Taste LA’s Taco Tequila Tryst

It’s always amazed me that a city as big and diverse as LA has never had a big food festival. Until now. Taste LA, sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, is not just one event but a whole long Labor Day weekend of food events around town: Downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and the backlot of Paramount Studios.

Night falls over the Paramount backlot

Chef Roy Choi with Andy

I attended the Taco Tequila Tryst, at Paramount last night. The evening’s honorary host was Roy Choi, who started a nationwide trend  by filling tacos with Korean-spiced beef and serving them out of a food truck (read about him here).

The studio’s faux facades that double for New York, Baltimore and Chicago were lined with white tents, beneath which over two dozen restaurants offered samples. About a dozen more drink companies had also set up shop.

One good thing about tacos: they can be made small for lots of tasting, and most of these sample size tacos could fit in the palm of my hand. I quickly gave up eating the tortilla shells (though some were toasty-tasty on their own) in favor of the fillings. Standouts included shrimp ceviche tostadas from La Sandia in Santa Monica, chicken mole from Mission Cantina on Sunset and the couple locations of Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza, barbacoa (diced beef) from Candela Taco Bar on La Brea Avenue, Mexican marlin at Mariscos Chente and lots of tacos al pastor (grilled beef) and carnitas (shredded pork).

Pho beef taco

But this is LA, (see big and diverse, above), and that meant some out-of-the-box tacos that worked brilliantly. Candela’s creamed corn and cheese taco was instantly comforting, more so after other, spicier tacos. Xoia (pronounced soy-yah) is mostly a Vietnamese place in Echo Park, but its menu also includes tacos filled with the beef used in pho (Vietnamese noodle soup – topped with chili sauce and a lime wedge for even more complex flavors). Worldwide Taco, of South Los Angeles, creates over 150 varieties; it wowed me with a vegetarian “chicken” with raspberry and chipotle.

Dessert: mini cupcakes, from the Cake Mamas of Glendora. Again, the flavors were offbeat but made total sense for the setting. Mexican chocolate seemed adventurous at first, but not once I tried the mojito and strawberry daiquiri flavors – if there wasn’t rum in the frosting for the mojito cupcake, you could have fooled me.

Strawberry daiquiri cupcakes

Mojito cupcakes with shreds of fresh mint