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First impressions: Eating our way through Coachella

First impressions: Eating our way through Coachella
Bay Area resident Natalie Hartwell, 20, with a Dole Whip float from the Kogi truck. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

The first thing you experience when you walk through the Main VIP entrance at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is the smell of grilled carne asada and sizzling pork on the trompo wafting through the air. And the first face you see is Jorge Alvarez-Tostado, the taquero from Tacos 1986.

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“Welcome! Come and get the best tacos,” he bellows as you walk by.

Tacos 1986 at Coachella.
Tacos 1986 at Coachella. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Just a couple of booths down is Love Hour, the Los Angeles pop-up that slings pickle-topped cheeseburgers stuffed into really good squishy buns. Freedman’s, the Silver Lake deli, is next door, with their version of a Taco Bell Crunchwrap (crunchy taco shell, pastrami, lettuce and cheese wrapped in a toasty tortilla).

The cheeseburger from Hawkins at Coachella.
The cheeseburger from Hawkins at Coachella. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Over in the Indio Central Market, the food hall that Nic Adler, the festival’s food curator, introduced last year, there’s Hawkins House of Burgers, the Watts mainstay known for its hamburgers with pastrami, as well as fried fish and chicken. Owner Cynthia Hawkins is in the back cooking with her family.

The fried chicken sandwich from Fuku at Coachella.
The fried chicken sandwich from Fuku at Coachella. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
The strawberry lemonade slushie from Fuku at Coachella.
The strawberry lemonade slushie from Fuku at Coachella. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

“Coachella is one of the biggest events in the country,” Hawkins said. “We’re just giving them a taste of Hawkins.”

Turn left and there’s Fuku, Momofuku’s fast-food fried chicken outlet. The sandwich is good — two crispy thighs, pickles and a mayonnaise-y pink sauce — best washed down with Fuku’s pink lemonade slush.

You may spy Shirley Chung at her Ms. Chi booth nearby, making dumplings, hot dog buns and steamed baos.

The steamed pork bao from Ms. Chi at Coachella.
The steamed pork bao from Ms. Chi at Coachella. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
Dole whip float from the Kogi Truck at Coachella.
Dole whip float from the Kogi Truck at Coachella. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Walk back through the crowds of people dance-walking towards the Kacey Musgraves set on the main stage and there’s Kogi Town, a string of booths from Roy Choi anchored by one of his Kogi trucks. You can host your own Choi food crawl with Kogi tacos and burritos, Ooey Gooey fries and Dole Whips. Andrea Chang, deputy editor of this food section, whipped four whips.

At the Rose Garden VIP area in the back, the Outstanding in the Field pop-up dinner crew is laying white table cloths and setting up wine glasses for a 300-person dinner. Casey Thompson, Brooke Williamson and Chung are in the kitchen.

Shirley Chung at Coachella.
Shirley Chung at Coachella. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Thanks to Adler, Coachella has been a more than respectable place to eat for years now. The introduction of Tacos 1986, Hawkins and Love Hour brought this year’s lineup to a new level of Los Angeles legit.

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