I am all about things that make you go “mmmmm”, and Farley Elliott’s debut book, “Los Angeles Street Food”, definitely falls in that category. Farley, a Senior Editor for Eater LA, does his city more than justice with mouth-watering descriptions of LA’s top food trucks, carts, stands, festivals and more, complete with photos that can only be described as food porn.
Farley travelled far and wide for his soon to be go to guide, and I was lucky enough to catch up with him to talk about his book, the LA food scene, and of course tacos. You can check out our convo below.
With all the great restaurants out there, what about street food gets you so excited?
It’s the innovation, the regional specificity. When you’re opening up big restaurants with big-name chefs, you sort have to take a maximalist approach — appeal to lots of people, and charge accordingly. With low overhead operations like carts and trucks, you can really focus on the one thing, or the two things, that you want to do, and do them with amazing accuracy. You can learn about the world through LA street food, because every place you visit is allowed to have its own footprint leading back to wherever it originated.
So many people come up with great ideas, but never follow through. What motivated you to actually make this book happen?
Well, for one, I always feel like I have something to say. That’s just part of being a writer. So there’s that idea — I get to say what I want, and you pick up the book and listen. That’s pretty great! I also wanted to write the book because, no matter how successful anyone is, we always try to find benchmarks to define ourselves. Having a book was a benchmark for me — a big one — and being able to see it on the shelf of my local bookstore was something that was important to me. Not wanting to fail yourself is a big motivator.
You travelled to the far reaches of LA to hit up some of the vendors in your book. What was the craziest thing that happened on the road?
I did have a knife pulled on me once, but that was from a drunk guy and could have happened anywhere, at any time. It just happened to be in front of a taco truck. The idea of an unsafe taco stand or Taiwanese meat skewer truck has largely become a vicious rumor. Honestly, these are hardworking families trying to make a great product to feed their own neighborhoods; rotten food or outbursts of violence would be bad for business.
The photos in your book and on your drool-worthy instagram account are always amazing. Any tips or rules of thumb for taking awesome food photos?
Lighting is key. You can make bad food look good with the right light, but you will never be able to make amazing food look even remotely interesting in the dark.
While delicious, the tacos, meat, pastries, etc. featured in the book might not be the most healthy. What street food would you recommend for someone trying to watch what they eat?
Well, there IS the idea of moderation in all things. But you’re right — it’s not the healthiest way to eat, especially if you spend most of your time in front of a computer screen. But there are fruit carts, juice vendors, trucks that serve goat birria with a hearty “bone broth” side of consommé. And yes, there are many, many vegetarian taco options, from huitlacoche (a funky sort of corn option) to stewed huazontle, which is a hearty green native to Mexico.
If money and LA traffic weren’t an issue, what is your dream street food meal?
I’d start with elote from the Lincoln Heights corn man. It’s this amazingly simple corn on the cob that’s grilled, swiped with mayo and butter and dashed with salt and spices. From there, a round robin of tacos: one short rib from Kogi BBQ, one carne asada from the Tire Shop Taqueria, one al pastor from Tacos Tamix, and one carnitas from Tacos Los Guichos. Then the main: a torta cubana from Super Tortas D.F. in South LA. If there were any room left, I’d take some champurrado as a sweet finisher.
Oh, and an al pastor quesadilla from El Chato — as a late night snack, just in case.
If you were to open up a food truck, what would it be?
I’d be no good at opening a truck. The margins are too thin, the days too long, and I’d blow up at a customer within the first few hours, probably. But in my best moments, I could see being a sort of short order breakfast cook within the food truck realm. Simple egg and sausage sandwiches, easy breakfast burritos, some high-quality drip coffee. There is something undeniably satisfying about feeding a crowd…
“Los Angeles Street food: A History from Tamaleros to Taco Trucks”, is available here, and be sure to follow Farley on Twitter and Instagram.