“We started Chairman in San Francisco because back in 2008-2009 that food scene was very developed. We grew it there because it had the most traction and we saw that LA was growing too,” says Lawrence Tang, General Manager of The Chairman — the food-truck concept first launched in San Francisco in 2009. Voted Best Food Truck by San Francisco Magazine, The Chairman’s signature miso-glazed pork belly bao buns have arrived in the Art’s District, occupying a former tow-yard up the block from Urth Caffé. This marks the first Los Angeles restaurant for the brand, which took San Francisco’s early food-truck scene by storm. Initially partnering with French restaurateur Ludo Lefebvre and operating his Ludo Truck, Tang and his brother Josh Tang, learned the ropes before developing their own in-house food truck brands under parent company Mobimunch Inc. Inconspicuous at a glance, the new space retains the industrial quality of its former self, save for the visual identity designed by prolific Taiwanese-American artist James Jean – An anthropomorphic cross between a panda and Chairman Mao. Inside, the restaurant is minimal and colorful, reminiscent of a 90s-era So Cal burger bar. One step out back reveals prime outdoor seating featuring large communal tables and market lights, with drinks set to arrive in early 2017. The location also houses The Chairman’s fleet of equally vibrant food trucks, and other sister food-truck brands.
Arriving in a relatively yet to be developed portion of the Arts District, the response has been very receptive. “The people at Barker Block are fantastically supportive. It seems like people in this neighborhood just want more stuff here,” says Tang. The main draw is the menu developed by Chef Hiroo Nagahara, who was Chef de cuisine at Charlie Trotter’s Bar Charlie in Las Vegas. Seeking to blur the line between high-end technique and street food, The Chairman’s menu features the best selling miso-glazed pork belly bao with turmeric pickled daikon and chives. Vegetarians will love the deliciously pankocrusted miso-cured tofu bao with bok choy and miso vinaigrette — An option that is vegan if you lose the bun. Tang also nominates the fresh thick-cut fries, “It’s a very laborious process but they’re made from scratch from start to finish,” he says.
With a solid lunch time crowd, it’s not uncommon to see lines Wednesday through Saturday, with afternoons also very popular. Tang hopes to attract nighttime traffic once the weather permits and outdoor renovations are complete, but for now The Chairman is looking forward to its one year mark next February. Tang says, “We’re truly people from Los Angeles and seeing the growth made us really want to be part of this. I really want to see this town become what it could be.”
Written by Ivan Navarro
Photographed by Caleb Thal