Spaghetti Junction: The $4 Spaghetti That Tastes Almost as Good as the $24 Spaghetti From Roy Choi's 'L.A. Son'

Roy Choi's Spaghetti
Photograph: Bobby Fisher

Spaghetti in marinara sauce is not the first meal that comes to mind when I think of Roy Choi. Where does Italian food fit into his Korean-Mexican-American cuisine, and why is it featured in his new cookbook, L.A. Son? Marinara was one of the first dishes Choi mastered once he recovered from his gambling stint in the 1990s—and his sauce certainly has his own flair. To amp up the umami in the tomato sauce, Choi stirs in an earthy mushroom broth. He also adds a rich elixir of garlic confit and its fragrant oil. All of this takes a long, slow simmer to reduce and thicken.

Why I picked this recipe: While I've had garlic and mushroom marinara, I'd never thought to use mushroom broth and garlic confit.

What worked: The addition of the garlic confit was the real winner here, adding sweet whiffs of pungency to the sauce. I'll definitely be adding this trick to my tomato sauce rotation.

What didn't: I couldn't find the flavor of mushroom broth in the final sauce. It would have been more apparent had the recipe called for dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms instead of fresh buttons.

Suggested tweaks: Short of upping the mushroom flavor, there's not much to tweak with this sauce. You could add some browned Italian sausage, or serve the sauce with meatballs if you're looking to add some protein.

Reprinted with permission from L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi with Tien Nguyen and Natasha Phan. Copyright 2013. Published by Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

Recipe Facts

Active: 20 mins
Total: 4 hrs
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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  • Sauce
  • 1/4 pound button mushrooms, whole
  • 3/4 cup garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans of whole peeled tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • The Rest (amounts up to you...)
  • Spaghetti
  • Fresh basil, torn
  • Parmesan Reggiano


  1. After a quick brushing off of any dirt, put the mushrooms in a large pot and cover them with about 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Strain the mushroom stock after about an hour and a half and reserve.

  2. Meanwhile, combine the garlic and olive oil in a small saucepan and cook over the lowest flame possible, low and slow, for about 2 hours, stirring periodically until the garlic is a dark golden brown.

  3. When the garlic is done, add the tomatoes along with all of their juice to another large pot. Bring the tomatoes to a boil then add the garlic confit to the pot, including the oil.

  4. Add the mushroom stock to the tomato-garlic mixture, one cup at first, and blend with a stick blender. You are looking for a smooth consistency. Add more stock if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  5. Turn down the heat to the lowest flame and cook for about 2 hours, stirring the sauce periodically. Check for flavor and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.

  6. Heat up a big pot of water, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a touch of olive oil, and bring it to a boil. Cook the spaghetti just until it’s al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes.

  7. Drain and divide the spaghetti between all the bowls. Toss immediately with the sauce—about a cup of sauce for each bowl of spaghetti. Garnish with the basil and Parmesan Reggiano.