Originally published to Happening in DTLA June 2016
“One does not simply walk into a food festival”—at least, that’s what I learned after attending LA Weekly’s 6th annual Tacolandia festival this last weekend. Entrance to Tacolandia granted access to over 100 vendors ranging from churros to salsa bars to arepas, but most importantly, TACOS. After having attended a few food festivals myself (626 Night Market, Taste of DC), I’ve realized that much strategizing should be done prior to attending a food festival, especially after Tacolandia. It takes more than just a hearty appetite to tackle this alluring yet daunting task. It takes a willingness to wait, an empty stomach, and a desire to try new things! Here are a few things to keep in mind for the next food marathon.
1. There will be lines. Arrive on time! Although a food festival may last 4-6 hours at a time, that will not create any crowd fluctuation throughout the day, especially for a booming city of residents like L.A. Almost every single one of Tacolandia’s taco booths boasted lines of 15 attendees or more. Some of the more infamous taco vendors ran out of supplies earlier as well. While the crowds at Tacolandia did not fluctuate, wait times did—a booth either prepared a taco and served it immediately or waited to cook multiple at a time, in which case the line would move faster upon completion. If you’re there to eat the most of the best, arrive on time. It helps to bring a friend to help pass the wait time.
2. Eat as little as possible beforehand, and resist the growling temptations in your stomach in order to make the most out of your food festival experience. And by making the most, I mean devouring the most. I made the mistake of having a full lunch just a few hours before. While I managed to get through seven tacos in my 2 ½ hours there, other passersby had casually mentioned that they were on tacos 12, 15, and even 22! With 100 vendors, you should be able to try as much as possible.
3. Try weird things. A lot of the booths create unique tacos exclusively for events like this. Santa Monica’s Tacoteca served a Hawaiian style pork taco with papaya salsa, green onions, and ghost pepper sauce exclusively for the event, a sweet and salty surprise. Mid City’s Rakken Tacos thrives on unique Vietnamese-inspired taco creations. For Tacolandia they served a pho taco with flank steak, hoisin sriracha sauce, and bean sprouts—an unconventional and unique idea that may have sounded great initially but in execution lacked the hot, soupy satisfaction of actual pho noodles. Rakken’s culinary success was an al pastor taco with Vietnamese grilled pork and sriracha mayo, an invention that preserved the savory dignity of a taco with the innovative sweetness of Vietnamese flavors. (Both are available as regular menu items at the shop.) In general, a major motivation and reason to get out to a food festival is to purposely try unique foods that you wouldn’t encounter otherwise. It’s also to try foods out of range! While most vendors were SoCal-based, some trekked from Phoenix, Tijuana, and even London to be a part of Tacolandia.
4. Do not stay in one area. In my first hour and a half there, I found myself stuck in the N. Los Angeles St. entrance area, eager to go booth by booth and tackle one line after the next. Little did I know that Guerrilla Tacos, one of L.A.’s most popular vendors, had been located near another entrance, and had ran out of supplies just minutes before I made my way over. The booths are randomly organized, thus you should be motivated to take a lap or two in order to pick out a few in each area that look most enticing. If you want to go the extra mile, you can also check out the vendor lists that usually get posted online a few days before the festival.5. Try some of the bigger lines. It’s a strange social phenomenon that people tend to flock to the longer lines in suspicion that the line is selling a particularly grand item. A lot of the time, the phenomenon holds true. Dos Chinos, another infamous taco spot located in Santa Ana, boasted particularly long and consistent lines but for a mouth-watering plate of honey walnut shrimp tacos with dulce de leche sauce. The line was most definitely worth it, but proceed with caution. A lot of the attendees, myself included, were able to sneak a peek at the front of the line to see what we were getting ourselves into. This strategy deterred me from waiting 40+ people in line for 3-inch ice cream cones from Coolhaus.
With this mind, eat on, fellow foodies.