By Juan Calvillo
Los Angeles is home to many traditional Latin meals, and Smorgasburg LA gives food lovers the chance to savor traditional and unique takes on Latin cuisine.
The chief among Latin food is the taco. So famous is the taco that it has an entire day named after it, taco Tuesday.
Driving down almost any LA street, people are bound to find at least one small taco stand. The air smells of carne asada and warm tortillas. These small stands sell everything from the simple taco to a quesadilla or even burritos.
Smorgasburg LA has that same normal smell of tacos or burritos but combines it with different takes on the classic meals at the event. One such unique take is from Mideast Tacos.
Taking the classic taco and melding it with MidEast foods creates a combination that is savory and different while retaining its roots in LA style food.
Cooking since he was 17, chef Armen Martirosyan, along with his business partner Aram Kavoukjian, started making food his own way.
Martirosyan was heavily influenced by his parents’ work ethic and immigrant can-do spirit when it came to start his own business.
He said that his parents, now past their 60s, still work hard everyday, and the sense of providing the best for their family has rubbed off on him.
It all started when he and a friend decided to try making the combination of Mexican and Armenian food as a joke. He took note right away that this was something special, and decided to really take a long look at what was created on a whim. He said that living in LA influenced him in taking the next steps in this new food.
Hard work and time in the kitchen has created a take on the taco that is not just inspired but darn tasty.
Using the style of kabob cooking for their meat and the addition of fresh handmade tortillas was important in creating the food.
His food literally comes from all over the world, using his grandmother’s Egyptian influenced humus and the traditional Armenian meat cooking techniques of using charcoal, specifically mesquite, to add flavors to the taco meat.
Even the salsa-making technique was borrowed from an employee’s mother who is from Mexico City. Martirosyan then put his own twist on the salsa, making it his own.
Despite the savory taste of his food, Martirosyan said his idea is still growing. He wants to truly make it something even more special through researching what to do next with the food.
“We’re trying to build a following. We feel like our branding is good. Our food quality is good. So it’s a matter of what’s the next step,” Martirosyan said.
If event goers don’t feel like taking a wild chance they always have the more traditional food of Tacos 1986. Tacos 1986 has traditional Mexican style tacos with a LA twist to them.
Adding avocado and the more common onion and cilantro to their tacos, gives the taco a good taste. Handmade tortillas are a staple of many smaller taco pop-ups, and Tacos 1986 does not disappoint.
The tortillas are fresh and made on site. They also make quesadillas and mulitas. The mulita is two corn tortillas with cheese, a chosen meat and any additional fixings sandwiched together. Tacos 1986 also makes mushroom tacos. These are very tasty and the taco has a large amount of mushrooms replacing the meat with a flavorful taste to them.
Another truly inspiring vendor at Smorgasburg LA was of a much more traditional Mexican meal. Poncho’s Tlayudas is a delicious and surprising traditional Mexican food option at the event. Alfonso Martinez has taken the cultural food of the Tlayudas and brought them to the people of Los Angeles.
This culturally inspired food comes from Oaxaca, Mexico. It is traditionally made with a large corn tortilla, about 18 inches, that is then brushed with the grease that comes from making another Mexican delicacy, chicharrón.
This is then combined with Oaxaca cheese, beans and cabbage.
People who buy Tlayudas then choose the meat that’s added to their food. Martinez said that he offers the traditional chorizo made Oaxaca style or tasajo which is beef steak.
He said he also offers something unique for this type of food, he said that he offers moronga as a meat option.
Moronga is a type of blood sausage that is used throughout Latin American foods.
Martinez said he loves being able to showcase Oaxacan food in LA.
He said while he was working in multiple restaurants he would see many styles of food being offered.
He thought to himself, why couldn’t the food from Oaxaca also be among these options.
He had his chance to bring that food to the masses after he learned the finer point of making Tlayudas from his father-in-law.
Martinez said he has had everyone from Instagram fans, to high level chefs come to eat his Tlayudas.
He said he was happy simply to do his best and try to feed people the food he had chosen to make.
Martinez said it’s taken time to get his business off the ground, but everything that is done with patience and with care creates something grand.
He said he would rather take his time to truly build something good rather than get a running start then fade away.
Martinez credits social media with growing his business more and more everyday.
He said at times he gets people arriving at his pop-up, at 4318 South Main St. in LA, saying their Uber driver already knew why they were going to that particular address.
Martinez said it’s through social media and catering jobs that his business has continued to forge ahead.
Smorgasburg LA is a food lover’s dream come true. Dozens of options of food and drink are available at the event.
For more information on MidEast Tacos, follow them on instagram @mideasttacos or check out their place at 5300 York Blvd, Los Angeles Fridays and Saturdays seven p.m. to midnight.
For Tacos 1986, check out @tacos1986la on Instagram. And for traditional cuisine from Oaxaca, check out Poncho’s Tlayudas on Instagram @ponchostlayudas.