Thursday, September 08, 2011
Southern California's latest foodie trend has the region atwitter. Lines form long into the night at the latest hot spot for edible treasures, while wily entrepreneurs outdo each other by parking at the best spots. But not everyone is happy. Brick-and-mortar restaurant owners fume that their pop-up rivals take away business; county health officials quickly enact regulations, and politicians push laws to regulate or even ban the vendors from city limits — but not without sparking a public uproar.
Such a scenario has dominated Southern California for the past couple of years as food trucks — whether traditional loncheras or their luxe cousins — increase in popularity. But the same mobile phenomenon overtook Los Angeles more than a century ago, spurred not by tacos but tamales, and the vehicles of choice weren't trucks but, rather, horse-drawn wagons. They're long forgotten, nearly invisible even in the local history books, but these pioneer tamaleros were crucial ambassadors for the growth of Mexican food here — and in a region wedded to transit, their movable feasts laid the tracks for drive-thrus, lunch trucks and our insatiable fascination with easy-to-find, affordable grub.