I wasn't able to attend this past weekend's OC Foodie Fest (congrats to the organizers, btw, on the turnout) because I attended another one: the Eat Real Festival, held around Jack London Square in Oakland. You thought OC Foodie Fest was big? Eat Real brought in over 100,000 eaters over the course of its two-and-a-half day run, with cooking demonstrations, lectures and cameos by the East Bay's own luxe-lonchera scene. I, however, didn't try any of them, because I was in the mood for Mexican food.
The Eat Real organizers invited me to speak along with others on the glories of street food. Writers, chefs (including Andrea Nguyen, America's guide to Vietnamese cooking--haters of Rick Bayless, take notice), and other assorted foodies extolled its virtues; I, of course, played the loyal opposition. The video isn't up yet, but the gist of my rant was this: where were the loncheras at these luxe-lonchera feasts?
America didn't embrace the food truck, long the domain of the working-class and--here in Southern California--Mexicans until Kogi and hipsters made them the fad that they are today. If it wasn't for the years of legal fights these loncheros engaged in--without Twitter, Facebook or much start-up cash--you wouldn't have these big festivals, or young chefs dreaming of amazing fusions within the confines of moveable metal. "Let us now praise famous loncheras," I told the Eat Real crowd, meaning let's invite loncheras to luxe-lonchera festivals.
Heaven knows Orange County can boast of great food from its loncheras--some of the best in the county, and imminently more affordable (and better) than the lot of the luxe-loncheras. Yet how many appeared at OC Foodie Fest?
None. Zero. Nada.
Festival organizer Virginia Strickland did ask me for the contact information for Alebrije's, and I appreciated the effort and still want to know why Alebrije's didn't take the opportunity. Still: isn't it sad that organizers must rely on someone else for the contact info to loncheras? Those guys do speak English, you know.
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But OC Foodie Fest shouldn't feel bad. Eat Real had but one lonchera, and it wasn't open when I went. The upcoming Long Beach Street Food Festival has--you guessed it!--none as of this posting. And I totally understand why festival organizers wouldn't think of inviting them in the first place--the hipster masses don't want to be bothered with food trucks that don't have Yelp reviews attached to them, or cutesy names (best one at Eat Real? Chairman Bao, which served steamed buns, and the Indian food truck Curry on Up).
The luxe-lonchera craze vexes me, another point I made in my Eat Real speech. As the food editor for this paper, I'm committed to telling eaters about great food, and I'll celebrate it even if it's out of a Dumpster. We review luxe-loncheras every week (tomorrow, Dos Chinos: TOMORROW!), and will continue to review the ones that visit the Weekly's world headquarters. I'm glad young chefs are experimenting, and they deserve all the business on Earth if they're good.
But the culinary is the political, cabrones, and the absence of loncheras from these festivals says more about this region's eternal complexities with Mexicans than a one-hour Minuteman Project tirade. Funny how none of these luxe-loncheras get called roach coaches, even though they share the same commissaries and stringent regulations that those so-called roach coaches had to follow for years before the fad. And you know what would happen if these loncheras tried to organize something like OC Foodie Fest? A day's worth of calls by Know Nothings to ICE, the health department, and other fools. And that's just pinche sad.
Excuse my rant--I'll now shut up by stuffing my face with another taco acorazado...