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When Las Vegas came calling, I quickly tackled the first, and most important, order of business: ensuring that I would be well-fed. Even though the trip was to take place more than a month later, I booked a reservation right away for dinner at Best Friend, the newest epicurean brainchild of chef Roy Choi, set inside Park MGM on the Las Vegas Strip.
I was already familiar with — and enamored by — the Los Angeles-based chef’s flavor palate and aptitude for creating imaginative, let’s-not-take-life-too-seriously dishes and dining atmospheres. (The Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, co-founded by Choi in 2008, stops by my office every Thursday, and A-Frame is dangerously close to home — to name a couple of Choi’s superb eateries.)
Fast-forward a month and some change later: My friend and I stepped into Best Friend’s liquor-slinging storefront and bodega (an informal bar and dining area) and felt transported into a familiar scene — but not one of the dimly lit fine-dining restaurants or boisterous buffets with snaking lines and tipsy patrons that haunt the Las Vegas dining circuit. Rather, it felt like we had reappeared back home in L.A. — more specifically, Korea Town, or “K-Town” as it’s known locally — albeit with a few more florescent lights and folks dressed to the nines, Vegas-style.
My delight soared to new heights once we were led through a pair of kitschy plastic curtains and into the dining area. Here, bright colors and patterns were almost as loud as the hip-hop music bumping from the DJ booth; oversize plants dangled from the ceiling, and tempting aromas escaped from the open kitchen in the back. Our server — clad in a red Adidas jumpsuit evocative of the ’90s — greeted us before handing over the coolest menu I’ve ever seen: a yellow binder listing innovative Korean-Mexican fusion dishes and peppered with photographs presumably of a younger Choi and his friends. Those hilarious photos and Choi’s way of imaginatively combining cuisines and cultures resonated with my own Asian-American upbringing in Southern California.
Unsurprisingly, we over-ordered, which we realized as soon as our table had more dishes than space available. Also unsurprisingly, we ate everything anyway: barbecue shrimp, tangy and spicy thanks to a yuzu marinade; jidori chicken, beautifully marinated in soy sauce and garlic; a huge bowl of pork belly, rice, fried egg, radish, broccoli, cotija cheese and peanuts (because a Korean meal without pork belly is stupid, plain and simple); and charred carrots with salsa verde and cotija.
Complimentary banchan — small, customary dishes of daikon, cucumbers, kimchi, sprouts and the like — isn’t up for grabs at Best Friend, but guests can order their own selection at $4 a pop.
Chef Choi, I’m ready for my matching friendship bracelet when you are.
The DetailsBest Friend parkmgm.mgmresorts.com