LA Weekly writer Jonathan Gold praises "entry-level capitalism"--Mexican food trucks.
The best thing I had to eat last week was a massive carnitas huarache, from the Gorditas Lupita’s truck on Eagle Rock Boulevard near Avenue 34. I ate it while leaning against a warehouse wall in Glassell Park, washed it down with a bottle of Mexican Coke and perfumed with the exhaust of a thousand diesel trucks. The second-best thing may have been a Puebla-style cemita overstuffed with fried beef milanesa, ripe avocado and shreds of the Pueblan string cheese called quesillo — that one I ate sitting on a plastic folding chair right on Indiana Street, where it runs into César Chávez at Five Points in East L.A.
The third, who knows? A bean-smeared clayuda devoured while sitting curbside at the La Oaxaqueña truck on Lincoln at Rose in Venice? A tostada of fiercely hot aguachile, chopped marinated shrimp, eaten on a milk crate perched next to a Whittier Boulevard medical clinic? A spicy tongue taco eaten at El Pique, in the parking lot of a Highland Park car wash on York at Avenue 53? The carne asada taco at the El Chato truck on Olympic near La Brea, the tooth-staining red sauce at El Taquito Mexicana in Pasadena, the al pastor at El Taurino on Hoover at 11th near Macarthur Park? They all came from trucks; they all made me feel glad to be alive, glad to be in Los Angeles.
But there is trouble in paradise . . .
Last week, led by Gloria Molina, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors passed a law basically outlawing taco trucks, making it a crime for them to linger at one location for more than an hour, punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to six months in prison. (An old law directed trucks to move every half-hour, but the fine was low and the law largely ignored.) Taco trucks, at least the better-known ones, tend to be anchored to a specific location, often outside a nightclub. (If you are on Lexington at Western, you are eating at El Matador; if on Eagle Rock south of York, probably at Rambo’s Tacos.) Owners of brick-and-mortar restaurants are always complaining about unfair competition from vendors with lower overhead and fewer taxes to pay, although most of the really successful trucks seem to flourish in neighborhoods without many restaurants: on industrial strips, along stretches dominated by auto shops, light manufacturing and discount upholsterers. California has seen squabbles like this before — it took extensive legal action to get taco trucks back on the streets of Salinas after restaurant owners there managed to get them banned.
On the Saturday the New York Times picked up the story.
Los Angeles, loath to rally cohesively around a local cause, has joined hands around tortillas.
A new county ordinance restricting taco trucks has outraged food bloggers, construction workers, residents of East Los Angeles accustomed to plopping down in a folding chair, taco in one hand, nonalcoholic sangria in the other, as well as members of the taco-loving public willing to drive 15 miles for the best carnitas.
Nearly 5,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the new law at saveourtacotrucks.org, where “carne asada is not a crime.” Enraged taco cart proprietors are defiant; some have hired lawyers. On Thursday, people flocked to taco trucks in support. . . .
But this is also a food-obsessed city with rich Hispanic cultural traditions, and tacos have crossed the miles of road and class divides.