The Vendy Awards, the New York-born street food competition, returned to L.A. for the second straight year on Sunday, with sponsorship from The Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center. Held at Pan Pacific Park, a crowd of roughly 200 came to sample street eats from six local vendors, before voting for their favorite one.
Finalists for the competition included the breakfast-slinging Buttermilk Truck with their red velvet chocolate chip pancakes, the Punjabi curries and lamb frankies of the India Jones Chow Truck, huaraches and huitlacoche sopes from Boyle Heights farmers market vendor Karina's Food, tacos and burritos from El Gallito (currently thirteen trucks-strong), Mexican delights made with healthier grape-seed oil from Martha's Tamales, and the constantly changing Cali cuisine of Orange County's The Lime Truck. Awards were handed out in two categories: A people's choice award and the judge-decided winner of the coveted Vendy's Cup. So, who won the right to hoist the cup this year?
We were lucky enough to somehow squeeze our way onto the judge's panel this year, giving us the pleasure of kicking it all afternoon with Spice Table chef Bryant Ng, Top Chef vet Lee Anne Wong, Food Network's Eat St. host James Cunningham, and Midtown Lunch's Zach Brooks. Nailing down a favorite wasn't easy, with Karina's and Lime Truck strong contenders, but when all votes were tallied, the results were almost unanimous, as Sumant Pardal of India Jones Chow Truck was chosen as the winner of the Vendy's cup. Pardal served saag paneer and butter chicken that Wong noted was "better than at many Indian restaurants" and a lamb frankie gorged with flavor.
The winner of the people's choice award was Caridad Vazquez, who runs Karina's Food with her daughters and is a poster-girl for the pro-street food lobbying East L.A. Community Corporation, currently trying to free the city's street food vendors from police harassment. While Cunningham proposed marriage to Vazquez, she shouted out to Mexico while accepting the award.
In the end, the event seemed much less about competition than uniting chefs who are tackling street food from several different angles, from the brilliant-but-persecuted Mexican food vendors of Boyle Heights to restaurant veterans like Pardal who are flourishing on four wheels to trucks constantly raising their own bar like The Lime Truck and Buttermilk.
While we look forward to the event's return, The L.A. Street Food Fest kicks off in less than a month at The Rose Bowl, providing another opportunity to take in the range of tastes being prepared on the streets of Los Angeles.