I’m just back from meeting my college girl at the Breed Street food fair, an ad-hoc, parking-lot, street-food fiesta that’s been getting a lot of attention in the last several months. I’m sorry to report that the attention seems to have done it harm, for just after we dug into our deep-fried quesadillas from Nina’s stand, an LAPD car cruised by, lights flashing, with an officer announcing that any vendors who did not have permits would be in trouble. (This is loosely translated â€” the announcements were all in Spanish, so my Spanish-speaking daughter was giving me her version of the lowdown.)
I wasn’t surprised to see the fringe vendors â€” the CD sellers and juice makers â€” pack up quickly to get out. I assumed the longtime regulars â€” like Nina’s, which has been serving its fried Mexico City-style quesadillas here for a couple of years â€” had permits. But within a few minutes, every single vendor was quietly, calmly and rapidly packing up and getting the hell out.
My daughter and I went over to the two LAPD officers who were watching the evacuation from their car, lights flashing but clearly with no intention to actually cite anyone. I asked what was going on, and the driver said, “They don’t have permits, and we have to shut it down.” Her partner added, “This is not our idea â€” there have been a lot of complaints.” Clearly they were not happy to have drawn this assignment, but they had to do their job.
This is a complicated issue. As I walked back to my car, I noticed the storefront taqueria on Cesar Chavez that had but one customer. Breed Street has been attracting hundreds of people the four nights a week it’s been running. Complaints may well have been coming from such local restaurants, who pay rent, deal with permits and Health Department hassles, and seethe when they see business go to street vendors. Perhaps some neighbors didn’t like the increasing crowds and noise. Perhaps the LAPD took note because of the food writers (the EAT: LA team included) who have been carrying on about how great Breed Street is. (Jonathan Gold just talked about it on Evan Kleiman’s show a couple of weeks ago.)
And yet… what a heartbreak if this vibrant, lively, family-friendly party goes away. What a loss for the neighborhood families. What a loss for food lovers, many of whom had never had deep-fried huitacoche quesadillas with a nut salsa before, and now can’t live without them. What a loss for Boyle Heights, where street food is part of its identity. As it is for all of Los Angeles.
I’m writing this on Friday, October 2. If any of you go to Breed Street in the next couple of nights and see anything happening, please post a comment. I don’t know how this will shake out, but I fear that the party may be over.