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A wrong turn for L.A.'s food truck scene?

Some feel that an exciting, underground culinary scene has become mainstream and obsessed with the bottom line.

May 06, 2011|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times

As do Natasha Case and Freya Estreller, the custom ice cream queens behind the Coolhaus truck, which launched in April 2009, making them, they say, "ancient." The women already have three trucks in L.A. and two in Austin, Texas, and are in the process of rolling out two more in New York. When they open their brick-and-mortar location in Culver City this summer, it will employ a neat "inside-out" meta-twist that is sure to blow food truck followers' minds: Their new store will be a truck parked inside the building.

"It's natural selection," says Estreller. "The variables of vending on the street are very tough — I see it as a way to market ourselves so we can book catering. For example, now we're in Whole Foods, which I don't think we would've have gotten into if we hadn't been out there branding ourselves."

Kogi's Choi, the father of the scene, is amazed by the circus food trucks have generated and tries to distance himself from the politics. Sitting in front of Chego, wearing jeans with rolled cuffs and black sneakers, and sporting a tattoo of a heart with the initials L.A. and O.C. inside of it, Choi shows cellphone pictures of street vendors he met on a recent pilgrimage to Thailand. He believes that the trucks will thrive and grow only if people "get past the hype" and embrace the trucks culturally, like the people in his pictures.

"The thing about taco trucks that people don't really understand is that it's not about cheap eating," he says. "Why do you think families bring their kids to eat on folding chairs? Not because it's cheap but because it's part of the culture. It's only in America where it's not considered a beautiful thing to be sitting outside with your family enjoying the weather. It's only here where we have to sanitize everything."

He says trucks need to stop congregating in the same lots and go out into L.A.'s vast outer reaches to feed neighborhoods "stacked with relatives," such as Santa Fe Springs, Downey, La Puente, Hacienda Heights, Granada Hills, Northridge, El Segundo, Torrance, Reseda and Arleta.

If you "don't serve and honor the culture and soul of L.A.'s neighborhoods, what differentiates you from that Marie Callender's across the street that you are so blatantly fighting against?" asks Choi.

Photos: Food truck culture

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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