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Surviving the shutdown: Among the L.A. taqueros

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It was the glow that first caught my eye.

The truck is sandwiched between a freeway exit and a smog check station. You can hear the Gold Line train whizz by and, somewhere nearby, a pit bull defending its territory, but not much else. If there ever was a cursed corner for a taco truck, Tacos El Flaco found it — Pluto in the taco truck galaxy.

When I spotted the truck, I rushed to set up my tripod, hoping I could capture the particular light — lonely but hopeful in a dimmed city — it threw on the street. Instead, I caught a different kind of illumination: the story of a father and son who depended on the food truck to earn their living.

Tacos El Flaco has called the intersection of Herbert Avenue and East 3rd Street its home for about 30 years.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

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“Now I get up without the will to work,” Humberto Navarro said, who hasn’t seen business this bad since the 1994 earthquake. (His truck has called that desolate corner home for about 30 years.)

“For what? There is nothing. But I’ve got to come. My family. They support me,” he said, as his son, Humberto Navarro Jr., put his arm around him. “If I was by myself, I don’t think I could do it. Truthfully.”

I spent two days walking Los Angeles looking for stories of how the coronavirus pandemic was affecting taco businesses. What I found were resilient men and women who had seen heartbreak before, but were waiting out the pandemic for their families. For people like Navarro, whose sole income comes from his taco truck, there was no other choice.

Not even taco trucks, an emblematic feature of the L.A. culinary landscape, are being spared from the economic fallout of the global pandemic.

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McDonald’s is going to be fine,” said Navarro Jr., who helps out his father at Tacos El Flaco. “If we didn’t get any customers for a month straight, we’d be done. It’s important to support your local businesses because they are the ones who are really hurting through this time.”

Tacos El Flaco
The intersection of Herbert Avenue and East 3rd Street, Los Angeles, (323) 244-0983

Tacos El Flaco has called the intersection of Herbert Avenue and East 3rd Street its home for about 30 years.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)


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