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Review: LA Street Food Fest

The Gastrobus at LA Street Food Fest

The LA Street Food Fest kicked off Saturday at downtown's LA Center Studios. An insanely large crowd showed up. At 11:30, the line for general admission ($5) stretched for blocks, and at times during the Fest, the wait for entry was two hours long. VIP ticket holders paid $30 for guaranteed entry to the festival, a private bar, access to indoor bathrooms, a spot on the upstairs VIP patio (where I hear there were donuts and dim sum!), and a goodie bag (which they ran out of by 3:30 PM, sadly). Their line to get in was also much shorter - a perk well worth the ticket price.

Hand stamp at LA Street Food Fest

Festival staff handed out maps as we entered. They also functioned as punch cards: if you ate at six trucks or stalls and had each one punch your card, you could then turn it in and enter a Citysearch LA giveaway featuring prizes like cooking lessons, hotel stays, and dinner for two at restaurants including Grub, sugarFISH and Rush Street. Inside the studio grounds, the main drag was lined with trucks and food stalls. Lines were long almost everywhere. In true street-food style, people perched on flights of stairs, curbs, and low cement walls to eat their hard-won truck noms. Others ate as they wandered among the stalls at the mini arts/crafts marketplace.

Most of the trucks had tasting menus specially for the Fest, with smaller plates from $1-$5. I took the opportunity to visit three trucks I hadn't tried before. First up: Piaggio On Wheels. I ordered three chicken empanadas, at a dollar each; one for me, one for my husband and one for my son. They were piping hot, and full of cubed chicken, onions and peppers. I'm not a big fan of cooked peppers, but these added a sweetness and tanginess to the empanadas, and I didn't notice the slimy texture that normally turns me off them. The pastry was soft and chewy rather than flaky and crispy - when it comes to empanadas, I prefer the former, so I was very happy.

Next up was a spicy tuna roll from Fishlips Sushi. It came in four cut pieces, with tiny servings of wasabi, ginger and soy sauce. Fishlips doesn't use mayo in its spicy tuna rolls - as a result, the hot sauce is less creamy and the roll is a little drier overall, plus the spice seems more intense. It was still pretty f-ing good, and only cost me $3.

For dessert, I hit up The Sweets Truck. I got a mini cupcake ($2), intending to give it to my son. He fell asleep in the car on the way home, so I took one for the team and ate it myself. Aren't I a selfless mom? It was yellow cake with chocolate frosting. The cake was moist, and the frosting was rich. Unlike other people, I don't love a ton of frosting on my cupcakes (I know that sounds dirty), and this little cupcake had just the right amount for me. I also got a Crack Bar, aka a chocolate fudge cookie bar ($3). My husband identified the crumbled cookies on top of the bar as Famous Chocolate Wafers, which are a key ingredient in the much-loved dessert known as icebox cake. The rest of the bar was just as good - melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cookie gave way to a thick fudge filling. My favorite sweet from the Sweets Truck, however, was the cupcake and pudding shooter ($3). It came in a miniature cup with a spoon, and featured alternating layers of cake and pudding. I got the lemon cake and cheesecake variety. I wished it came in a bucket instead of a little cup.

It took a bit of strategizing to deal with the crowds and the plethora of food options. The LA Times interviewed a group of friends who'd beaten the lines by splitting up, waiting in different truck lines and ordering extra food for one another. Since there were two-hour wait times at some trucks (the much-anticipated LudoBites fried chicken truck, for example), this idea was a good one.

LudoBites Fried Chicken Truck

The turnout was so enormous that lots of people didn't get into the festival at all. A commenter on Eating LA suggested that a truck walk, like downtown LA's Art Walk, might be a better format: holding the Fest inside a gated area meant everyone spent even more time waiting in line. It was also the first hot day in a couple of months, and queuers were getting sunburned and thirsty as well as hungry. Some non-Fest-attending food trucks showed up and parked by the line to get into the Fest. Great business initiative!

Huge crowd at LA Street Food Fest

After yesterday's event, Fest organizers Shawna Dawson and Sonja Rasula tweeted that they were "heartbroken" to have to turn people away, and that they'd be "back... better... soon!" No word yet on whether this'll be an annual festival, or an event that pops up in different locations from time to time. Once the initial kinks are ironed out, the Fest should be a satisfying experience for everyone.


Ludo Lefebvre Fried Chicken Truck at LA Street Food Fest

Chef Ludo Lefebvre, mastermind of traveling LA restaurant event LudoBites, is bringing his own food truck to the LA Street Food Fest on February 13. He'll be making one dish: his fried chicken, in bite-size servings. This is a very interesting incarnation of LudoBites. It has all Ludo's usual ingredients - small plates, small kitchen, pop-up location - plus the hottest accessory for a chef right now: a truck. Unlike most LudoBites events, though, the LudoTruck will be around for one day only.