Eatsploring is about food, about cooking, about adventure, but perhaps most importantly of all, Eatsploring is about community. Food binds and defines communities, and LA’s communities and foods share an especially tight bond. So for my first post, I figured I’d share something that just opened up in my very own neighborhood of Palms: from the fine folks behind Kogi, Chego!
Chego specializes in, according to their website, “LA goodness and plenty of perfectly cooked rice — or, if you prefer a more poetic description, it’s simple peasant food that has all your important food groups lovingly manhandled into a single bowl for under ten bucks.” To put it shortly: rice bowls.
Now there are tons of noteworthy rice-with-stuff dishes in world: Hainanese Chicken Rice, Biryani, Tapsilog, Nasi Goreng, Bibimbap, and Donburi, just to name a few (and I haven’t even left Asia yet! There’s also Arroz con Pollo, Jambalaya, Risotto, Paella…but I digress). But seeing as I don’t often see new takes on rice-with-stuff outside of my fridge-clearing nights, I was curious to see what Chego had to offer.
Chego (which means “THE BEST! NUMBA JUAN! So friggin good you’re too happy eating it to describe how dericious it is” according to their website) is literally around the corner from where I live, so I got to take a nice walk and avoid the often-troublesome parking of the area. The restaurant is nestled in the corner of a strip mall, between a liquor store I once used the ATM at and a Brazilian restaurant that has no regular menu.
I stepped inside, and noticed a pretty sizeable crowd for a such a small restaurant. I guess one shouldn’t underestimate the power of the Kogi reputation and Twitter in drawing a crowd to what Chego labeled a “Soft Open.” I took a moment to draw in my surroundings. There was a large collage to the left of the entrance with letters and logos that spelled out the name of the restaurant. The lights were warm, the tables woodsy (that is, made of wood), and the back walls had shelves lined with kitsch (novelty soda bottles, albums from 20 years ago, that sort of thing). I took a moment to take a look at the menu and see what I had available to me:
I decided to go with the “3PM Meatballs” and the “One Chubby Pork Belly”. I ordered, turned, and noticed that there weren’t much in the way of individual tables. I didn’t mind though; some of my favorite places (including places like Philippe’s and Father’s Office) often required me to sit next to people I didn’t know. Times like these are not the times to be shy, so I asked someone sitting alone at their table if they wouldn’t mind my presence, and I proceeded to wait for my food.
I’m going to take a moment now to comment on the service. I’m personally not one to really care much about restaurant service; I’ve been in enough restaurants of varying cost and cultural background to have formed the following opinion: If my food arrives, I get what I want when I’m proactive about asking, and they didn’t go out of their way to personally ruin my meal, the service was fine.
That being said, Chego’s service was far and away some of the most attentive and outstanding I’ve experienced. Despite the casual restaurant atmosphere (numbers on the table, pick your own tableware/napkins, order at the counter kind of place), the staff was always checking to make sure I received my entire order, if I needed anything (including the things I could’ve just taken two seconds to get up and obtain myself), how the food was, and so on. It helped that the ladies in charge of Chego (whom I later learned went by the names Alice and Natasha) were going around, chatting up diners, explaining their dishes, and overall making sure this opening was going well.
Anyhow, before long, my order began to arrive. First came the meatballs:
The meatballs were covered in a blueberry jalapeno sauce that left a nice shade of purple in the cup after I finished. The sauce was sweet and spicy, with just the right amount of heat for my Thai-American palette. Even after I swallowed the crumbly meatballs, I still felt a bit of the burn on my lips. As Narinda would sometimes say about spicy foods, “it hurt so good.” At the bottom of the cup was a polenta patty, with a slight crisp that was giving in to the moisture of the sauce it had been sitting in.
As I sat waiting for my entree, Mayer Hawthorne’s “I Wish It Would Rain” began to softly play in the background. I appreciated the hint of Chego’s musical taste.
Finally, my main event had arrived, the Pork Belly rice bowl:
I dug in, savoring the different aspects one at a time. The pickled radish (I think) had the signature sweet and tart “pickleness” that I enjoy so. The rice was soft and sweet. In the spoonful of greens, I caught the unmistakeable bite of Thai basil and the bitter edge of gailan. I swear they knew I was coming and made sure to include these, because I’m such a sucker for the flavors and ingredients of my heritage’s cuisine. The fried egg was easy-going-on-medium, which happened to be just the way I like it!
And now I came to the star of the dish, the pork belly:
The pork was enjoyably salty (just slightly so), savory, and decadent, the way pork belly should be. The pieces were firm enough to have some mass to them, but still pleasantly tender. The pork’s crust lay somewhere between crisp, chewy, and simply satisfying to bite into. It was later explained to me that the pork belly is first roasted, then grilled to give it that crust, the chef making sure to turn it 12 times to prepare it to their precise standards. I quickly polished off the rest of the bowl before a staff member so kindly provided me with a glass of water to wash it all down with.
After finishing, I got a chance to speak with Chego’s Alice Shin (who is familiar with Tuesday Night Project, by the way!)
She explained that while “food often has such great ideas with mediocre execution,” she always aims for excellence in execution, as well as concept.
We went on to discuss how “fusion” was such an outdated and restrictive term (despite being one that is often used to label foods such as hers), and that the food they made at Chego, while drawing from apparent influences, weren’t limited to a specific mix of styles. I thought of it like my pet idea, “Eat Kune Do”–transcending forms to achieve just the right flavors. She simply considered the food “Angeleno.”
Even though Alice expressed apprehension about what the early reviewers and bloggers attending this “Soft Open” of theirs might say, I thought her love of food and what she wanted to do with it shone through. She explained that when coming up with the menu, she thinks, “How can I make it taste like LA–my LA?”
Well however she’s managed that taste, it’s definitely come out well. As I left the restaurant, Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” began to play, as if to remind me that I did indeed “like the way [they] worked it;” and maybe I should even take some to go and “bag it up.” No need, I thought. With Chego just a short stroll from my apartment, I know I’ll be back. Often.
3300 Overland Ave
Palms, Los Angeles, CA 90034
P.S. I apologize for the awful use of Blackstreet lyrics in this post.