People (especially New Yorkers) often have a negative view of Los Angeles, as if it were some sort of cultural black hole. But those who live in this fine city, and who venture all around it and enjoy its mysterious, can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-but-one-of-a-kind aura, know better. L.A. is the most diverse city in the world, and though certainly sprawling and nearly unnavigable, it has limitless treasures to unearth and lots of cultural richness (and not a little cultural trash) to discover.
In fact, I’d argue that the food scene in L.A. rivals just about any city in the world. And I’m not talking 5-star Gordon Ramsey restaurants (though we do have those); I’m talking street level cuisine–democratized food that is accessible and affordable to most all tax brackets. This is the city, after all, that has popularized the mobile food truck, in recent years igniting a gourmet food truck revolution of uber-tasty, frequently fusion foods that daily show up in new parts of the metroplex, allowing an otherwise disjointed, neighborhood-oriented urban sprawl feel for a moment like a cohesive city with a shared culture.
These Twitter-driven mobile restaurant phenoms serve delights like Korean BBQ tacos (Kogi), gourmet grill cheese, Indian food (India Jones), crepes, and all-day-breakfast (The Buttermilk Truck), among many other diverse options.
The mobile truck trend is a decidedly 21st-century, wholly Los Angeles food craze, and I love it. We are a mobile city, founded by the automobile; and the “where are you at this moment?” geo-locational utility of Twitter makes tracking down a food truck in the maze of the Southland an oh-so-doable task.
On Saturday I went to a “Mobile Mashup” in which four of L.A.’s new gourmet food trucks parked outside a bar for several hours and served special menus in which they used food items from the other trucks to create delicious “remixed” creations. The participating trucks were Mandoline Grill (largely Vegan Vietnamese cuisine), Frysmith (insanely good gourmet french fries), Grill ‘Em All (gourmet hamburgers), and Lomo Arigato (Peruvian/Japanese fusion). The result? Things like fries topped with seared fennel/sausage gravy, cheddar cheese and green onions. Mmmmmm!
The “mobile mashup” idea is totally L.A. Not only does it have the “food from a vehicle/mobility” thing going for it, but it also embodies the melting-pot, multi-ethnic remixability of our fair city, wherein every culture of the world is represented and can proudly offer its unique cuisine to a forward-thinking populace always on the prowl for the new and exotic.
Of course, like any revolutionary new trend in commerce, there are doubters. An L.A. city councilman recently complained that the mobile trucks proved to be unfair competition to businesses in “stationary, permitted locations.” But this assumes that “stationary” is what people want. In a market-driven democracy, why not let the people decide? Do they want mobile food at affordable prices? It looks like they do.
That’s what I love about L.A.’s food scene. It is constantly changing, adapting, and thoroughly influenced by the market. It is super competitive and trendy to the max, to be sure. But in the case of food, I think that ends up being a good thing for everyone.