In September 2018 L.A. legalized street food for the first time. The bill was a welcome milestone, but as anyone who had sampled a late-night hot dog or Tajin-sprinkled fruit plate from a cart can attest, L.A. has enjoyed a robust street-food scene long before it was civically sanctioned.
Unlike high-profile restaurant chefs, street vendors serving modestly priced fare for the masses are rarely given the spotlight. The working definition of street food can be as wide as the 405, but we’ve compiled a few our favorite curbside eats—or at least those spots inspired by the culture at large.
So tag along and remember: Lines are a good sign, be sure to bring cash, and always order two dishes when you think one will do.
2422 W. Temple St., Historic FilipinoTown
What does a dollar get you these days? An Arizona iced tea, a sad value-menu burger, some plastic doodad from 99 Cents Only? Better than all those things (but equally cheap) are the grilled skewers at Dollar Hits, a popular street-food operation in the heart of L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown. The concept, based on isaw barbecue stalls found throughout the Philippines, is simple: Grab a plate and fill it with as many par-grilled skewers as you like—all for $1 each. The stand’s many different cuts can be overwhelming to choose from and maybe a little intimidating: tenga (pork ears), adidas (chicken feet), atay (chicken liver), balunbalunan (gizzards), isaw (pork intestines), betamax (blood cakes), kwek-kwek (fried quail eggs), fish balls, and even hot dogs (novices usually stick with the skewers of pork butt or chicken thigh, both glazed with soy sauce, sugar, and garlic). Your choices in hand, the next step is to finish your meat over charcoal grills outside the shop that the staff refreshes with hot coals every hour or so. After you’ve cooked your skewers to your satisfaction, grab a folding chair and dipping sauces—there’s vinegar spiked with onions and chiles, plus a sweeter one made with brown sugar—and savor your DIY feast.
Dollar Hits opened in 2013 as a food truck run by Elvie Chan and her sisters Josephine and Nellie. The truck grew so popular that last year the Chans were able to move into an adjacent storefront and expand business to six nights a week, from 5 to 11. Seen from cars whizzing past on Temple Street, the location is a carnival of smoke, crowds, and multicolored strobe lights on its busiest evenings. A sound system pumps out Manila’s Top 40; you might have to elbow in for space at a grill. But the feeling is mostly one of being at a rollicking backyard party. Make sure to order a cup of fresh cantaloupe juice, too (with free refills). Like everything else at Dollar Hits, it costs only a buck.
3040 E. Olympic Blvd., Boyle Heights
The most famous food truck in Los Angeles? After Roy Choi’s Kogi fleet, it might well be Mariscos Jalisco, the iconic operation of Raul Ortega—from the Mexican town of San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco. Ordering the fried-shrimp taco here is a rite of passage: a golden, crisp shell of fried masa molded around velvety minced shrimp and topped with salsa and sliced avocado. Heaven has a price tag of $2.25.
2338 Workman St., Lincoln Heights
In certain social circles of northeast L.A., the Corn Man—who also goes by the moniker Timoteo Flor De Nopal—is practically royalty. His throne is a small pushcart parked outside a city-owned lot in Lincoln Heights. He shows up around 11 each night and usually stays until around 1 a.m. The line of customers snakes through the lot; on weekends, the wait can last more than an hour. If you’ve ever enjoyed elote—steamed yellow corn slathered Jackson Pollock-style in margarine, mayo, dry crumbled cheese, lime, and chili powder—you know well the appeal of the Corn Man’s wares. But what makes it more special than the hundreds—if not thousands—of other eloteros around the city? Longevity, for one. The Corn Man has been in business for 30 years, professional experience that’s apparent in each cob he quickly and neatly dresses with a squirt from a squeeze bottle.
1200 N. Main St., Chinatown
if you find yourself craving a taste of Bangkok’s sprawling street-food scene, make the trip to LAX-C, a bustling supermarket just outside Chinatown that is often referred to as the “Thai Costco.” After you’ve finished stocking up on cases of ramen and bulk-size bottles of fish sauce, pay a visit to Mae Ting outside. A former singer in Thailand, the cheerful “Mama Mae” (above, center) runs a food stall under a tin-roof tent in the parking lot—open weekends only—selling pounded green papaya salad, barbecued pork skewers, and spicy herb-flecked slices of grilled Thai sausage. But it’s her signature saucer-shaped coconut cakes, called kanom krok, that keep the crowds coming. Each is made to order by pouring sweet coconut milk batter into a hot cast-iron mold, similar to the kind for Danish aebleskivers. The griddle cakes develop a crunchy, golden-brown crust that gives way to a soft pudding-like center. Pay a dollar more for toppings such as green onions; shaved, candied egg yolks; and kernels of sweet corn.
For a savory contrast, you might as well go for some papaya salad (som tum) for later. Eight dollars gets you a large container mixed to your liking: Choose between dried shrimp or salted crab and as much bird’s eye chile peppers as you can handle (they’re hot!). Be sure to tell Mae thank you in Thai before you leave: kob khun ka for women; kob khun krab for men.
350 E. 1st St., Little Tokyo
The story goes that takoyaki were first invented in Osaka, Japan’s most street-food-obsessed city. These days the fried dumpling balls stuffed with chopped octopus have grown to become one of that country’s fave snacks, often decorated with a flurry of sauces and toppings like bonito flakes and dried seaweed. At this walk-up window in Little Tokyo’s Japanese Village Plaza, you can pick your flavor (wasabi, jalapeño, Parmesan-truffle) on a digital ordering pad and then watch cooks griddle and assemble your takoyaki from behind a pane of glass.
4625 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks
Nashville Hot chicken is just about everywhere in L.A. these days, thanks in large part to Chinatown’s famed chicken vendor Howlin’ Ray’s. But if you don’t feel like spending most of your day in line, head to the Valley for fiery cayenne-dusted fried chicken. Hot Motha Clucker, which sets up nightly in front of a car wash from 7 p.m. until midnight, is one of many chicken-based street operations across the Southland that offer a similar menu: crispy tenders doused with searing-hot spices and served with slaw, french fries, pickles, and toast. Add a slice of cheese if you desire, or ask for a drizzle of honey on top.
Various locations, bartzbarbecue.com
At the risk of stating the obvious, Texas is a very long way from Los Angeles. Yet that hasn’t kept local pit masters from serving their best takes on the pepper-crusted smoked brisket and beef ribs for which the Lone Star State is rightly famous. One of the most prolific of these SoCal smokers is Dustin Bartz of Bartz BBQ, a pop-up and catering operation that can be found near breweries in the greater South Bay throughout the week. Bartz’s love of barbecue dates back to his time living in Austin, where he learned an appreciation for the low-and-slow, oak-fired philosophy prevalent throughout the Hill Country.
These days you can find Bartz hauling his half-ton gravity-fed smoker from brewery to brewery, pairing his signature smoked meats with an assortment of home-style sides like mac and cheese, smoked garlic mashed potatoes, bacon barbecued beans, apple coleslaw, and jalapeño creamed corn. But the customers that usually queue up whenever he makes a pit stop at L.A. Ale Works or Boomtown Brewery are there for meat: Wagyu brisket and beef ribs, Berkshire hog pulled pork, smoked bone-in pork belly, and plump sausages made from scratch.
With nearly three years of nomadic smoking under his belt, Bartz is steadily developing a following among the city’s die-hard ’cue fans. Follow him on Instagram (@bartz.barbecue) to see where he lands next.
89 E. Green St., Pasadena
This small corner shop in downtown Pasadena is one of the few places in town to find jian bing, a stuffed egg crepe that is one of China’s most popular breakfast street foods but a rare find in L.A. Batter is spread on a large, hot griddle and covered with toppings; traditional varieties include a slick of sweet-salty bean sauce, green onions, pickled mustard greens, dried pork floss, and a dash of red chile oil. Feeling peckish? Combo your two-fisted crepe with a soy-marinated boiled egg and a cup of warm soy milk—the Chinese breakfast of champions.
450 S. Western Ave., Ste. 313, Koreatown
Hidden on the uppermost level of Koreatown’s shiny new California Market complex, the specialty at Myungrang happens to be one of South Korea’s hottest street-food trends, which speaks to how quickly fads flow between Seoul and L.A. these days. Choose from
giant shaggy-fried corn dogs stuffed with molten mozzarella, sausage, or rice cakes; there’s even one stained black with squid ink. Then come the condiments: a dusting of sugar or cheese powder, sweet chili sauce, honey butter, or something called “mustard cheese.” Think of the concept as a Hot Dog on a Stick on steroids.
Guatemalan Street Market
Bonnie Brae St. & 6th St., Westlake
There is no official name for the loose gathering of itinerant food carts, folding tables, and canopied shopping-cart rigs that congregate nightly around the intersection of Bonnie Brae and 6th streets a few blocks east of MacArthur Park, but that shouldn’t deter you from checking out what is by far California’s—and likely the country’s—most vibrant Central American street-food scene.
On weekends you will find a few dozen vendors spread up and down the avenue. They’re there to feed workers, many of them immigrants from Guatemala, craving a quick and delicious “home-cooked” meal at an affordable price. It might seem intimidating, for the uninitiated at least, to pick out dinner amid a gaggle of rainbow-colored umbrellas and sizzling grills, but pointing and ordering is not only welcome but encouraged.
Where to start? Try garnaches, palm-size fried corn tortillas topped with shredded chicken or ground beef and smothered in a mild tomato sauce and crumbled cheese, plus a heap
of crunchy pickled cabbage slaw on the side. Nearby you might spy Guatemalan-style carne asada or longaniza being grilled over charcoal, chopped up to order and served with beans, rice, and macaroni salad. Keep an eye out for vendors with vats of frying oil, too: They might be hawking pacaya rellena (egg-battered fried palm shoot), empanadas, or plates of spice-coated fried chicken and french fries crisscrossed with mayo, ketchup, and green hot sauce.
On chilly evenings, customers gravitate toward hearty caldos (soups) brimming with vegetables and meat and recados (stews) featuring rich sauces and paired with fresh tamales. Finish off the night with a warm cup of arroz con leche, and start plotting a return visit to this paradise for hungry pedestrians.
Various locations, leostacostruck.com
The tantalizing sight of a spit of pork al pastor slowly turning in the evening air evokes a specific sort of Angeleno bliss. Of the many taco trucks in L.A. serving this Pueblan delicacy, Tacos Leo has emerged as a powerhouse. What started as a solo taco truck is now an armada of seven. Order the same item at each: flame-kissed pork wrapped in a supple tortilla and finished with a dab of salsa. Provecho!
12514 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village
Self-professed hummus fanatic Shachar “Tony” Weiner grew up in Haifa, the northern Israeli port city where hummus is as much a way of life as it is a dip. A few years ago Weiner started preparing Israeli-style hummus for friends; his recipe proved so popular that he eventually began running an underground hummusiya (hummus restaurant) out of his North Hollywood backyard. The menu was simple: velvety hummus tehina finished with chopped parsley and a glug of olive oil. You could get your bowl topped with stewed chickpeas (mas’bacha) or fava beans (ful), a boiled egg, sautéed mushrooms, peppery shakshouka sauce, or pretty much any combination of such items; each order came with thick, fluffy pita flown in from an Israeli bakery, pickles, green olives, and raw white onion. After a short stint as a food truck, Hummus Yummy has found a permanent home in a San Fernando Valley strip mall— great news for those of us who know that the stuff from the supermarket fridge case just won’t cut it.