“Who’s never taken the bus in L.A. before?” Javier Cabral, aka the Glutser, asks through his mini portable microphone. He’s standing in the back of Monterey Park’s Tokyo Fried Chicken, in front of a restaurant full of people eating ponzu-drenched drumsticks and skirting the question by taking some extra time to chew.
“It’s OK,” he chuckles, raising his own hand to encourage others. “There's nothing to be ashamed of. Isn’t that the point of all this anyway — to do new things?” Slowly, the hands come up.
The Metro Tour de Food — a collaboration between KCRW, Metro L.A. and Zócalo Public Square, led by longtime food blogger (and recently anointed Munchies West Coast editor) Cabral — is very much about doing new things, especially when it comes to how L.A. does food tours.
Each tour takes place along a single Metro bus line. You reserve a spot, pay $20 and meet up with a group of people to take the bus together, stopping at a few Cabral-selected spots along the way. The last tour took a group on Metro line 260 through the Chinese-food paradise of the San Gabriel Valley, with one catch: No Chinese food was had. Instead, the tour stopped for British pub food, fried chicken, bánh mì and Taiwanese shaved ice. Sacrilege? If so, that's the point.
Tour de Food exposes what we are all guilty of sometimes: stereotyping an area's food based on what it's known for and developing blinders that prevent us from making discoveries outside of that.
A tour by bus helps reverse this ignorance by being as much about exploring a new part of our vast, endlessly diverse city as it is about exploring the food. It isn't a foodie tour of a neighborhood. It’s the tour of the neighborhood’s food, which, in our opinion, is a way better way to experience L.A.
“I use to come here after school all the time,” Cabral tells the group at Ba Le Sandwich Shop in Alhambra, the tour's second stop. Ba Le is located in an otherwise unremarkable strip mall. Everyone eats homemade paté, barbecue beef and pork bánh mì while standing outside the unassuming storefront, sipping on some killer passionfruit juice.
The chosen mode of transportation — public transit — makes this tour distinct among food tours, which usually use a charter bus. For those don’t normally take the bus, Tour de Food provides a first-hand experience of how affordable and easy bus travel in L.A. actually is. It also allows you to take local routes alongside the people who travel through that neighborhood daily. And riding the bus lets you spot other potential restaurants to try, encouraging you to plot your own second round of transit-enabled exploration.