I think Locol gets a big push because its opening is a gesture towards a noble cause. It doesn’t really matter how successful it is as a restaurant right now, or whether the food is good or not - it’s the intention that matters to the community of people who are making declarations of “Restaurant of the Year” and such. Two fairly pedigreed, demi-celebrity chefs trying to make fast food more healthful and spark a nationwide movement, as it were, to be frontrunners for others to emulate. It started with Choi’s impassioned speech at a food conference and culminated in a parade with Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech playing during the grand opening. It’s not only a rather endearing story but also a very timely and momentous response to some narratives in our current political climate in America. Locol is thought of as an icon, and that’s what matters for these types of awards, because its influence is meant to extend beyond however good the Chicken 'Nugs and Awesome Sauce are. I’m not surprised that Locol is winning these types of awards; to not award Locol might almost seem as if the magazine or whoever was deaf to Locol’s cause.
When we hear “Restaurant of the Year,” we may assume “Best Restaurant This Year,” but I think they’re aiming for something grander than just “who has the most exciting and/or influential food right now.” Locol is laden with a “dialogue,” and that’s what people are responding to. Everything is politicized in our zeitgiest, so Locol is the clear candidate to be recognized. Locol’s mission is noble, but as we’ve seen, its success is a complex story, most of which I’d rather not debate.
The only thing I’ll say is that if the food and restaurant itself were not so self-consciously fashioned or billed as a social project (however well intentioned it might be), they might resonate more with the target communities. Even the name “LocoL” is a bit of an impediment, in my opinion, even if it made sense in the board room and per their consultants. Perhaps a less conspicuous restaurant, whose reputation for food spread organically by word of mouth in the community, would’ve been more successful. But Locol’s efforts to make their project work is a moral success in the eyes of many.