The city of Cudahy in southeast Los Angeles has long thrived with life and community hustle. Despite making headlines for the infamous Delta Jet fuel dump last year and unlawful police shootings, street food vendors along Patata Street have recently made the neighborhood an attraction with an open-air street food gathering. With heavy-hitting vendors like Los Sabrosos al Horno and Perro 110 setting up shop weekly, Patata Street gives Ave 26’s street vendor meetup in Lincoln Heights a run for its tacos.
Patata Street is a dirt road directly adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad Line in Cudahy. What started as just three vendors has ballooned into over two dozen working food vendors. Among them is ‘La Gordita Feliz,’ providing fresh-made pupusas, aguas frescas, and more. Tacos El Pumchis is another vendor serving up classic street tacos.
At any given moment, a visit to the popular food strip would supply you with anything from street dogs, suckling roasted pig, Chinese Food, birria tacos, green juices, mini pancake desserts, Tijuana-style tacos, Mexican candy, churros, mariscos, tejuino, kettle corn, and more. The experience was reminiscent of a tiangüis in Mexico, with dozens of people walking past oil vats frying up crispy churros and grilled meats. There are plastic stools set up sporadically alongside vendors for people to enjoy their street delicacies.
Unfortunately, after a year of success, the Union Pacific Railroad Police shut down the street food fair. On the afternoon of June 18th, vendors began arriving at their usual locations and were met by railroad police that threatened them with $500 fines if they continued to set up. Vendors like “Birria el Kora’ had just invested hundreds of dollars in food to sell for the weekend and were devastated. On a “Patata Street Food Vendor” chat on Instagram, community vendors scrambled to brainstorm on possible alternative locations and shared information about different vending opportunities with each other.
Previous to the shutdown, L.A. TACO met with many of the vendors. Nelson from the South Central-born Chinese Fast Food pop-up, The Wokout, shared that his experience vending on the strip was great, “We love it here. Every weekend is a good time, and it’s the folks from Perro 110 and Pica Osita that really make it work.” He shared that Luis Garcia, owner of Perro 110, and Yasmin Alvarez, owner of Pica Osita Candy, worked together to organize weekly meetings held across the train tracks to discuss issues, solutions, and support for each other.
Before Luis mobilized and decided to support people in coming together, he shared that every vendor did their own thing. Perro 110 began vending on Patata Street. in March of this year and shared that the numbers of vendors were still low. The growth of the vendors resulted rapidly after someone posted about the food strip on TikTok. As more vendors posted up, more issues for community neighbors and Union Pacific Railroad Police also ensued. “As soon as I kept seeing more vendors post up, I said, Nah, we gotta organize, or else the neighbors are going to want us out.” Yasmin shared, “We formed a union, and it was created to have each other’s backs.”
Alcantar shared that the only issues that have ensued due to the Patata Street food vending have been illegal parking and street blockages as they affect potential emergencies and accessibility for folks with disabilities.
Through these mandatory and weekly meetings, Luis was able to organize and request minimal fees from vendors to hire a young community member to clean up after each weekend day and purchase portable restrooms and trash cans for vendors and guests. Once the vendors made this collective move, they felt no one would harass them, as the city hadn’t given them trouble yet. Luis shared that City Mayor Jose Gonzalez and Vice Mayor Elizabeth Alcantar showed support.
Alcantar, a young Mexican-American woman, has served in the city council since December of 2018 as the youngest elected Mayor and Vice Mayor of Cudahy. She is a lifelong resident of Southeast L.A. and considers herself a young progressive. At the beginning of her term as Vice Mayor, L.A. TACO covered her story as she supported the community through the Delta jet fuel dump. Alcantar ran for City Council to serve as a catalyst for change, “So many of the issues affecting my city and its people are vastly ignored. In this role, I’m working to figure out best practices by finding out the community’s needs and asking ‘how can we meet these needs?’” Upon hearing about Patata Street being shut down, she reached out to some vendors and was soon invited to contribute to their Instagram chat to share her plans and active support.
Before the shutdown, Alcantar, a fan and pastime visitor of the fair, had proactively been steadfast in working with Cudahy City Council to find ways to support vendors in finding permanent locations, “Every city has a street vending ordinance. Some cities put it simply as ‘It’s not allowed,’ others design the ordinances to develop parameters. Part of the Street Vending Ordinance for Cudahy is done, but we’re working on a map to let vendors know where it will and won’t be allowed.”
Alcantar shared that the only issues that have ensued due to the Patata Street food vending have been illegal parking and street blockages as they affect potential emergencies and accessibility for folks with disabilities. Though most would believe that the area where the food strip began is under the jurisdiction of Cudahy, due to the location running parallel to the train tracks, the dirt road is actually under the jurisdiction of the Union Pacific Railroad. This is why Alcantar and the City Council could not immediately support when the food fair was shut down. Before June, When city police would drive through and attempt to shut folks down, Elizabeth and Jose were able to mediate and find solutions to the parking issues and street blockages,” Before the shutdown, we were in constant communication with vendors and police, and we worked to ensure that vendors were not cited.” Once Railroad Police got involved, the city’s hands were tied.
In Los Angeles, harassment of Street Vendors has been on the rise by the Police, the Department of Public Health, and violent passersby. Still, Alcantar believes physical safety was the reason for Patata Street’s shutdown. With the booths and trucks set up very close to the train tracks, Alcantar believes the Railroad police deemed the food fair a safety hazard for children, families, and vendors.
“Though most people don’t see it, I see potential in Cudahy, and I want to be a part in making sure this space grows.”
L.A. TACO reached out to the Union Pacific Railroad for a comment, and they confirmed. “This was a safety issue, first and foremost. Fair organizers did not have permission to hold an event on Union Pacific property. It is private property, and it was trespassing. But, even if organizers had asked, we would never have permitted to hold an entertainment event near an active railroad operation and close to railroad tracks, where children and others are at risk of getting hurt or killed…For Union Pacific, safety is of paramount importance, and we will never compromise on that front.”
Alcantar and the City of Cudahy have high hopes for the Patata Street food vendors and plan to relocate them to Clara Street Park. Pre-pandemic, the park was home to a popular daytime swap-meet. As pandemic restrictions continue to get lifted, she believes the area can become popular for a weekly evening street food fair. “At the end of the day, folks are trying to make ends meet. Patata Street is a great cultural space that came out of everything we’ve been through this year, and we have to preserve it!”
Vendors, too, want to ensure they are supporting themselves and Cudahy in growing and thriving. Luis from Perro 110 acknowledged that most of the vendors ended up on Patata Street as a result of losing their jobs and restaurants, “Though most people don’t see it, I see potential in Cudahy, and I want to be a part in making sure this space grows.”
Below is a list of the Patata Street Food Vendors. Many have relocated to the streetside on Atlantic Boulevard, and others are vending at special events. Follow their social media pages for up to date information:
Aloha Pop Kettle Corn – 323-424-8980
La Gordita Feliz