Serious Eats: Drinks
Hangover Helper: The Chubby Pork Belly Bowl from Chego in Los Angeles
You may, on occasion, find yourself awake after a particularly heavy bout of drinking to realize that you have absolutely no idea where you are. All you can discern is that you're on a sidewalk, next to open-stalled fish vendors and old ladies pushing boxy grocery carts filled with odd fruits you've never encountered before. Signs hanging heavy with Mandarin Chinese script offer no support, and pretty quickly you'll lift up your shirt to check for missing organs. And it's right then, at the absolute height of your hungover panic, when you're going to hear the voice of an angel. And that angel's name is Papi Chulo.
Well, his real name is Roy Choi, the megamind behind a Kogi BBQ food truck revolution, plus half a dozen egg-heavy restaurants around Los Angeles. Believe in his voice, as he calls out for orders of Ooey Gooey Fries or something called the Sour Cream Hen House. Let Choi's siren song guide you inside and you'll realize that you're not as far from home as you may have thought. This is Chinatown, Jake, and all those signs and stalls you saw before are just a regular part of the downtown Los Angeles landscape. Now hurry inside the Far East Plaza for a taste of Choi's ultimate post-drinking destination: Chego.
If you fancy yourself a Westside drinker, you're likely familiar with Chego's sticky rice bowls and on-the-menu-then-off-again burger. The former location on Overland ran into some serious issues with building management and, after a short stint as a truck in the parking lot, the entire operation up and moved east. They're still slinging those sticky rice bowls that have been known to stop hangovers, eradicate hunger, and cure cancer* (*allegedly). The monster among those bowls, the true beast that carries away your burden is the Chubby Pork Belly bowl ($9).
Stacked to the rafters and pulsing with the same vibrancy as the hip hop music that's pouring out of the kitchen, the Chubby Pork Belly bowl is a hangover's formidable foe. Thick pork belly rashers are spiced with gochujang, a delicious Korean chile paste, and then blackened at the edges over an open flame. Toss in Chinese broccoli, water spinach, Thai basil, and some pickled radishes, then dust over with cojita cheese, crushed peanuts, a little salsa verde and add in a splash of the thick, spicy, seed-in sambal sauce that is so popular along the Pacific rim. Of course, there are two big soy sauce-laced mounds of sticky rice underneath all of that gooiness, plus the requisite fried egg to smother the ingredients even further. This is the bowl that brings you back from the brink.
What more could you possibly want from a hangover reducer? There's starchy rice, fatty, crispy pork, a runny egg, a push of heat from the sambal and a dash of fresh greenery. Papi Chulo must really be an angel indeed. And now that Chego's all moved into their new Chinatown space, there's plenty of room on the picnic tables out front to rest your head until your order number is called. For those of you who can't stop chasing the dog that just bit you, Chego is also a BYOB establishment, with a liquor store around the corner. Eat a few Chubby Pork Belly bowls and one too many Singha beers and you may just find yourself back out on the sidewalk, unsure of how you got there in the first place.