If you're walking downtown, you might catch the owner of White Boy Tacos pushing his tiny cart a couple of blocks from his apartment to his dedicated spot by Broadway's historic theaters. As the name suggests, what he's hauling in his taco stand isn't your average carne asada but, rather, Southern staples such as barbecue pulled pork and whiskey-marinated steak.
Late one recent night, the 27-year-old "White Boy" Ben McMillan was sporting a light blue button-down and striped apron, warming his tacos on the grill. A large blue sign was positioned in the middle of the sidewalk — just down the street from Clifton's Cafeteria and Urban Outfitters — on a rather long stretch of Broadway that felt deserted as its mom-and-pop businesses that had shuttered for the day.
A passerby took a look at the "White Boy Tacos" sign and guffawed for what felt like an eternity. Another guy also had a hearty chuckle and razzed McMillan, asking him if his food is like Taco Bell. But the unfazed McMillan managed to convince them to try his tacos.
McMillan serves three tacos, two of which are permanently on the menu — the aforementioned barbecue pulled pork and whiskey-marinated steak — and one that changes every so often. The steak is accompanied by hash browns, which he grates and cooks fresh on the grill, as well as chunks of colorful bell peppers and a creamy Sriracha aioli. The pork is slow-roasted for 12 hours, smothered with his homemade barbecue sauce and topped with crispy, hickory-smoked bacon and a bell pepper medley, then showered with crumbled queso fresco.
McMillan marinates his meats for at least 24 hours, and the marinade leans toward the sweeter, Kansas City style. "I put brown sugar in all of my marinades," he says.
One of his items on rotation — the sake- and soy-soaked chicken breast accompanied by scrambled eggs, bell peppers and an Old Bay aioli — is kind of like chicken fajitas in taco form. (Customers can expect fish, tofu chili and veggie taco options on other days.)
Each rather hearty-sized taco is $3, and if you buy three tacos for $8 you also get a raffle ticket. McMillan tells his customers to give that ticket to a homeless person so that he or she can exchange it for a free taco. "I live just two blocks away from Skid Row," McMillan says. "You get blown away by the homeless population and how massive it is, so I wanted to do something."
McMillan is an L.A. transplant from Cleveland and has worked as a general and assistant general manager at various restaurants, including ones in El Segundo and Santa Monica. He isn't a professionally trained chef but learned to cook from his mother and two sisters. "I grew up in a family that always cooked. [I have] a lot of Southern heritage, a lot of time spent in the kitchen."
He also messed around in the kitchens he worked at and was friendly with the cooks there, who would teach him techniques.
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"When I moved here, I was really influenced by the street-vending culture of L.A., and I knew I wanted to be a part of that somehow," he says. "Eventually I got tired of running restaurants and I wanted to do my own thing."
It's been about a month and a half since he started his taco cart, and he says he now makes enough that he can sell tacos as a full-time gig.
As for the name of his stand, he says it stems from when he showed his Latina girlfriend at the time his menu. "She said, 'Babe, scrambled eggs? You're putting pulled pork on a taco?' And she laughed and goes, 'These are such white boy tacos.'"