Photo: Eric Stone

02 May 2008

THE FIRST EVER RUNNING OF THE TACOS - OR WHY I'VE GOT A CRUSH ON CHRISTA FAUST

I've always admired Christa's writing (www.christafaust.com). HOODTOWN is one of the best, quirkiest, most fully-realized novels I've read in a long time. The other two books I've read by her ain't no slouches neither. The woman can write.

But boy howdy can she also eat:

Last night was Taco Truck Night here in Los Angeles. The misguided L.A. County Board of Supervisors, egged on by developers and restaurateurs, passed a law that would put hundreds, perhaps thousands, of taco trucks out of business. Even the L.A. Times has editorialized against the law. A whole lot of people depend on the trucks for cheap, tasty food, and few of the trucks are in real competition with brick and mortar restaurants. Even if they were in competition, isn't that what our economic system is supposed to be about?

To quote the L.A. Times editorial of today, May 2: "If providing cheap, tasty food that puts competitors out of business were a crime, the late McDonald's mogul Ray Kroc would have died in prison." Okay, so I disagree with the word "tasty" in that sentence. But still, you get the idea.

So last night, Christa, who is always up for an adventure, culinary or otherwise, unchained herself from her deadline burdened computer; brought along another writer pal, Nathan Long, and the three of us headed to East L.A. in my car to do our part to support taco trucks on their special night.

I was thinking to hit two, perhaps three of my favorite trucks and carts, eat a taco at each and retire happily sated from the field of battle. But Christa, whose slight but muscular, nicely illustrated frame belies her remarkable gustatory gusto, was having none of that.

Our first truck was La Korita, parked in a gas station two blocks east of Soto on Olympic. Nathan and I had carne asada, Christa the carnitas. For me, the real highlight of La Korita is its freshly made tortillas. The carne asada is also among the best in town. (The photographic evidence is above.)

Then we cruised up Soto in search of a place called La Estrella, but were distracted by the paintings of the Blessed Virgin, Jesus and a taquero with his al pastor wheel on the side of Tacos El Pecas, parked at a car wash. The tacos al pastor were good, not spectacular, but I have encountered few taco truck tacos that aren't at least good. Here's the evidence (Christa slurping an horchata):

From there we cruised north on Soto to Whittier Blvd. and turned east. There are often illegal taco carts along the sidewalk just west of the cemetery on Whittier. We were not disappointed. We stopped at the first one we saw - I don't recall seeing a name on the cart. It was on the north side of the street near Mott St. It was excellent al pastor.

We then passed a number of inviting carts, trucks and a chicken grill as we headed further east, past the 710 freeway, past the old Huggy Boy radio studio which is now a church of some sort. We were taking a break to simply cruise and take in the sights, sounds and smells of East L.A. - one of the great pleasures of life, especially on a hot summer night. Last night wasn't one of those, but it was close enough.

I was taking us to my favorite taco cart. At night, the southwest corner of Cesar Chavez and Hicks - a few blocks west of Gage - is home to what is, in my humble opinion, the finest al pastor to be had north of the border. Christa and Nathan seemed to agree. And they know their al pastor.

After that we were beginning to think we were filling up, so we thought to head toward Eagle Rock and Glassell Park where the fellows who organized Taco Truck Night have their home truck - La Estrella on York Ave. around Avenue 54.

But once again we were distracted. I was pointing out Los Cinco Puntos - a carniceria at the triangular corner of Cesar Chavez, Lorena and Indiana, where one can find the best carnitas and handmade tortillas in the city - when we noticed Cemitas Tepeaca and its colorful neon exclaiming "Cemitas, Tacos y Burritos." Better yet, it was parked in front of what looked like an interesting mural. (East L.A. walls are covered with great art, some of it truly great art. Just driving around and paying attention is as good as a visit to a museum or several great galleries.)

I don't know if Cemitas Tepeaca makes its own carnitas or gets it from Cinco Puntos, but they were superb tacos. While the al pastor place we went to just before it is the taco cart I'd most like to be stranded on a desert island with, this was the most interesting, colorful, and still extremely tasty stop of the night.



Finally we made it to La Estrella on York. It was, being an increasingly gentrifying neighborhood, and home to the organizers of the event, the only taco truck at which we saw any sort of large crowd of hipsters and foodies. And Spanish language news radio and TV reporters as well, of course. It was a fun scene, good to see that at least some people had come out for the event. But the carne asada tacos were the most disappointing fare of the night. They weren't bad, but they weren't all that good either. Still, a very big thank you is called for to the guys who organized the night, the petition and are working hard in the fight for taco trucks. You can find their website here: http://saveourtacotrucks.org/

After those, our sixth tacos (actually seven for Nathan who had two at the start of the trek), we decided to head home. But along the way we had to pass my favorite taco cart in Christa and my neighborhood (Silverlake) - the al pastor wheel at Fletcher and Larga, across from the U-Haul. It wasn't in us to simply drive by. So we finished off the night there, with excellent al pastor and what might be my favorite salsa roja in town - a bit thinner than most, but with a good, solid bite and a nice tickle of vinegar.

My car was low on its rims on the drive home. The three of us were groaning, belching, way too full but plenty content. Little more got done last night. It didn't need to. I don't know that we saved the taco trucks. But it was a splendid effort.

4 Comments:

Blogger Janet Reid said...

yup, the Edgar Awards should be catered by taco trucks next year. Eric, I'll leave you to make that happen, ok?

3:06 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Knowing, Janet, that you are a vegetarian, or something like that, you will be pleased to know that I have eaten at a taco truck that specializes in potato tacos from central Mexico. YUM! Beats rubber chicken any day of the week.

10:03 AM  
Blogger A.H. Ream said...

The impressive part was that you were able to stop eating long enough to take photos. I was licking the taco juice off my forearm when it occurred to me that maybe I should've documented my taco protest for posterity. Alas, all that was left was an empty paper plate and a slice of radish. Then I ate the radish.

10:23 AM  
Blogger RobOC said...

I'd like to have some of those excellent al pastor. What time do they start setting up shop over at the Whittier near Mott stand?

9:28 PM  

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