Dave Danhi, president of the Grilled Cheese Truck, distributes sandwiches. (Christina House / For The…)
Alerted by Facebook, Twitter and plain old word of salivating mouth, foodies by the thousands descended Saturday on downtown Los Angeles for the "first annual" LA Street Food Fest.
By midday, the line of eager epicures extended for blocks along South Beaudry Avenue, outside the grounds of Los Angeles Center Studios, and the wait to buy a $5 entry ticket was two hours. Once inside, the hordes queued up again to grab tidbits for a dollar or two or three from about 30 of the city's most popular food trucks, among them Flying Pig, Fishlips Sushi, Komodo, Frysmith and Coolhaus.
Such mobile food has soared in popularity since the now-legendary Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck hit the streets in late 2008. Now brightly colored trucks offer a mind-boggling array of fare, including hot dogs made with grass-fed organic beef, eco-friendly hamburgers, architectural ice cream sandwiches, sushi rolls, vegan sausages and all sorts of Kogi-inspired "fusion" tacos. Oddly enough, Kogi was not in attendance.
Brothers Jonathan and Sal Witty, 26 and 32, drove an hour from their homes in Rancho Cucamonga and Aliso Viejo to be among the first in line at the Dogzilla booth for mini-dogs topped with soba noodles or spicy furikake seasoning. Dogzilla chefs wore bright green T-shirts featuring a wiener-devouring monster (Godzilla, get it?).
"We live to eat," said co-founder Martin Tse, who grew up in a Bay Area restaurant family and met his Dogzilla partner, Bac Dang, while a student at UC Irvine.
They were in good company. Kenny Yowell and his wife, Nickie Malave, owners of the Cabo Taco Baja Grill restaurant in La Mirada, came from Whittier after seeing on Facebook and Yelp that the street food festival "had blown up all over."
Many in the crowd continued the social networking as the festival progressed. Elliot Golan, 26, of Woodland Hills, author of the FlavorChaser blog, posted to Twitter as he waited in the snaking line at the Grilled Cheese Truck.
President and chef Dave Danhi, aka the Big Cheese, worried that he and partner Michele Grant might just run out of food. This was even though "we bought all the cheese -- there's no more left in town," said Danhi, who previously worked as a chef at the Roxbury, Georgia and the Water Grill. After all, a mobile eatery can hold only so much.
Not far from Danhi's melting cheese, festival attendee Farhan Mahmood, 26, stood guard over an array of food-filled paper plates. His group of a dozen friends had split up into pairs, each armed with $20, and divvied up the trucks so they could all sample as much as possible. With waits at the most popular trucks extending to two hours or longer, choices had to be made.
Mahmood conceded that it was "a little crazy" to stand in line, given that food trucks show up almost everywhere.
But, he added, it was "cool to see the energy downtown."
"We wanted to show L.A. people they are part of a great, upscale Los Angeles food community," said Sonja Rasula, who planned the event with Shawna Dawson. Rasula said part of the proceeds from the entry tickets would be donated to the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank.