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Mercado Olympic
Photograph: Courtesy Jesse HsuMercado Olympic

The best street food in Los Angeles

Amid all the fruteria stands, hotdog carts and sidewalk tacos, these 12 excellent street food spots stand out from the pack.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
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Far from the rarified air of L.A.’s fine dining scene, but no less delicious, street food is an indispensable part of the city’s food culture. Street food runs the gamut from the countless fruterias that pop up on busy street corners to the hot dog carts that make their way outside clubs, concerts and major sports events to the longtime loncheras that have kept the city’s manual laborers that keep L.A. running, as well as film shoots, fed on the job—all at affordable, everyday prices. Newer, often chef-driven food trucks and events like 626 Night Market and Smorgasburg have helped introduce street food to a wider audience, expanding the definition of good dining beyond a meal inside a traditional brick-and-mortar.

To help you in your street food search, we’ve rounded up the 12 best street food spots in Los Angeles. Some are standalone vendors and some are the best ad hoc street food collections in the city, but all are worth a visit—so make your way to these excellent roadside destinations for food you won’t soon forget (just make sure to bring cash).

Don’t forget to pack some wet wipes

  • Restaurants
  • Trucks
  • Boyle Heights
  • price 1 of 4

A longstanding hero among the old-school taco trucks—and one of the city’s best restaurants, period—Mariscos Jalisco is known for its deep-fried shrimp tacos, but the fleet of loncheras (Boyle Heights, Downtown, Pomona, La Cienega) also serves fresh-to-death ceviches, tostadas and oysters on the half shell. In essence, everything is good. Their signature tacos dorado de camaron live up to the hype, with flavorful and fresh shrimp folded into a corn tortilla that’s then fried to a golden brown and topped with thick slices of avocado and a vibrant and complex salsa roja. You’ll also want to save room for their legendary tostadas such as the Poseidon, which comes topped with shrimp ceviche, octopus and a fiery red aguachile of shrimp. Note: Cash only, so come prepared.

  • Restaurants
  • Trucks
  • Mid City
  • price 1 of 4

This fleet of seven cash-only taco trucks across L.A. serves some of the best al pastor tacos in the city. Though they also offer burritos, mulitas, huaraches and other Mexican street food specialties, your eyes will likely be drawn to the trompo—a rotating spit of tender, marinated al pastor topped with a shaved, juicy hunk of pineapple. Although Leo’s draws its largest crowds late on weekend nights, this isn’t just your average drunchie. Operating like a well-oiled machine, the staff at each Leo’s location deftly serves each customer’s tacos, calling out numbers in both Spanish and English. Upon receiving your order, you can ask them for pre-packaged little plastic baggies of onions, cilantro and salsa—a pandemic-era safety and hygiene upgrade. Whether eaten in open air or taken home, the thin slices of al pastor, topped with a bit of pineapple, are a beautiful sight to behold—and consume.

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  • Restaurants
  • Street food
  • Downtown
This Downtown street food destination in the Piñata District is a blocks-long collection of vendors selling toys, trinkets, dried goods and one-off food stands proffering dishes from all over Mexico and El Salvador. Here, long-standing vendors sell aguas frescas, birria, tacos, pupusas, churros and elotes—as well as the excellent, juicy al pastor from Tacos El Chivo. Regional hits from Mexico City and Puebla predominate at Mercado Olympic, but you’ll find a few vendors from Sinaloa, Oaxaca and Michoacán as well. It’s one of the few places you can also reliably find pulque, a fermented pre-Hispanic beverage made from the agave plant with an ABV similar to beer.
  • Restaurants
  • Street vendors
  • Lincoln Heights

For the Northeast L.A. nightlife crowd, the Corn Man (also known as Timoteo Flor de Nopal) is the stuff of after hours legend. Each evening, he and often his son show up around 11pm and stay well past last call to serve the best elote in town to the masses, who often line up on weekends well before the pair have even set up shop at 2338 Workman Street. Slathered in butter, mayo, crumbly cotija cheese, lime and chili, each cob or piled-on plate of husked kernels is fresh and delicious. The mix of salt, fat, acid, heat and sweet might be available in other parts of L.A, but the beloved Lincoln Heights elotero’s three-plus decades of experience and devoted fanbase make set the Corn Man apart from the rest.

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  • Restaurants
  • Trucks
  • Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

The granddaddy of the modern food truck bonanza, Roy Choi’s Kogi empire still regularly offers a delectable mash-up of Korean and Mexican flavors off Overland Avenue in Palms. (You can check the schedule of their three other trucks here, which span from Sherman Oaks to Whittier.) The signature short rib taco delivers big with double-caramelized Korean BBQ depth that’s balanced with a bright spike of salsa roja, a chile-soy slaw, cilantro and onions on two grilled-and-charred house tortillas. The now-classic kimchi quesadilla is still a winner, but the blackjack quesadilla with spicy pork, caramelized onions and salsa verde is also a solid choice. And if you’re looking to skip the meat, you can always swap in tofu as a filling.

  • Restaurants
  • Street food
  • Historic Filipinotown

Head to this grocery store in Historic Filipinotown for $1 DIY Filipino street food-style meats skewers, which you then take to cook yourself on grills set up in the parking lot. Those who prefer to stick to traditional meats will find plenty of pork and chicken, but where Dollar Hits truly shines is in its offal selection, from intestines to glistening hunks of pork blood. Fish balls, longanisa sausage, quail eggs and potato fritters round out the rest of the skewer selection, but the hot food counter itself is also worth a second look, especially for turon (deep-fried banana rolls) and balut (fertilized duck eggs), when available. Tip: Skip the small strip mall parking lot and look for a spot around the corner instead.

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  • Restaurants
  • Street vendors
  • Chinatown
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From 9 to 5 on weekends, Mae Ting slings delicious Bangkok-style street food outside LAX-C, an Asian supermarket on the edges of Chinatown that’s often called Thai Costco. Along with kanom krok—her signature sweet coconut cakes—“Mama Mae,” as Ting calls herself, sells green papaya salad, chicken and pork skewers and spicy Thai sausage links. Each order of coconut cakes are poured fresh into a hot cast-iron mold, which gives rise to saucer-shaped cakes with crunchy crusts and soft, sweet centers. Add-ons like green onions, candied egg yolk shavings and sweet corn add flavor and texture, but the coconut cakes are already good as is.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Mid City
  • price 1 of 4

While there are certain trucks around town that we rely upon for knockout renditions of one particular type of taco, El Chato manages to deliver excellent options across the board (or plancha, rather). And since their small, palm-sized tacos run for $1.25 each, you can easily sample your way through the menu without breaking the bank. Favorites include the diced carne asada, al pastor, chorizo and lengua, all of which are treated to a healthy splash of their smoky roasted salsa roja, cilantro and onions. If you’re looking for a more hefty option, the quesadilla is a solid choice and still perfect for those on a budget. They’re not too active on Twitter, but you can always find updates on their Facebook page. Just be sure to bring cash.

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  • Restaurants
  • Street food
  • Westlake

At the intersection of Bonnie Brae and 6th Street in Westlake, a loosely associated coterie of food carts, folding tables and shopping carts make up the city’s best Guatemalan street food scene every day of the week after 5pm. Though weekends offer more food vendors, a few mainstay vendors show up night after night, mainly to feed Guatemalan workers, but also everyone else as well. Where to begin? Start with Guatemalan-style tostadas, tamales (also known as chuchitos) or a platter of garnachas—small, deep-fried corn tortillas topped with meat, tomato sauce and cotija cheese. Depending on the night, you can also find bubbling caldos, Guatemalan chow mein, atoles (hot, sweet masa-based drinks) and deep-fried half-moons of shredded chicken known as dobladas. Though they bear little resemblance to the stuffed, baked pastry, you might also hear them referred to as empanadas. Make sure to have enough cash on hand to sample it all.

  • Restaurants
  • Street food
  • Southeast Cities

One offshoot of the now-closed Avenue 26 Night Market (the other being Ave 26 on Imperial), this family-friendly event in Whittier runs Saturday and Sunday in both the afternoon and evening. Similar to its predecessor, Avenue 26 Family Night Market’s array of Mexican street food offerings are dizzying in their scope: tacos, mulitas, tamales menudo, taquitos, micheladas and more. BBQ plates, dessert crepes, burgers and even freshly stir-fried noodles round out the market’s offerings, making it one of the most robust street food destinations across all of L.A.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • South LA
  • price 1 of 4

A South L.A. institution, Tire Shop slings $1.50 Tijuana-style tacos absolutely dripping with avocado salsa. Mesquite-grilled meats provide flavor and texture from the smoky char, especially the carne asada. The kicker? Tortillas here are made to order, then folded into little paper-wrapped cones that ooze the green salsa out of one end. Of course we're also partial to the freshly grilled chorizo and the complimentary charred peppers and, well, everything. Just be sure to bring cash. 

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