Celebrating Street Food

Festival Hopes to Broaden L.A. Conceptions of Street Food

Shawna Dawson wants Kogi fans to recognize a huarache
Shawna Dawson wants Kogi fans to recognize a huarache Photo: Hadley Tomicki

This weekend will find certain throngs headed to the first L.A. Street Food Fest, held this Saturday at L.A. Center Studios. If you’re concerned that the festival will be missing your favorite chefs from the streets, you’re not alone. Shawna Dawson, founder and organizer of the event, is a street food fanatic who admits to Grub Street, “Some of our own favorite vendors won’t be there. Some of the tiny, most fabulous places simply cannot support 1,000 people, or they can’t leave their primary location.”

That does not mean Dawson hasn’t put considerable effort into recruiting the best available in the business, only accepting defeat when independent vendors’ best interests come into conflict. To help satisfy her own passion for Southeast Asian street cooking, Dawson had an early commitment from two favorite cooks from defunct Wat Thai Temple, who now work at King’s Seafood.

Dawson explains, “Their coconut fritters are almost enough to stave me off my donut obsession. I was titillated to get them signed on and committed and then unfortunately, they just had no one who could run their store for that day and King’s said there’s no way they can’t be there. So I would never want to put anyone in the position where they couldn’t represent themselves in the best way. It wouldn’t serve the event or the vendors.”

Mariscos Jalisco’s owner Raul is another example of someone Shawna fought hard to have there this Saturday. “You’ll find nothing like his fried shrimp tacos anywhere in Los Angeles. He is the only one who does it like this unless you go to Mexico. So we went back and forth for days and we really wanted him to be there. He just happens to do something for his uncle’s church every year and there’s no way he can have someone else standing in for him. So it pains us to not be able to have that, but it’s best for everyone involved that it be done right.”

While many classic taco trucks and notable sidewalk vendors might not be accounted for, today’s trendy street food trucks will have a heavy presence. Dawson is not just cashing in on au currant fashions though, but feels “proud to have the vendors we have,” seeing the event as an chance to strengthen L.A.’s sense of community while widening the audience for street food. “We see this as an opportunity to expose the person who only knows of Kogi to the entire breadth of L.A. street food. To expose people to huaraches, sopes, and barbacoa. To introduce people to the vendors from Breed Street or Antojito’s Carmen. To see Rodolfo actually prepare barbacoa” in a pit using traditional methods. (Shawna updates us “there will be no pit at the event. Not sure L.A. Center Studios or our fire inspector would be too thrilled with that… Qzilla will have a smoker though.”)

To further broaden the festival’s audience, Dawson teamed up with (Street Food Fest co-founder) Sonja Rasula, who organizes over 300 design vendors for Unique L.A., the city’s country’s largest indie design show. “Bringing in design and Unique L.A. is an opportunity to bring in different people. For the festival, [Sonja] has hand-picked the best to complement the event. We were trying to keep food in mind with vendors like Mr. Toast, who is incredible.”

By broadening her audience, Dawson hopes to create something lasting not only for L.A. street culture, but for the very food trucks that seem to, at least for now, get so much attention. “Next year, it could be something different. The general public isn’t on Twitter. Despite their popularity, [Food Trucks] have a pretty limited audience and might not be sustainable.”

Following Saturday’s first attempt, Dawson is already planning a new festival in fall and wants this weekend’s event to be a annual one. “This is a chance to show the city, on both sides, that there is a place for this,” she says.

L.A. Street Food Festival starts at 11 a.m. this Saturday, February 13th and goes until 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $5, VIP are $30 SOLD-OUT , and we predict it will be jam-packed. More details can be found online. L.A. CENTER STUDIOS, 500 S. Beaudry Ave, LA, CA 90017.

Festival Hopes to Broaden L.A. Conceptions of Street Food