Within the realm of the restaurant film genre, there are certainly movies that don’t depict the industry and its complexities accurately. But Chef avoids the worst of those tropes — portraying true-to-life situations in the back of house, centering food that reportedly actually tasted good on set, and showing a chef, played by Jon Favreau, cutting and chopping pork and herbs with precision — with his own two hands. It was a skill the Elf and Iron Man filmmaker acquired through sheer practice and the help of mentor-turned-friend, Los Angeles chef Roy Choi.
Now, Choi (who’s also behind Best Friend at Park MGM) and Favreau have teamed up once again to create a very real version of the food truck from Chef. The two met while working on the movie and say they had such a good time tossing pasta aglio e olio, slinging Yucca fries, and pressing Cubano sandwiches that they often mused about one day launching a real restaurant together. In November, Favreau and Choi opened the Chef Truck, parked just off Park MGM’s casino floor. And fans will be delighted: it’s hawking many of the dishes first seen in the movie.
The 2014 film follows Favreau’s character leaving his prestigious Los Angeles restaurant to launch a food truck business — one that largely centers on the Cubano sandwich. Throughout filming the movie and subsequent Chef Show for Netflix, the two friends continued talking about cooking together again in a restaurant of their own. “The last thing I wanted was to open a restaurant together and call Jon at two in the morning to say the pipe broke,” says Choi. He says having the food truck in the casino means Park MGM gets tasked with the hard work while he and Favreau can focus on the “fun stuff.”
In the true-to-scale iteration of the El Jefe truck, that fun stuff includes menu items like a vegetable-packed Cubano ($15) with eggplant, portobello mushrooms, grilled tofu, and salsa verde pressed between a warm and toasted butter roll. You can also get a melty grilled cheese ($12), a medianoche sandwich ($16) with roasted mojo pork on a torta, and sides like crunchy croquettes ($5), spicy watermelon ($7) with kimchi paste, and desserts like a chocolate lava cake ($8).
Favreau says meeting Choi during the early stages of writing Chef felt like kismet.
“The people that I work with were looking for a consultant to help us with the menu and just guiding us in the film,” Favreau says, while sitting with Choi at Best Friend. Choi was still hot off the hype surrounding his gourmet Kogi food truck in LA when the pair went on what Choi calls their “first date” — a meeting that evolved into a six-hour food crawl. “And then we started,” says Favreau. “We worked on the movie together, he sent me off to culinary school, and then I started working in his kitchens with him.”
Turns out that the truck may be worth visiting even if you don’t plan to order anything. Consider its placement: adjacent to a small, quaint seating area that takes after New Orlean’s Cafe du Monde. And opposite the truck are two original art pieces that Favreau designed. One uses a mirror illusion to transform a narrow model of the El Jefe food truck into an expansive and dynamic scene. Another incorporates video to show the miniature truck zooming through the roads of Los Angeles while tiny anthropomorphic veggies fly around the interior.
The Chef Truck is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Friday through Sunday.