World-renowned chef, author and Emmy winning television personality Anthony Bourdain visits Los Angeles' Koreatown in the next episode of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," airing Sunday, April 21, at 9 p.m. ET. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook. This piece originally ran in 2010, but we're sharing again as part of Bourdain's exploration of L.A.'s vibrant food truck scene.
On a well-lit street in Los Angeles' Venice neighborhood, a crowd of thirty-somethings wait in line. It's not for a club. They're waiting to order food at one of the trucks in the club's parking lot.
Los Angeles has a long tradition of mobile food service. After all, this is a city often defined by its obsession with restaurants and automobiles. Trucks serving cheap, delicious Mexican style tacos and tortas have been around since the 1970s and remain a vibrant business.
There are around 6000 food trucks in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles County Health Department, and the last few years have seen a new wave of food trucks arriving and taking advantage of social media to alert customers to their changing locations.
Many residents credit the hugely successful Kogi BBQ truck with starting the trend. The cuisine of chef Roy Choi was sui generis - a melding of Mexican forms like tacos and quesadillas, highly suited to truck distribution, and Korean flavors like beef short ribs and kimchi.
Kogi BBQ creative director Alice Shin says "Koreans playing with Mexican food is not an alien concept here in LA. I grew up with summer barbecues and running to the store fetching tortillas when we ran out of rice. So I won't say we're the ones who invented it. But I will say that we're the first to put Korean tacos on the map and the first ones to do them any justice."
Word of mouth about the food was strong from the start, but they struggled to find customers. Then they started posting their location on the truck's Twitter account. Soon a savvy clientele was showing up, eventually leading to long lines forming before the truck actually arrived. Kogi now runs a fleet of five trucks that head as far out as Orange County.
Following Kogi's cue, a whole new generation of high-end, social media savvy food trucks hit the streets of Los Angeles and Korean tacos joints began cropping up coast to coast. A person could eat every meal of the day in LA at a truck and eat better, more interesting food than they might find at restaurants. All they need is a phone with a Twitter application.
Trucks post their locations and if one is convenient, you go find the truck. A developer has even created a live map, la.truxmap.com, that tracks locations of more than a hundred trucks via Twitter and information supplied by the trucks. They also have an iPhone app (it costs $5.99; Android is in the works) that will show all the trucks nearby that are open (or opening soon) and will map to them.
Frank Ivan Pardo, co-creator and lead developer of Truxmap, explains "Around June 2009 I saw how fascinated people were by the Kogi truck and I was convinced that Twitter was not the most straight-forward way for people to find their location. A few more trucks launched soon after that, and I decided that it was impractical to follow 15+ trucks on Twitter and that the data would be more user-friendly if it were presented on a map."
The food is great, for the most part, and many ethnic cuisines are represented by a truck somewhere in Los Angeles. There is also a drive to do something new and this leads to a lot of creative food, though surely with some misses.
The scene attracts creative types like trained architect Natasha Case, who created the Coolhaus truck, which serves ice cream sandwiches. As Pardo says "The overhead in starting a food truck is significantly lower than it would be for a restaurant. Thus, it's less of a risk to lease a truck and try your hand at serving your food to the people." It is easier for a person, with or without a culinary track record, with an idea to get out there, try it and let the peoples' palates be the judge.
This doesn't mean that all trucks are run by rookies. Roy Choi of Kogi was already a luminary as chef de cuisine at the Beverly Hills Hilton and Top Chef Masters contender and restaurateur Ludo Lefebvre has a truck that serves fried chicken.
There are other cities with food truck scenes, but none come close to rivaling Los Angeles in numbers, quality, or variety. Alice Shin of Kogi attributes LA's dominance to several factors. "There aren't a lot of laws pertaining specifically to food trucks, so there's a lot more freedom here than in, say, New York or an impossible city [like] Chicago. The friendly weather also is kind to our business. No one wants to eat at a food truck when it's raining or snowing!"
Frank Ivan Pardo agrees about the weather and adds "The presence of street vendors is embedded in the consciousness of everyone who has grown up in Southern California in the last 30+ years, even if they have never eaten from one of them." Pardo adds "Why have the food trucks been so incredibly successful in LA, but slow to grow in San Diego, a city with similar demographics, property value, and weather? We can't be certain, but I think we just need to give it a little more time."
Has Los Angeles reached food truck saturation? Natasha Case of Coolhaus thinks it there is still more demand than supply. "LA is definitely not maxed out. We are turning down events two months in advance because we are too busy."
Pardo adds "My thoughts on the sustainability of the trend had been uncertain up until very recently. I'm now fairly positive that the food truck community will be growing for quite a while."
Los Angeles food trucks are in it for the long haul
Bridging generations and cultures, one blistering bowl of bibimbap at a time
Sundays are for dim sum
8 things to know about L.A.'s Koreatown
The ever-changing flavor of L.A.'s Koreatown
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I use http://www.roaminghunger.com to find my food trucks
I love the variety of different trucks showing up near my office –sliders one day and kimchi tacos the next! I use http://lunchtrucks.intarnat.org and http://findlafoodtrucks.com to keep track of them. It's too many twitter feeds to deal with otherwise.
@ Karenlac, Most food vendor trucks are built so that you can see whats going on with your food. I have 3×6 window that opens me up to public view. People love to watch their dogs being created. I also present the food to them before rapping it up. The best compliments I can ask for are the reactions to the site of their food, " WOW, OMG, Thats HUGE, Now that's a dog " The reactions are countless. I tend to throw in a few myself to make people laugh. Food vending has been around forever. It's going to change the way we all eat. I would personally rather pay $10 for a gourmet burger from a truck and walk away eating.
Wild Dogs Gourmet Hot Dogs & More
Locating food trucks in San Francisco and beyond: http://www.examiner.com/budget-travel-in-san-francisco/saving-money-by-eating-at-food-trucks
It's amazing how well this works for all the food trucks, I mean taking advantage of newest networking technology is so smart. I've never really eaten from a food truck or street food in general because I'm a slight germaphobe but I just realized how when I eat at a restaurant I have no idea what may or may not have happened in back. I think I have a new challenge.
Yep I see the trend lasting. A true business in a box
See Nationwide Auto Group.com East Coast they are customizing some cool food trucks!
Pretty nice to get some recognition on here. We are located by the lowes in cockeysville. Our hours are 10-4 Tuesday thru Saturday. Come see us !!!
King of Pops in Atlanta launched his business using the same concept as many of these companies. If only he sold more than popsicles (although they are amazing)!
I wish our little podunk back-water town had food trucks. Heck, we're luck to have a Taco Bell. I love the concept and would enjoy the variety.
Check out graphic image #6. The nomnom truck has been kicking but on The Great Food Truck Race on the Food network.
What's the point of this article? looks hastily assembled
I love that show! I think it's amazing how upscale some of these trucks are. Seems like there is less overhead than owning a restaurant. Wish trucks like these existed in NJ!
Here is one in NJ.
I wish my city had food trucks. Its way too lame to have something like this, I think people here would be EXTREMELY alarmed and frightened to see such a bizarre concept that isnt part of a chain. It would probably be like a scene from Frankenstein with everyone carrying torches and pitchforks and foaming at the mouth.
i know how you feel...... its sad so so sad
In the part of LA where I work, the area restaurants are having a feud with the food trucks. They're trying all kinds of ways to get them off the streets becasue they're taking business away from the Restaurants. If the restaurants had what we want, we wouldn't go to the trucks.
I love the vairety of the food truck, they don't cost as much as going to a restaurant, they people and the people are friendlier.
I love food trucks. They are so much more fun to go and visit and it's more like an event then just going to eat in the same place all the time. I just found one here in Baltimore, for all you Marylanders. The Wild Dog. He uses facebook and twitter to update his locations. The food is amazing. http://www.thewilddogcart.com. He sells gourmet hot dog that are to die for. I found him in baltimore magazine.
Thanks for the tip! I'm going to see if I can find him on my lunch break!
Do you operate this truck?
No, i'm a paper pusher. just like to get out at lunch makes the day go faster, and it's fun for me.
Kimchee gives me the gas.
If a vendor had TRITS they would clean house in LA
i am pretty sure that austin, texas an rival l.a. when it comes to food trucks. we may not be as large as a city, but our food trucks are dominant variety and numbers:)
That's why Coolhaus is in LA AND Austin...check them out http://www.eatcoolhaus.com/Austin; go for the dirty mint!
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