The 2016 LA Food Fest went off without a hitch this weekend at the brand spanking new location of Exposition Park, a food haven nestled neatly between the Natural History Museum and California Science Center. I donned my proverbial stretchy pants (leggings in my case) and headed over early for “Golden Hour,” the first two hours open for unlimited tastings of specialty vendor samples. Attendees, myself included, could fill up their box tops with an array of bite-size treats, then settle down in the shade or sun at one of the many cloth covered high top tables or old-school wooden picnic tables scattered all across the premises, to dig in and enjoy the culmination of their gathered culinary treasures.
Some vendors weren’t officially ready to serve samples until about 12pm but we got hooked up early by Halal Guys, the NYC street meat transplants, who have been making the news rounds due to their recent store front opening in Koreatown. Their hummus had a slightly grainy texture but it was well balanced by a smidge of olive oil and paprika. I’m looking forward to pairing it up with some chicken, gyro and falafel in the near future for the full Halal Guys experience.
Next up was Pico House, a cute, colorful food stall that dished up a to-die-for Union Lamb Grain bowl featuring Harissa roasted lamb, ancient grains, tomatoes, peppers,cucumbers, avocado, goat cheese and mint. The goat cheese and avocado paired with the still-warm lamb gave it melt-in-your-mouth feel, while the cucumbers provided crunch. If I could eat that for lunch every day, I would.
I continued my meat-fueled mission by hitting up Fritzi Dog for their K-Town Dog, a spiced pork hot dog with slaw, Korean style ketchup and crispy onions. The words ‘salty,’ ‘crunchy,’ and ‘cracky,’ immediately popped into my head as I gobbled it up in one bite.
For spicy kicks, I made my way to the long line for Lahtt Sauce, whose ambitious motto is “eat adventurously,” and let me tell you the wait was worth it. They offered up a perfectly toasted, buttery baguette slice topped with pico de gallo and Lahtt Sauce, a chili oil XO sauce that is a smorgasbord of 18 seamlessly blended ingredients, including dried shrimp, bacon, chili peppers, to name a few.
The slow burn of All American Gumbo‘s Cajun sauce was quite satisfying on chicken tenders and fries. It’s absolutely the kind of sauce you could keep around the house and pour on just about anything and everything.
Bigmista’s BBQ‘s love for all things smoky was extremely well received my taste buds. Pitmaster Neil “Bigmista” Strawder revealed that the secret behind achieving the pleasant heat and light crunch of his spicy chips was the result of saucing them, then frying them, followed by a dry rub application before serving. The chips were crispy but not crackly and they packed quite a flavor punch without being overwhelming.
I also enjoyed a nice meat n’ spice combo by making my way over to the Atta Boy Sandwiches for their seriously juicy fried chicken topped with a bread n’ butter pickle, jalapeño and the ever elusive secret sauce that had a just-right hint of sweetness to complement the rest of the dish.
Naturally, I had a sweet-tooth to indulge so I dived face first into the dessert section of LA Food Fest. Ube aka purple yam, featured in many traditional Filipino desserts, seemed to be the trending ingredient from which many of the vendors centered their sweet treats. Previously, I was never a big fan of it, however I’ve since been converted to the church of Ube. Créme Caramel LA had a delicious Ube custard filling nestled in the center of a coconut meringue, topped with brûléed graham cracker and Greek yogurt crumble crust, which was perhaps the tiniest, but greatest of dessert foodgasms experienced at this year’s fest.
Mix.e gave a more traditional take on things with their classic Halo Halo, a refreshing mixture of Ube, shaved ice, evaporated milk, and various fruits.
Wanderlust Creamery busted out all the stops with their smooth and rich sticky rice mango ice cream topped with a crunchy, wafer-like Ube cone. After eating those back to back I may have died, gone to heaven, then came back for more.
That was just the tip of the dessert iceberg though. NYC’s finest purveyors of premium ice cream Mikey Likes It teamed up with cannabis culture company Merry Jane to create the absolutely mouthwatering pistachio baklava (with real baklava flakes and chunks!) scoops, which managed to both re-invigorate and chill me out in the 80 degree weather. Mikey Likes It is looking to bring some of that East Coast love to the West Coast permanently with a forthcoming LA retail shop, so stay tuned.
Macheen did right by my stomach with their Postre Lactoso, a creamy coconut custard lightened up by the addition of yellow peach coulis and charred yellow peaches, a true Summer delight.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams also lived up to the hype with their thoughtfully concocted Ultramarine Blue buttermilk frozen yogurt and classic salted caramel. While I was already very familiar with California Donuts who were taking up residency in the Donutville area (a place I wish was real) their new fritter-inspired take on the Blueberry donut was magnificent.
To wash it all down and keep caffeinated I quickly downed Verve Coffee‘s LA Food Fest exclusive ‘Summer Missle,’ a cold brew highlighted with lavender simple syrup making for a surprisingly delicate drink. As one of the servers shared they also nicknamed it the “so good” because that’s what everyone says after they drink it, and I have to agree.
I was also blown away by the smooth, minimally acidic nitrogen infused cold brew coffee from Cold Bruja — no need for any milk or cream additions, and it was served by a welcoming, enthusiastic and dedicated crew.
Breaking from the coffee for a minute, I tried Todo Verde‘s Amorcito Strawberry, Rose and Chia seed Agua Fresca which cleaned my palette with light floral and fruity notes.
Honorable mentions: Sandwich Slayer, The Walrus and the Hedgehog, Bling Bling Dumpling, Little Ethiopia, Huitlacoche, Diablo Pops. For the full LA Food Fest vendor lineup click here.
Two plus hours into the festival I began to drift into a food coma and reflected back on the day’s wide array of dynamite eats, drinks and the overall amazing experience I had. It made me think of the famous tag line from Dan Pashman’s The Sporkful podcast, “eat more. eat better. and eat more better.” — a perfect summation of my LA Food Fest experience and a reminder to be grateful for the opportunity we have to do just that here in Los Angeles.
Words: Emily Saex
Photos: Brian Feinzimer and Emily Saex