There’s great food all over Los Angeles, an inevitability in the seething melting pot of so many cultures. The population is constantly mixing and remixing the traditional with the new. There are a million places to find an interesting meal in Los Angeles, especially in Koreatown, one of the city’s most richly diverse neighborhoods. And nestled right on the edge of the community, tucked behind an unassuming fence and a bank parking lot, sits Love Hour, a smash burger joint and the site of one of Angel City’s jersey patch creators for the 2023 NWSL season.
ACFC’s jersey patch program is a collection of 11 unique sleeve patches which can be used to customize the 2023 away jersey. A map of LA covers most of the shirt with a small, stylized “VOLEMOS” adorning the nape of the neck, designed by Viva La Bonita streetwear founder Rachel Gomez. Each patch represents a different aspect of LA, and each one was designed by a member of the Los Angeles community.
So you’ve got Odilia Romero and Janet Martinez, the founders of Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), which works to bring visibility and resources to Indigenous migrant communities. There’s Evelynn Escobar of Hike Clerb, an intersectional women’s outdoor collective that brings in more BIWOC to access nature. And there’s Mike Pak and Duy Nguyen, two Asian immigrant kids who made their way to LA from Virginia and put down roots in K-town with a smash burger joint, Love Hour.
Pak and Nguyen started Love Hour as a pop-up in a parking lot in 2019. By that summer, they were turning out burgers at Coachella. Both entrepreneurs immigrated with their families to Virginia; Pak was born in Seoul while Nguyen came from Saigon. Separately, they moved to LA about 11 or 12 years ago. Meeting at a friend’s house party, they discovered they had actually gone to the same college, Virginia Commonwealth University — although Pak dropped out to pursue a music industry career in LA while Nguyen earned a dual degree in film and philosophy. Now, they run Love Hour as well as the hugely popular Koreatown Run Club. That’s on top of all the other projects they’re working on, like Pak’s Bicycle Meals, which distributes hot meals to the community on Sundays.
It’s a fantastic success story any way you cut it, but the ways in which Pak and Nguyen have actively jumped into the community especially shine in the context of being immigrants — whether you’re an adult longing for home or a kid who grew up in the States seeking a connection to your roots, food is comfort, care, connection, expression. But Love Hour comes with that American cultural twist — smash burgers instead of Korean bbq, in-house chicken nuggets instead of gỏi cuốn. It’s the same zag-when-we-should-zig thinking that started their run club, a way to remix the flavors people traditionally expect to find.
“K-town, (you think) late night, karaoke bars, there’s no running right?” Nguyen said, huddled up with Pak around an outdoor table on Love Club’s patio. “You don’t go here to like, go to Equinox or something. So we wanted to do the run club, and we did the run club. And now people know, if you’re in the running scene in LA, there’s a huge club that runs out of there. Would not expect that. And I think same goes for food.
“I was just at a Brazilian spot, it’s amazing, and it’s in K-Town. I don’t think a lot of people would know that. And so just doing burgers and just kind of highlighting the innate diversity of Koreatown with the diversity of food as well, I think was important for us.”
Neither Pak nor Nguyen had been to a local soccer game before Angel City reached out to them. But when they accepted the invitation to come to a game, they got hit with the full force of the ACFC match day vibe, an atmosphere that OL Reign coach Laura Harvey once called “party in the best possible way.”
“My eyes were just glued to the field, but also glued to the people in the stands,” Pak said. “I was looking to see what everyone’s doing in each section. And, man it’s, I really couldn’t explain the feeling except like, it’s just electric.”
Nguyen felt it too.
“Going to a soccer game, you’re there with everyone, you’re seeing with, you’re rooting for your team,” he said, trying to put his finger on the feeling of connection. “Watching soccer even at home, especially when the World Cup’s going on — your neighbors are rooting for somebody, you’re rooting for somebody, there’s a delay on your livestream — like, it feels different. I feel like the community in the street food aspect of it is what fits so well for us, and I think it fits so well for soccer.”
Of course, they were hooked.
“You come across some things in your life that you might have no connection to, but you know you want to be a part of it,” said Nguyen.
Their Angel City patch is the “Flavors of LA,” a collection of some of the most iconic street foods LA has to offer.
“I think at its core, LA food scene is street food,” Pak said.
There’s the burger and some takeout noodles, and, of course, the venerable taco — something you can still get, in often overpriced LA, that’ll fill you for the rest of the day for under $10. Both Pak and Nguyen said if they had to pick just one LA street food to eat for the rest of their lives, the taco held their hearts.
When Nguyen was first working in LA, he hosted a backyard battle-of-the-bands style concert. He needed food, and there was a taco stand down the street.
“I said, ‘hey, how much for 200 tacos,’” he recounted. Tacos were still $1 back then, so the price was an even $200. Nguyen shared his address and headed back, thinking he was set.
“I was expecting a taco cart to be there when it was a full truck truck,” Nguyen said. “There was an inch of clearance on both sides of the little driveway, and it was so amazing because there’s a taco truck in my backyard.”
“This is when taco trucks and food trucks were really at a boom,” Pak described how when they first arrived in the city they were both in awe of just how many trucks and stands were scattered everywhere. “To see a truck at his house, I was like, oh my gosh, you made it dude, you did it.”
Los Ángeles es más que un lugar. We are the sum of infinite parts: diverse cultures, neighborhoods, and individuals united by the city we call home. REPRESENT L.A. like never before.https://t.co/EuPwNxnoFE pic.twitter.com/vCllxHGYgl
— Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) March 16, 2023
A simple red stool in the corner of the patch represents the community ethos of street food.
“Every food truck or food stall you go to here in LA, you’ll have these plastic chairs and plastic tables, a no frill kind of thing,” Pak said. “But you grab one of those stools and you sit up right next to someone that you don’t know, and you probably spark up a convo. But it’s all centered around the food and the community.”
It’s not like fine dining, where it might be you and one other person. It’s you and ten thousand other people experiencing the same thing together, but also through the lens of everything that individually led you to that moment. It’s deeply personal and it’s communal at the same time, like watching a World Cup while you can hear your neighbors losing it over the same game on the other side of the wall or sitting around a big six-top table to talk street food and soccer and identity in LA. Maybe it’s an unexpected turn, but these two are all about steering into the unexpected, like smash burgers and run club in K-Town.
Mike described his now decade-plus foray into LA like most hopefuls who come to the city in search of something: “Let’s try to make it and see what it’s about.” Isn’t that the mantra of anyone who ever took a chance on something different, every immigrant who saved up their last dollar to move an ocean away? Isn’t that every women’s soccer player taking a risk on a career with modest money and no guarantees?
For Pak and Nguyen, the Angel City patch is another tie engraining them into the community they love. Pak especially wanted people to see their work and start to build their own community connections, in whatever way they dream. He nodded in instant understanding when I asked him if he also wanted the kids in K-Town to “dream” in a way that’s relevant to them, as opposed to perhaps traditional parents whose American dreams lean more towards Ivy Leagues, high-paying jobs, and marrying doctors.
“You can get involved with the community in so many different ways,” he said. “It’s just really asking your neighbors, your parents, or whatever the case is … there’s always a way to help one another.”
Our interview concluded, though Pak proceeded to bring out tray after tray of food: burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, onion rings, drinks, piles and piles of sauces. Angel City also had a crew out that day to show them the jersey with their patch and do a photoshoot. But even with a hungry group of eight or nine, it still wasn’t enough to finish everything on the table. But it’s more than something to eat, it’s hospitality, a thank you, a communal experience while sitting on a stool outside on a bright winter day in K-Town. Pak sidled up to the table with a sly but sincere grin.
“Does anyone think they could eat a second burger?” he asked.
(Top photo: Angel City FC)
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