locol burgers 3959

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The biggest restaurant story of the year has arguably been New York Times critic Pete Wells’ withering review of Locol, a fast-food concept that brings high-quality, affordable food into urban neighborhoods. Wells awarded zero stars to the restaurant, calling the chili bland, the burger dry, and the chicken, well, “the best thing to do with it is pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Food blogs erupted in protest. Most did not take issue with the content of the review. Some called it “mostly right.” But critics argued the review was in poor taste, given the restaurant’s admirable mission to change lives in some of the most neglected food deserts in America.

Locol has two locations, in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and a gentrifying part of Oakland. The company makes hires from disadvantaged areas, regardless of an applicant’s work experience, criminal record, or even literacy, and pays above most fast-food wages.

I recently made a return trip to Locol to see how the food fared since Wells’ review. Take a look.

Welcome to the fast food revolution, according to Locol’s website.

Welcome to the fast food revolution, according to Locol's website.

Audrey Ma/LocoL

As more Americans turn to plant-based foods for health or environmental reasons, new fast-food chains are seizing the opportunity to compete with legacy brands like McDonald’s, KFC, and Domino’s. They serve low-calorie menus at similar prices.

As more Americans turn to plant-based foods for health or environmental reasons, new fast-food chains are seizing the opportunity to compete with legacy brands like McDonald's, KFC, and Domino's. They serve low-calorie menus at similar prices.

Audrey Ma/LocoL

Source: Business Insider

Locol has carved a niche in the space by serving neighborhoods where residents don’t have access to or can’t afford high-quality meals.

Locol has carved a niche in the space by serving neighborhoods where residents don't have access to or can't afford high-quality meals.

Audrey Ma/LocoL

Locol beefs up the nutritional value of its foods by replacing some ingredients with healthy alternatives.

Locol beefs up the nutritional value of its foods by replacing some ingredients with healthy alternatives.

Audrey Ma/LocoL

Source: Business Insider

The hallmark of the menu is a $5 cheeseburger prepared “classic roadside” style…