After making the trip out west to cover Santa Monica dinnertime favorite Cassia, The New York Times reviewer Pete Wells is back on the Left Coast for another full starred restaurant review. This time it’s at LocoL up in Oakland, and boy does Wells seem to find a lot wrong with the place’s food.
Up top, Wells takes a look at the ethos of LocoL, a fast food option with helpfulness at its heart. The whole place is built on a model of giving back to communities, providing healthful food and job opportunities to those in need, primarily in some of the hardest hit (and culinarily deserted) parts of America. Wells, however, finds that the Oakland location isn’t quite ravaged enough for his liking, noting that not far away is a new doughnut shop. The Watts outlet, he assures readers, is in a more desperate neighborhood.
From there, Wells lays into the food as largely bland, dry, and not any more appealing than the cheap stuff families are already getting from regular fast food restaurants around those same areas. He does enjoy the $2 coffee and finds a paragraph to extoll the virtues of Chad Robertson (of Tartine fame) and his burger buns, but can’t get behind the chili over rice or the fried chicken sandwich.
In all, the zero-starred review comes off as a bit of a head-scratcher. Wells has become widely known in some measure for “punching up,” the idea of taking aim at folks prominent in the cultural zeitgeist (see also: Guy Fieri), but the move to lambaste a sub-$10 burger restaurant with a do-good mantra feels odd and a bit unsettling, particularly lines like this:
I don’t know of any other fast-food chain that has put street culture at the heart of its locations in this way. The closest most of them come to design that reflects the surroundings is a wall of bulletproof glass.
Ever the outspoken one, Choi doesn’t seem yet to have responded online, though he did tag his latest Instagram photo with the phrase “no hater zone”. As for Wells, he’s likely back in New York City by now, pondering the balance of social justice against the quality of a $5 burger.