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The Longest Day: L.A. Street Food Fest 

Was it worth all the waiting?

Thursday, Feb 18 2010
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View more photos in Anne Fishbein's "L.A. Street Food Fest" slideshow.

In my experience, you are either a festival guy or you are not; you enjoy floating into Coachella or SXSW, or you wait a few days to check out the band you want to hear at the Henry Fonda instead. Either approach can be wonderful — I have sworn never to visit Burning Man, but I have also spent blissful, crawfish-fueled weekends in the Gospel tent at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. You just have to know where your tolerances lie. To me, 45 minutes seems a reasonable amount of time to wait for dim sum on a Saturday morning but altogether too long to wait for entrance to a cocktail lounge. Your priorities may be different.

I raise this because along with several thousand others last weekend, I attended the L.A. Street Food Fest , which featured 30 or so food trucks parked around a studio just west of the Harbor Freeway, oceans of frothing Singha, and a DJ rather overattached to the Crystal Method. One's experience of the event depended — like an evening with Kogi — on how much time one was willing to spend waiting in line for a sandwich. The woman in front of me, in the Flying Pig line, the one whose T-shirt read "I'm not here to save money or lose weight,'' was having a hell of a time. The dude who realized that he had just spent 90 minutes waiting for a grilled cheese sandwich from a truck that usually parks by his office on Tuesdays was less sanguine.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ANNE FISHBEIN - Cool Haus or your house?

Were the green-papaya salad masters from the Thai temple food court on hand? No, although the Brazilian caterer Sabor da Bahia prepared fabulous northern-Brazilian acarajé, black-eyed pea fritters dosed with industrial increments of pungent dende oil. Were the promised vendors from the Breed Street crew there? No — they seem to have begged off at the last minute, although the Mexico City–style huaraches and green mole from Antojitos mi Abuelita in the Valley took up some of the slack. The day was short and the lines were long: I never got around to India Jones, the Slice Truck, Pop Shop, Uncle Lau's Island BBQ, Mama Koh's Chicken or dozens of the other trucks on hand.

The line for the fried chicken at LFC, the one-off Ludo Fried Chicken truck from Ludovic Lefebvre — the gifted French chef who is now probably more famous for his improbable pop-up restaurants than he may have been as the chef of Bastide — was as long as what you typically see outside INS offices, jutting out and back and curling around the grounds in the shape of a wire hanger, more than three and a half hours at the festival's peak. I consider myself fortunate — Jo Stougaard, who blogs as MyLastBite — spotted me far back in the line and shared some of her chicken. I'm not sure there has ever been a dish in the world worth four hours in the noonday sun, not even gratin de queues d'écrevisses cooked by Fernand Point himself, but this chicken was close, a golf ball of brined dark meat fried to a sandy crunch, intensely flavored with fresh rosemary, spurting juice nearly a foot when you breached it with your teeth.

Some of the attendees mapped out their day with the precision of a military campaign, running to the Ludo truck the second its doors opened, sending friends to wait in line at Dogzilla or the Grilled Cheese Truck, following an itinerary from E-ticket ride to E-ticket ride with scarcely a minute allotted to tweeting or extraneous beer consumption. The lines nested in on themselves like Chinese boxes, so that you often had to ask whether the person ahead of you was waiting for the red-velvet pancake bites at the Buttermilk Truck, the stale banh mi from Phamish, or for the excellent pastrami sandwich from Fressers.

One friend set himself up in the line for the Flying Pig truck, which seemed to have established itself in an Archimedean spiral, and I managed to set him up with gyros and orange peel–scented sausages from the Greek-style Louks; pulled pork with grits and sweet-potato fries from the Gastrobus; third-rate Kogi-isms from Komodo; and zest-spiked frozen lemonade from Del's. He had to leave for a tennis lesson 90 minutes into the wait, and it seemed like a shame to waste the place in line: Two hours and 34 minutes later, I had made a few new friends, met a dozen food bloggers, exchanged some business cards and acquired a really fine duck taco with mandarin segments. It was the longest I have ever waited for food in my life.

And I'd do it again in a flash.

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