Los Angeles is the city of food trucks. There are literally hundreds of them roaming the streets each and every day and although their food offer is as diverse as the city’s population, ranging from German currywurst to Vietnamese banh mi, it’s the Mexican taco trucks that dominate the scene.
For in LA there are two very different tiers of food trucks: the up-market, social media-friendly trucks that charge a premium for their often chef-driven menus (think Roy Choi’s Kogi), and the Mexican loncheros, which set up shop on a daily basis, serving their local community the burritos, tacos, sopes, mulitas and quesadillas the city is fuelled by.
First launched to cater for construction workers, these taco stands can be found in virtually every neighbourhood across LA. In fact every person living in LA has a “local” – their own favourite taco truck (mine is Tacos Arizas), which loyally provides many Latino families with their nightly dinner and offers revellers a much needed snack in the wee hours after a night on the booze. With cheap, fresh and delicious food, taco trucks are a tasty alternative to the fast food giants that still govern LA’s casual restaurant industry.
LA TACO MADNESS
LA’s taco trucks are such a big part of the city’s cultural identity, every year there’s a dedicated event that celebrates them in all their glory. Since 2009, LA Taco Madness, organised by art and culture website LA Taco, has pitted some of the city’s best tacos against one another in a taco-tastic tournament.
The event’s committee of nine of the city’s best experts on tacos submits a list of their favourites, from which a shortlist is drawn. This year, organisers divided contestants into four categories according to the most popular ingredients: asada, pork, mariscos, and a wild card for all those that don’t quite fit into the first three.
The LA Taco Madness committee then cut them down to four in each category, with eight of them battling it out for the title in the 2015 LA Taco Madness final. More than 10,000 members of LA’s taco-loving public then voted for their favourite online.
The 2015 winner was Guerrilla Tacos, a truck that serves a menu so innovative, revered LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold described it as “a kind of tasting-menu restaurant whose dishes happen to be composed on tortillas instead of on fancy plates”.
Led by chef Wesley Avila, who studied at the California School of Culinary Arts and trained under Alain Ducasse in Paris, his carefully sourced ingredients may include the likes of fresh sea urchin or scallops, alongside vegetables from the farmer’s market.
Tacos feature toppings such as braised oxtail and foie gras with pickled onions, almond chilli and coriander; oasted sweet potato with braised leek, Oaxacan cheese and red pepper chilli (pictured); or bacon with chili de arbol, scrambled eggs, fried Brussels sprouts and queso fresco.
With other dishes such as Hawaiian-style raw-fish poke with pickled pineapple, habanero, avocado and lime; or a burrito of braised lamb shank with root vegetables, feta cheese and tomato chilli, this truck’s menu may be a far cry from the traditional loncheros but it is certainly a worthy winner of this year’s taco truck of the year award, who really stands out from the crowd.
A Ducasse disciple cooking up a storm in a taco truck parked on a street corner? That’s something you will only find in LA.
This is the latest posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.