A healthy fast-food joint that got panned by a New York Times food critic is crushing it
The biggest restaurant story of the year has arguably been New York Times critic Pete Wells' withering review of Locol, a fast-food concept that brings high-quality, affordable food into urban neighborhoods. Wells awarded zero stars to the restaurant, calling the chili bland, the burger dry, and the chicken, well, "the best thing to do with it is pretend it doesn't exist."
Food blogs erupted in protest. Most did not take issue with the content of the review. Some called it "mostly right." But critics argued the review was in poor taste, given the restaurant's admirable mission to change lives in some of the most neglected food deserts in America.
Locol has two locations, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and a gentrifying part of Oakland. The company makes hires from disadvantaged areas, regardless of an applicant's work experience, criminal record, or even literacy, and pays above most fast-food wages.
I recently made a return trip to Locol to see how the food fared since Wells' review. Take a look.
Welcome to the fast food revolution, according to Locol's website.Audrey Ma/LocoL
As more Americans turn to plant-based foods for health or environmental reasons, new fast-food chains are seizing the opportunity to compete with legacy brands like McDonald's, KFC, and Domino's. They serve low-calorie menus at similar prices.Audrey Ma/LocoL
Source: Business Insider
Locol has carved a niche in the space by serving neighborhoods where residents don't have access to or can't afford high-quality meals.Audrey Ma/LocoL
Locol beefs up the nutritional value of its foods by replacing some ingredients with healthy alternatives.Audrey Ma/LocoL
Source: Business Insider
The hallmark of the menu is a $5 cheeseburger prepared "classic roadside" style with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onion. The patty blends 70% beef and 30% tofu and grains.Melia Robinson/Business Insider
The burger arrived with cheese melted and a "special sauce" delightfully spilling out the sides. The bun, which even Wells called "undeniably excellent," was toasted and spongy.Melia Robinson/Business Insider
Not to be outdone, the $5 veggie burger has a surprisingly meaty texture, though it's made from grains, legumes, miso, onion, and garlic. The produce crunched with every bite.Melia Robinson/Business Insider
The patty was expertly executed — crunchy out the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.Melia Robinson/Business Insider
The fries, a new addition to the menu, are oversized and tossed in salt, pepper, and paprika. They tasted surprisingly bland, but at $2 a carton, they're a bargain.Melia Robinson/Business Insider
I also tried a $2 "foldie," a taco-quesadilla hybrid that has melted cheese, braised beef, salsa, and beans. It was greasy and had the texture of wet dog food. I quit after two bites.Melia Robinson/Business Insider
The 12-piece basket of chicken nuggets was no technical masterpiece. Bits of ground chicken came together inside a light breading. Overall, they tasted gummy and bland.Melia Robinson/Business Insider
And I'd order them again. Dunked in barbecue sauce, they were the ultimate portable guilty-pleasure food. What more do you want from fast-food chicken nuggets?Melia Robinson/Business Insider
Not every item on the Locol menu is a home run, but it beats McDonald's fare any day. The burgers, grilled to perfection and stacked with fresh produce, had me in fast-food nirvana.Audrey Ma/LocoL
And despite using high-quality, locally sourced ingredients, Locol manages to keep its prices competitive with legacy brands. I got my entire haul for $27. I'll be back (unlike Wells).
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