DTLA: Hanging Out Eating Tacos at Mercado Olympic and the Pinata District
Every now and then I would drive past the Pinata District in Downtown Los Angeles never imagining the bounty of street food there. I knew about Mercado Olympic but hadn’t realized it sprouted around the Pinata District. We got there rather late in the day. Everyone advises before 5 p.m. but we thought a little after lunch would be great since it wouldn’t be so busy. First we walked around looking at all the fun pinatas and tried to decide what to eat.
It was a beautiful day with crowds looking everything from housewares to pet bunnies.
I got a kick out of the pinatas that looked like booze (of course).
Once you have a pinata, you could also stuff it from candy available for sale or if you’re trying to be healthy (or more traditional), go for the peanuts.
I saw a shop selling taco tables. I got pretty excited about this and inquired about it. It’s $1500. Time for a backyard BBQ sometime?
The crowd started shifting uneasily. Suddenly sidewalk vendors started cleaning and wrapping up. At first we didn’t get it. We thought everyone had maybe sold out but no, the cops have shown up. A brief history on street food in Los Angeles- it’s not legal to have sidewalk vending. Food trucks and some carts have licenses and permits. We had planned on eating from sidewalk vendors. However due to the raid, all the vendors we ate from were legal. So here’s a legal tour of Mercado Olympic at Pinata District.
We stopped at the Barbacoa truck. The name on the truck translates to “in the style of Hildago” which is a state in Mexico.
The meat was tender and I was careful about not using too much salsa since we were warned it can get super spicy. Just a squeeze of lime was perfect.
Next we hit up the truck a little bit from Estilo Hildago. This unpainted truck calls itself Bocado. I wasn’t warned about the salsa so I was more liberal with dousing my taco with both red and green salsas. I really liked Bocado. They served us a simple consomme with the tacos which I thought was an excellent perk. The guy working the truck was very jovial and it’s much more lighthearted on this block than the mad rushing from fleeing sidewalk vendors.
You will still see people selling herbs by hand here but they’re a little bit more careful. The fried fish guy whose cart was confiscated told me they raid every 3-4 months and his stuff has been taken at least 6 times. I had heard sometimes you get your stuff back if you pay a fine. And when I told him that, he shrugged. They can throw away his cart but he’ll be back selling fish the next day he says. I hope so because I did manage a small sample before the raid. It’s perfectly crisp, hot and delicious. I bet even more so with lime and a squirt of Valentina hot sauce.
Next we started walking along the sidewalk shaded by brightly colored tarps and encountered the ladies making tortillas with a simple wooden tortilla press. Set out in front of their plancha were various meats and LA’s favorite bacon-wrapped hot dogs.
We asked if we could get two types of toppings on one huarache and they readily agreed. I wanted to try the tripe since I love tripe but fell in love with the chorizo and potato. The tortilla was slightly chewy, very perfect. We also ordered horchata which came in the biggest cup ever. It’s a great snack that fuels your shopping to find the best pinata.
I got super excited when I spotted the al pastor spit at El Chivo. You order from him but have to pay at the shack where the other meats are available. There’s a long line snaking its way almost to the alley.
After dressing the taco, I realized the al pastor was a little bit too dry. I didn’t get much out of this taco. But I liked sitting around dreaming of more tacos… and getting the corn, churros, homemade ice cream that had crept away when the cops raided.
Every vendor we talked to said to come back early, come back the next day. They want to welcome you with their food. Whether it’s illegal or not, it’s still a slice of LA life that’s important to me. Although I didn’t eat at any “illegal” vendors this day, I wish I had. I’ll be back.
If you want to support legalizing sidewalk vending in Los Angeles, visit this site.
Mercado Olympic / Pinata District
Approximately Olympic between Kohler Street and Central Avenue
Vendors are there weekends until approximately 5 p.m.
© The Minty 2015