A Taco Showdown For Top Chefs

At the upcoming Food and Wine Festival (Sept. 6-9) I’m anticipating that the most-talked-about event of the four-day food and beverage extravaganza will be “Streets of Fire – Roy Choi’s Tacos and Tequila.”

Choi is the godfather of the food truck movement. He need only tweet his location to have hundreds of people appear within minutes, hungry for his signature Korean-Mexican-inspired tacos and a dose of his straight-shooting, street-smart food philosophy.


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A fresh fish taco. Photos by Jo McGarry.

His fan base is more like that of a rock star than a chef, and when he exploded onto the Los Angeles dining scene in 2008 with his Kogi Taco trucks, he brought with him a challenge to the culinary world to step up and create simple, stunning food for under $10. He messes with traditional notions of restaurant dining, encouraging his patrons to eat on the street or share open tables with strangers, and he boldly mixes flavors that excite and addict.

But don’t mistake Choi for a food truck guy who got popular and opened a restaurant.

He’s a savvy chef with exquisite social media charm and almost 100,000 followers on Twitter – most of them obsessively trying to track him down. He is part-owner of L.A. restaurants A-Frame, Chego, Sunny Spot and Alibi Room, and his first book, Spaghetti Junction: Riding Shotgun with an L.A. Chef, is eagerly anticipated as part of Anthony Bourdain’s new publishing line.

While Choi attracts attention wherever he and his food appear, I think there’s no place more ready for him than Hawaii. We have sharp, passionate, opinionated young chefs aplenty, a bounty of local produce and a growing movement of consumers demanding fresh farm food with attitude. I predict Choi will come to Hawaii and be energized by what he finds.

Joining Choi in a street taco throwdown, of sorts, is another Roy, one with a movie-star smile and ownership of more than 30 restaurants. And where Choi might offer dishes like Pacman Quesadilla (three meats, three cheeses and a rainbow of Kogi salsa), or a Kogi Kim Chee Quesadilla, you can be assured that Roy Yamaguchi will match him taco for taco.

Joining the two Roys to create their own version of killer tacos will be Colin Hazama, Bobby McGhee and Colin Nishida, and you can bet you’ll see a bevy of island chefs just out enjoying the party.

The $150 price tag might seem hefty, but consider this night more like a rock concert after-party than dinner. That way, it might just be one of the great deals of the year.

For tickets, go to Hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com.

Happy eating!