Immigrant Mobile Food Vendor Heritage


Roasted pumpkin tacos from chef Wes Avila’s cookbook, Guerrilla TacosDylan James Ho and Jeni Afuso/Courtesy of Ten Speed Press

Thanks to Mandalit del Barco and the National Public Radio (USA) folks at the salt for this book review that has special resonance to those of us with immigrant street vendor heritage:

‘Guerrilla Tacos’: Street Food With A High-End Pedigree

How many taco trucks do you know that not only have a cookbook but a theme song? Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos truck does – and has once again made food critic Jonathan Gold’s influential list of favorite Los Angeles eateries.

9780399578632_custom-1290954c4c68f10d38993aede65645a3c56a1961-s400-c85.jpgFive years ago, Avila was working as a sous chef at a pop up restaurant called Le Comptoir. It was only open four days a week, and Avila says he wasn’t making enough money to cover his rent. So he bought a simple food cart. He used his last $167 on ingredients. Then he and a friend began selling tacos in the arts district in downtown Los Angeles without the required health department permits.

“We were kind of bending the law, not necessarily breaking the law. We had to move around so we wouldn’t get caught — you know, like guerrilla warfare,” Avila says. “That’s why we had that name, because we’d be in random alleys, random streets, being kind of renegade like that.”

Until this year, street vending was illegal in LA, with fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail. Avila says the police shut down his food cart twice. After that, he says, he scraped and borrowed and drained his savings account to lease a proper food truck — a 1983 Chevy painted Dodgers blue. Then he says he applied for and picked up every permit needed to be legit and was back in business within a week.

He says the same cops who busted him came back. Avila asked them if they wanted some food.

“They’re like, ‘Yeah,’ ” he recalls. “They were very welcoming after that.”

This is not your tia’s taco truck. For starters, there’s that theme song we mentioned — a trance tune with the refrain “Baby want to eat tacos.” (Avila’s nephew, Robert Avila, also known as DJ Robyoheart, produced the track in honor of his uncle.) On the menu at Guerrilla Tacos, you find wild boar tacos and thick-cut bacon tacos with fried egg and pickled onion. There are wild porcini mushrooms and corn quesadillas, and Thai snapper tostadas with pine nuts and tomatillos.

“I like to use ingredients that keep us interested in what we’re doing,” says Avila, whose specialty are the sweet potato tacos…

Read or listen to the whole story here.

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