My L.A. Street Food Fest regret

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I think I am still in a food coma.

But I am pretty sure I could makesome room for an order of Frysmith’s kimchi fries....

My stomach was extremely honored to be asked to judge the L.A. Street Food Festival, held Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. More than 50 restaurants, food trucks and carts were well represented, and thousands turned out to sample the offerings. Founded and organized by fellow foodies and entrepreneurs Shawna Dawson and Sonja Rasula, the event was a fund-raiser for St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and the Woolly School Garden.

Fellow judges included L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- arm visibly swollen and still in a sling -- as well as chefs Susan Feniger and Walter Manzke (yes, I asked; no, he wouldn’t say), Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA and actor Jesse Williams (‘Grey’s Anatomy’).

With so many appetites, and so many choices, I wondered how we’d ever come to a consensus at the end of the food orgy. In fact, it was pretty easy. In almost every category, we were nearly unanimous on one or two choices. Too full to fight, we just decided to use the powers invested in us to name runners-up. In doing so, we were able to give a shout-out to nearly every standout.


There was a spirited debate about what constituted nouveau street food -- as opposed to classic ‘old school’ street food. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s a sign of L.A.'s diversity -- and sophisticated tastes -- that ‘old school’ honors went to both the explosive Thai bites served up by chef Robert Danhi of Southeast Asian Flavors and the tamales from Tamales Elena. Nouveau honors went to both Sedthee Thai’s pork spareribs and the pork belly adobo served up by the Manila Machine.

Best sweet tooth honors went to Scoops Westside for its Thai Iced Tea Coconut flavor and Munchie Machine’s PB&J S’More Sandwich. (It’s just what it sounds like, a S’more tucked inside a PB&J. If a dessert could get a key to the city, this would be it: Villaraigosa went nuts for it, as we all did.)

Turn the page to see more winners....

Best overall bite of the day went to Mariscos Jalisco for its must-try hard-shell shrimp tacos.

We also used our special judging powers to create a category just for Starry Kitchen, giving a best showmanship award to Nguyen Tran for his deep-fried green rice tofu balls.

My only regret -- other than the five or so pounds I surely gained -- is that we did not figure out a way to dole out an award to Frysmith’s kimchi fries. Its menu says the dish is normally served with pork belly. Honestly, I did not detect any pork belly. Maybe they were out, or maybe I just missed it. But I nonetheless fell in love with the rest of the dish: French fries topped with caramelized onions, cheddar cheese and kimchi (it’s a slightly sweeter version than I’ve ever had before).

Kudos to Dawson and Rasula on a well-organized event. Now that the two have hopefully rested up, the question is: When’s the next one?

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch