The last couple of years, we’ve all heard a lot (maybe too much) about Los Angeles’ hipster gourmet food trucks and how the trucks have made the city the tastemaker of the American street food scene.

But what’s gotten much less attention is L.A.’s other street food community, the thousands of mostly poor immigrants who sell food from sidewalk pushcarts and small portable kitchens around the city. These are the street vendors you see selling tacos, tamales, fruit cocktails, Salvadoran pupusas and bacon-wrapped hot dogs across town. The vendors are found in particularly high numbers in Los Angeles neighborhoods like Highland Park, South L.A., Koreatown, Boyle Heights and Echo Park, all places where the constitute a shadow culinary scene. Like immigrants of the past, people turn to selling food from pushcarts because the investment in equipment is so much less than opening up a brick and mortar restaurant or buying a food truck.

But unlike selling food from a truck, selling food from pushcarts on the sidewalks of Los Angeles is illegal. In fact, it’s illegal even if you’re a vendor who’s paid for official street vending permits from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and your cart is completely up to snuff when it comes to sanitation.

Because of L.A.’s street vending ban, the city’s population of street vendors plays a constant cat and mouse game, both with the police and inspectors attached to the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services, which is charged with policing the sidewalks. Vendors who are cited can face fines of several hundred dollars, the confiscation of their carts, and even jail time.

That situation has gotten so intolerable for street food vendors that many are organizing themselves with the help of the East Los Angeles Community Corporation, a non-profit community development organization. In a series of evening town halls held across the city, vendors are coming together to voice their complaint and develop a strategy to get City Hall to overturn the city’s street vending ban. As every vendor I met told me, they don’t want to do anything wrong, they’re just trying to survive and their pushcarts are key to that. You can hear my story on vendors below:

For more information about the Los Angeles street vendor campaign, go here. 

In response to problems with police, L.A. street food vendors are starting to organize by attending a series of town halls. They hope to convince City Hall to legalize food street vending in Los Angeles

Luis sells freshly squeezed orange juice in L.A.’s MacArthur Park neighborhood. He says he’s been fined multiple times for street vending and always keeps an eye peeled for police and city inspectors.

People turn to pushcart cooking and selling because of the relatively low-cost of buying the equipment. A pushcart can be bough from just a few dollars to over $2,000.

There’s lots of different different food sold from pushcarts on the streets of L.A., from tacos and tamales to fruit salads sprinkled with chile and bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

Juan Antonio Hernandez and his wife Sofia own a fruit cart usually parked near USC. They have all their permits from the Department of Public Health and don’t understand why they can’t legally sell their products in the City of L.A.

 

Some sidewalk vending can get very elaborate. This is a man who sets up shot every weekend in L.A.’s Highland Park neighborhood and cooks dozens of roast chickens an hour.

Some streets in L.A. turn into virtual food courts because of the prevalence of sidewalk pushcart vendors. This one is under a bridge of the Santa Monica 10 Freeway. It’s popular with the vendors because customers gather on this block in the predawn hours to catch buses to go to work.

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8 Comments »

  • Em | 48 Hour Print said:

    I think what the local government do is create a bi-weekly market where all these vendors get together and sell their food to people. It's like a food fair with very authentic food and service.

  • This Week on Good Food: The Legality of Street Food, Vegan Twinkies, History of the Date | Good Food said:

    [...] ordered a taco or a pupusa from a sidewalk stand? Did you know that that cart is illegal? KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez reports on why Los Angeles is the only large metropolitan city in the US to ban sidewa…. Hostess Brands announced last week that the company is going out of business, but Twinkie fans [...]

  • Joe said:

    The highlight of my tram ride to USC-Hawaii football game was the Hotdog with onions . I loved the simple design of the pushcart grill as my hotdog sizzled before my eyes. Eventually the vendors had to leave, but they did a great job grilling and collecting all the bottles and cans on the USC campus.

  • Best E Liquid Vendor Online said:

    Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed! Very helpful information particularly the last part :) I care for such info much. I was seeking this particular info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  • Don said:

    Most came here illegally and no one does anything about it.So why respect any of our laws? What are we waiting for? Someone to get really sick??? Blacks used to sell BBQ plates up and down Western Ave in the70s and 80s they cracked down fined and arrested people.Why are Latinos allowed to do this? L.A. is turning into new Jim Crow city.One law for Latinos one law for blacks.They are allowed to drive with no licenses.Blacks aren't.It is a slap in the face to every black person in Los angeles when people that aren't even supposed to be here anyway are allowed to break the laws they do.

  • L.A.'s Street Vendors Say "Legalize It" - L.A. TACO said:

    […] which also has a number of good photographs of vendors in the city, reports that […]

  • Fee said:

    I don't have a problem with Latino street vendors, my problem is I should be allowed the same priviledge. Being out of work with no job prospects in sight, selling food has become my saving grace.

    Hispanics have shown me how to make my bills, not to have money to spend freely but to survive. Just that usually I am the only non hispanic doing what they do, and they resent me for being there. My attitude is " If you can, so can I" and "Hell with you if you don't like it". The absolute nerve to think somehow they are given permission and no one else can!

  • chloe said:

    sound like just having more control over peoples lives to
    me

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