We learned a lot cruising this year's L.A. Street Food Fest at The Rose Bowl on Saturday afternoon, including our own epiphany that, despite a bad experience that left us hungry, hot, and bothered during the first year, we were back and loving this look into more than 100 local street stars, food trucks, and gourmet restaurants this year.
We also learned that Pasadena is roughly twenty degrees closer to Hades than our departure point in Mar Vista as we chugged Coba's bottled guava aguas frescas and Singha in an attempt to keep up with favorites like The Park's Finest, Ayara Thai, Waffles de Liege, Seoul Sausage Co., Fox Pizza Bus, and Antojitos Sofy, while taking a peek at newer vendors like Bling Bling Dumpling, The Peking Duck Truck, The Churro Borough, Ori Menashe's upcoming Bestia, and one absolutely mesmerizing man, Alex Goh, making the hand-production of dragon beard candy look easy.
But the burning day's highlight was found in welcoming five celebrated chefs who made their way to L.A. from San Diego and Baja only to sweep some of the festival's biggest awards in the process. Organized in a row with help from Street Gourmet L.A. Bill Esparza, the chefs included superstar Javier Plascencia of Tijuana's Mision 19, among his other restaurants, as well as the U.S. debut of that city's Tacos Kokopelli and its three chefs, along with Ensenada's Mariscos a Guerrerense, Tijuana's Mariscos el Mazateno, and San Diego's barbacoa experts from Aqui es Texcoco, fresh off their Monday night appearance on Bizarre Foods.
These Mexican chefs were not messing around for a minute, as evidenced by Plascencia's breath-taking barbacoa of pork belly and pork shoulder stuffed with fig leaves inside of a smoking, slow-cooking casket with coals on top that recreated the meat's authentic subterranean preparation, our favorite bite of the day when topping a tamal.
Elsewhere, La Guerrerense layered its tostadas with sea snails, Kokopelli grilled octopus under the name "Kraken" and halibut ceviche with squid ink, Mazateno impressed with its signature Sinaloan-style fried shrimp enchilado (known as a mazateno), and Texcoco blew us away with its regional specialty from the D.F.-adjacent city of the same name.
Winners of the day's Street Food awards, as decided by judges Jonathan Gold, Jennifer Sommer (West Coast director of Food & Wine), and The Next Iron Chef America's Simon Majumdar, included a "Best in Show" award for La Guerrerense's sea snail tostada, a "Best of the Chefs" award for Bryant Ng's spicy chicken wings from Spice Table, a tie in the "Best Noveau Street Food" category between Kogi and Seoul Sausage (which is opening a brick and mortar on Sawtelle soon), an award for Mariscos Jalisco's peerlesstaco dorado de camaron under the best "Old School" category, and a judge's honorable mention for the camaron enchilado at Mariscos El Mazateno.
Meanwhile, the people's choice awards, as decided by the thousand or so visitors, included a blue ribbon for the "Soo Cali dog" at Dog Haus and an honorable mention for the Peking Duck Truck, making its debut with duck sliders on this day, which was not only a victorious one for L.A. street food and its fans, but a terrific opportunity to welcome in some fresh blood along with the considerable talents of our neighbors to the near south.
An opportunity to see some of Baja's best chefs in action will again rise up next October, at the second annual Baja Culinary Festival. Until then, a full list of Saturday's winners can be found on The L.A. Street Food Festival's Facebook.