Thousands line up for food fare at LA's first food truck fest

A worker prepares a sandwich at Monsieur Egg.
A worker prepares a sandwich at Monsieur Egg.
Newly Paul/KPCC

Thousands of food-lovers on Saturday braved long lines and a relentless sun to enjoy tasty treats served up by more than 35 food trucks at Los Angeles' first food truck festival.

Dale Turkle, 50, a graphic designer, and his wife Mary, 53, a circuit board designer, took public transit from Torrance to the downtown event, hankering for street food because they don't get a lot where they live.

They waited an hour for fried chicken at celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre’s truck, Ludo Bites.

“I wish we had brought something to snack on while waiting in the line,” said Dale Turkle. “There’s no strategy you can follow except stand here and endure. There’s really nothing you can do.”

The couple had bought VIP tickets for $30 in advance, but never expected a crowd this large.

“This is going to be a $70 piece of chicken, because we’re going to go back after this," Mary Turkle said. "I’m not going to wait an hour for something else."

Others were luckier.

Second-grade teacher Sonya Neweisman, 41, and her husband Steve, 45, an IT manager from Culver City, had tried to book pre-sale tickets to the food festival Friday, but found the tickets were sold out.

The two foodies, who “go to at least two new restaurants every single weekend,” were afraid they might not be able to get in, so they decided to get there early — at 9:45 a.m., they were the first in line.

“We’ve been to several of these trucks before,” said Sonya Neweisman, “but there are so many of them and when we heard there would be one venue with all these great trucks we haven’t tried out yet, I was like, ‘We have to go.’”

The event was held at a courtyard outside the Los Angeles Center Studios off 5th Street and Beaudry Avenue.

It was easy to find. All one had to do was follow his or her nose — the sweet smell of barbecue could be smelled blocks away.

The gates opened after 11 a.m., but lines began forming long before that, stretching around the block, into a sprawling parking lot, and then a block beyond.

People stood patiently chatting in groups, some with umbrellas or oversized sunglasses and others fanning themselves with magazines to beat the heat. Traffic crawled by on Beaudry, as the crowd spilled on to the road from the sidewalk.

Jamila Farwell, 31, an office assistant, waited in line with a friend. She was eager to savor red velvet pancakes at the Buttermilk Truck. She couldn’t believe the number of people who had turned up.

“We bought our tickets in advance, which was a saving grace because this line was a nightmare,” she said.

The concept of gourmet food trucks has come a long way, said Farwell.

“When I was a kid, these were just roach coaches," Farwell said. "There was no respectability involved with it at all and now it’s evolved into something interesting and cool.”

She said having a truck meant more freedom with the menu compared to a restaurant.

“With the addition of Facebook and Twitter, you can follow your favorite trucks," she said. "Then there are passwords involved, and you save a couple dollars if you know the passwords. So it’s cool."

The longest lines were for the melt-in-your mouth treats at the Grilled Cheese truck, pancakes and waffles at the Buttermilk truck, burritos and rolls at Komodo and chili cheese fries at Frysmith.

At Monsieur Egg, the orders poured in.

Owner Jaime Turrey, who usually handles his business as a one-man operation, had help to keep up with the pace of orders of scrambled eggs, ham, salmon and bacon sandwiches.

Brian Watson, who was manning Coolhaus, an architecture-themed ice cream truck, said the organizers had warned them about the turnout, “because it’s the right weather for this.” They were prepared to handle the demand.

The bigger groups did better than the couples or singles. The strategy was to split and line up at different trucks, get the food, and meet at a point to eat together. The handful of tables scattered around the area were soon occupied, and by mid-afternoon the lawn had been claimed by families and children, enjoying their food and relaxing on mats and cardboard sheets.

Eric Young, 24, a student from Santa Monica College, was visiting the fest with his friends.

“The food festival is a bit overrated with overpriced food where you have to wait way too long to get a little burger that costs $4,” he said. “I wouldn’t come back here next year ... I am surviving this because my friends are here and it’s good company.”

While the food trucks did brisk business, the kiosks selling items made by local designers looked deserted.

The T-shirts with Hello Kitty inspired logos, magnets made of recycled bottle caps, stylish bags, candles, and cards were on display, awaiting buyers.

Rachel Flores was upbeat. She was selling butter crunch treats at Pop Candy. She said since her wares were only available online and at Whole Foods, this was a “fun way to introduce the products to new clientele.”

By late afternoon, the line outside the gate was still crawling.

Bicente Arellano, 21, and his friend, Jocelyn Silver, 19, finally decided to give up.

“We thought it was going to be easy-in, easy-out, but it was hectic,” said Silver.

The friends initially planned to wait, but when people in the line told them they had been waiting for two hours, they decided to head back.

“We’ll come back next time," Arellano said. "It’s sure to be more organized then.”