L.A. Son

I haven’t written a post in awhile. A lot has been going on and it took me a moment to get back here. Thanks for your patience.

This has been a heck of a week. The release of the MAD3 video has set off a range of emotions and thoughts. I’m overwhelmed by the support but also even more burdened by what to do next. Sometimes I wonder if starting the conversations are a good thing, then I beat myself up over it, but then find out it’s the only way I can find answers. Even through all the haters and lovers of what the speech kicked off, I hope we don’t get lost too much in our bleeding hearts or criticisms and remember to actually do something. One thing each day can shift paradigms. Word is bond on that.

Anyways, I thought I’d give you a little something. The book L.A. Son is coming out on November 5th and it’s a project that took two years of my life and also the lives of my co authors, Tien and Natasha. I’m very proud of it and think it represents LA, immigrant life, food, and my growth well. It feels and smells like LA and OC. It extends itself like a good album. I hope you will like it. There are 12 chapters but one didn’t make the cut. So here is a b-side before the book even comes out. It’s not edited, it’s still raw. A small little snapshot of a day in Ktown in 1992. A little fast talking, testosterone filled, young Papi, on the streets back when I didn’t have much of a purpose but found one, even if for a moment. And I write this now, twenty years later, with a much bigger purpose.

Oh, and there is also a recipe for a milkshake that I think is so delicious.

And that MAD3 speech that I hope will spark chefs to think.




I was grabbing smokes at a 7-11 off of Santa Monica and Barrington when I heard the news.

It was April 1992.  I was living in West LA at the time. Me and a bunch of other Korean dudes. Once we heard the news, we started dialing.  Calling the stores in K-Town, to uncles, friends, mothers, finding out what the fuck was happening.  And they said things were starting to get weird and downright crazy. People were looting our neighborhood, smacking our aunts, and pissing on our town.

That was it, the siren was loud and clear. A bunch of guys who, until now, were avoiding classes, acting like we were more important than who we actually were, finally had something to feel important about.  We buckled in and rolled up.

This chain reaction was set off by the acquittal of the officers that beat Rodney King, then the aerial shot of  Reginald Denny, getting bricked in South Central.  Boom boom. The town rumbled.  And a neighborhood miles away unrelated to any of this was set on fire.

The looting happened first down on Florence and Normandie, then it spread like wildfire.  Washington and Venice Boulevards were next. Then it flared up towards the upper sections of East Hollywood and K-Town.

It became very clear very fast that the city was up for grabs. Pandemonium. Whole plazas went up in flames. Windows shattered, people ran out in flip flops with radios, milk, make-up, shoes, whatever.

Ktown got caught in a rip-tide of confusion, opportunity, and disgust. Looting lunacy.

So we mobilized our troops within the first hours of the attacks.  We got all the homies from San Diego to Irvine to the Valley to LA proper to meet up at the parking lot on Western and James Woods, across from Koreatown Plaza.  100 cars – Honda Accords, Civics, Nissan Maximas, Toyota Supras – with 400 or so young G’s, all gathered there.  On any other day, it would have looked like we were going to a soccer game in the park, with our bandanas and towels.  But this wasn’t any other day.  And this wasn’t no soccer game.  We didn’t have coolers and goalposts in our cars.  We had trunks filled with chains, bats, knives, guns, all stockpiled, all ready to load.

And we were all revved up and ready to start stabilizing the town.

The older, seasoned adults all came down in their military fatigues.  Calm.  Grim.  The gun stores in town collected their wares and handed out rifles and assault weapons to the older men.  These generals laid out the command post for us.

We youngsters were to roam the streets that set the borders of Ktown, plus the alleys in between.

The older guys would give us cover by taking up post like snipers on roofs and in front of buildings.

Everyone was assigned shifts.  Radios were distributed.

On that first day, we all went out on the streets when it was dusk.  From Hoover to Vermont to Normandie to Western to Olympic to Beverly and everything in between.  Patrolling, windows down, cigarette in the mouth dangling, hand on the clip, eyeballs rolling, sometimes drooping from no sleep.  But always alert, looking for anyone that would be trying to loot our family businesses.  We roamed the streets till you could hear a pin drop.

But by no means could we contain it all.  There was only so much that could be done. As news of people trying to break into a Shell gas station would erupt on Western and 3rd, with the cries of a lady trapped in her booth, we’d roll there to put an end to it, but then something would break out on Beverly and Vermont or there would be gun shots at jewelry stores back on Western.  You’d plug one hole and then another would gush.

It went on like this for three days, around the clock.

When our shifts were over, we made our way to the restaurants, which were turned into barracks or mess halls.  Styrofoam cups of hot tea and whiskey kept us warm in the graffiti AM chill, and the ladies of K-Town, young and old, set up in the restaurants to help by feeding us all. We had bowls of rice and soy bean stew or seaweed rolled kim bap to keep our bellies full as we set up for our next shift, me climbing into the back seat of a Honda Accord with my boy Yogi in shotgun, puffing on smokes, eyeballs rolling, searching for trouble.

Koreatown didn’t burn down because it got lucky.

It was spared because we fought for it.



Serves 4 to 6.

3 cups premium vanilla ice-cream

1 banana, peeled and chopped

1 cup shaved ice, made by putting ice cubes in a resealable storage bag and crushing them with a can of soup or any other heavy object

3 T granulated white sugar

Microscopic pinch of Maldon sea salt

2 cups whole milk

Frosted Flakes and caramel sauce for garnish.

Pack the ice cream down into a blender.  Add the banana, ice, sugar, and salt. Pour one cup of the milk over top.

Cover and blend everything until it’s nice and creamy. With the blender still going, open the top and gently add more milk until the shake gets to your desired thickness.  Mine is thick but viscous and drinkable with the ice shavings as a backdrop.

Pour the milkshake into a frozen glass and garnish with crushed Frosted Flakes and a drizzle of caramel, if you wish.

I usually gain a few pounds ‘cause I can’t stop…

12 thoughts on “L.A. Son

  1. Gonna grab your book. Stopped through 3 worlds the other day (ran into Aqeela) and grabbed a smoothie and thought long and hard about how far LA has come and how much farther it has to go. I think back to ’92…a 4th grader kept home from school because his neighborhood was on fire. I remember sitting in my backyard and smelling a cooked onion stench that I too this day attribute to my local and often visited taco bell burning down. Living in Koreatown now and working in South LA everyday I know we’ll never let our city burn again.

  2. Papi~ thank you for takin it to #MAD3 like that. recall a tweet you were a bit nervous re: hunger subject. but you did it! you delivered the message for many kids & adults who don’t have a voice. fwiw native/l.a. too. deeply love our city. 1st job was selling souvenirs @DodgerStadium. liquor stores & few fresh food markets was it. XX¢ burgers/nuggets still make a profit & what does that tell us bout quality of nutrition available to feed/grow kids. my sis teaches kinder & some barely get food outside school even. crazy world where so much gets tossed & many go hungry.
    please let me know if you EVER need quality creative services in your mission to feed those who are hungry. don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed. cliche but true: no man is an island. ask. -thx for the recipe & look forward to reading #LAson. -stay healthy & God bless the good you’re doing. -R

  3. wow. what an epic tale. this stuff is golden to me. For the longest time, I’ve always wondered whether the early 90s korean/asian gangster scene that was so ubiquitous during that era was mobilized, and what role they might’ve played in defending koreatown during the riots. I had always assumed that it did, but never got a firsthand account of how it went down. I was only 12 at the time, and I remember seeing images of the older generation of korean ahjushees holding it down with rifles on rooftops or exchanging gunfire with looters on the streets, but what exactly the younger generation of gangsters were doing during the riots had always been left to the imagination. I would love to interview or gather more firsthand accounts of what exactly went down for these 400 G’s that held it down for ktown during the riots. I’m sure it would make for an epic screenplay. thank you for sharing this.

  4. I remember watching the news reports in ’92 from my home in NYC, and knowing that the looters did not know who they were up against. They may have thought that K-town was an easy target, but were unaware that, like my father, all the dads and uncles and grandpas had done mandatory military service back in the day and knew their way around firearms. I was not surprised at all to see the men shooting back from the rooftops and thought “well, this is going to be interesting!”.

  5. Crazy intense! My father owned a business in K-Town with similar stories. Most parts of K-town were declared marshal law. I recall my father explaining a conversation with National Guard giving orders to him you may shoot looters on sight. Those were scary times…

  6. Ran into you at the farmers market today while plugging my pop-up. You were cool and gave me a sticker. Made my day, which ultimately brought me here to read. Thanks for the tease, can’t wait for the book. Love what you do and how you do it. You inspire me. Keep going!

  7. Pingback: The Culinary Inspirations of Roy Choi – A. Serrano

  8. Looking forward to reading your book, especially snippets from the early years. Your mom’s cooking is legendary and I remember not only your parents’ restaurant, but the epic meals your mom would cook for all those crazy Kyunggi golf parties. It’s great to see your star rise. Best of luck with the book.

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