Monday 24 June, 2013

Tacolandia: Sanitized for your protection


I walked away from Tacolandia yesterday not sure how I felt. When I first heard of it, I was excited by the idea of gathering together some of LA's most passionate taco/street food restaurants and trucks in one place. After all, if there is any challenge to finding great food in Los Angeles, the first is overcoming the topographic girth. That it was curated by StreetGourmetLA blogger Bill Esparza meant it would be an adventuresome and knowledgable gathering. In theory.

Unfortunately, despite having several nice tacos from some of our best--Loteria Grill, Cacao Mexicatessen, Chichen Itza--the whole event felt flabby and soulless, and imbued with a hefty amount of unrelated marketing. Hustler Casino? Second City? Kinky Liqueur? What do any of these have to do with tacos? I will accept corporate participants like Goya (actually, nice bean salad) and Bud Light Lime-A-Rita (sorry, not putting my lips on that), but... Dreamworks' Turbo? If you have to reach out to these many marketers to make an event in the parking lot of the Hollywood Palladium with a bunch of generic white tents financially feasible--an event selling tacos to Angelenos for Lord's sake--maybe something is missing from the mix. Don't even ask me about the location... not that there was anything wrong with it, but it didn't necessarily make sense. Macarthur Park, Elysian Park, Lincoln Park or Union Station, where AltaMed holds the inspiring East LA Meets Napa event every year ...any of those would've made more sense.

Of course, I might have missed something, because I got to the event after 3 pm, and despite it being slated to run 1pm-5pm [correction: Noon, my bad, thx @EstarLA] , several of the participating taquerias were done serving by the time I arrived (most of the remainder, predictably had long lines). I did also enjoy bites from Tamales Elena, Rocio's and a few other spots, and maybe the most special appearance was by Mariscos El Mazateno from Tijuana, offering some nice ceviches with a zillion sauces. I could've stood in front of them all afternoon (and probably should have). Through second hand sources, I'm told many vendors were told to prepare for 800 guests, although something close to twice that many tickets were sold. I can't verify that, but I can verify that virtually half were done serving by 3:30. Poor planning.

*Oh wait: Can I get snobby for a second? Would it be unreasonable for someone, anyone, at a taco fest to be making tortillas by hand? Or did I miss that, too?

For that matter, you'd expect an event like this to be a boon for tequila and mezcal brands, both booming spirits categories with new products appearing almost every week. Oddly enough, other than Milagro tequila's Gaston Martinez, the selection in the VIP section was bizarre: the aforementioned Kinky and Bud Light, and some kind of lime flavored Hornitos. There was a nicer selection at the pay-for-drinks bar, including Sino and Don Weber, but no one seemed to be paying them any attention.

Maybe I am spoiled, but it seems to me I could put together an equally impressive event if I just gathered together the various places in my neighborhood, Eagle Rock/Highland Park, including Mexicatessen, El Huarache, the everpresent Rambos and Kogi trucks and others [If you live anywhere East/North/South of Hollywood, you could likely do the same]. I'm definitely sure I could get together ten great tequilas--and some mezcals--eager to expose their product to Angeleno Foodies. But I'm just a guy (and by the way, a total Gringo). Not LA Weekly.

And anyway, the positive takeaway from this event is that anyone in LA can put together their own "Tacolandia," so rich is our fabric of Latino street food and counter-service spots.

Sometimes I wonder why my fellow bloggers put up with their knowledge and passion just being baldly exploited as marketing fodder. I bet the girls checking tickets at the door had a more profitable afternoon than Mr. Esparza. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe someone pitched him a reality show.