect any of the buttermilk mayo that was supposedly on the buns. (And would it have cost so much to add a piece of lettuce?)
BTW, the buns are nice and easy to eat, and the recipe was developed by Locol adviser Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery.
I liked the “messy beef chili bowl,” which is a layer of slightly spicy chili over rice and topped with crushed crackers on top. Growing up in Hawaii, I’m used to chili and rice, so that was comforting. The crackers was an interesting touch, but with the rice and the crackers, the chili loses some of its moisture so it feels dry when eating.
On the other end, the “crushed tofu and veggie stew” was a bowl of vegetable stew with tofu served with rice. While it tasted fine, the consistency was more on the watery side so it was more like a soup than stew.
The last bite
I admire Locol’s mission of bringing better quality fast-food to the communities, and hiring within the community. As an Oakland resident, it does make me feel good eating there and supporting my community. But I can’t say I’m wowed by the food. I like having another option for lunch in the hood that doesn’t break the bank, but is it revolutionary? Right now it feels more like an organized protest.
The rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Locol, 2214 Broadway St. (near 22nd but before Grand Avenue), Oakland. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (breakfast menu available). No reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.welocol.com
Here’s an Instagram video I posted on the iced coffee. I was excited to see iced coffee on the menu (and only for $3) but it was on the watery side, so the coffee flavor wasn’t as strong.
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