Hispanic culture has been present in LA since the Pobladores arrived, the original settlers who founded the city in 1781. The culture is at the heart of the city, and plays a big part in making it so electrifying. The food is lively, fresh and exhilarating, in part thanks to the well-established food truck movement, which gives chefs the freedom to experiment, without the huge overheads. There are hand-rolled tortillas, home-style braises and perfect little salsas all over the place. And it’s not all about the tacos. The best way to cool down is with a paleta - a hand-made ice pop in guava, coconut, mango or hibiscus - or with an agua fresca, a refreshing drink made by blending fresh fruit, water and ice.
This white, red, blue and green truck has been parked up east of Downtown for well over ten years. Each lunchtime it serves incredibly fresh seafood to lucky local business folk. Mariscos Jalisco is owned by Raul Ortega, and named after his home state Jalisco on the western coast of Mexico. The food is so good; it’s inspired a few copycat operations. Don’t be drawn in by any of them – Raul’s truck is always parked at the same place on East Olympic Boulevard.
Raul’s tacos are unlike any fish tacos you’ve seen before: this is serious. The chefs lay down one crisp tostada as the base and then they pile on ceviche, shrimp, squid, or octopus, plus chilli oil, avocado and salsa. There’s a menu board on the pavement featuring photos of all the dishes but with no descriptions. One to look out for is a take on traditional aguachile: a seasoned soup containing shrimp, chillies, lime and coriander – here, the ingredients are placed on a tostada. Poseidon is the big guy, featuring a mixed heap of shrimp, octopus and everything in between. You can reach in through the window and take extra tostadas if you need them (you will). Big plates of oysters make pretty triumphant sides, too.
Kogi BBQ trucks
They call Roy Choi the godfather of food trucks – because he is. Back in 2008, he started his gourmet Korean taco truck, Kogi. He blew everyone’s minds with Korean-style short rib tacos and changed the landscape of LA food at the same time. Now, you can find him running the slick and delicious food offerings at The Line hotel, and opening branches of LocoL, an initiative of his that brings healthy, tasty, affordable food to disadvantaged neighbourhoods. On top of that, there are still four colour-coded Kogi trucks in circulation (roja, verde, naranja and rosita), but they work on a highly organised schedule, which you’ll need to study before you hit the road.
As far as the eating goes, try it all. Short rib is the signature taco – it’s beefy and smoky and rich, but topped with some tangy chilli-soy lettuce and cabbage. If you like your food spicy, greasy and cheesy, the kimchi quesadilla is your jam. And the blackjack quesadilla is a work of true cross-cultural genius, containing caramelised onions, spicy pork, cheddar and jack cheese – the whole thing is smothered with a citrus-jalapeño salsa verde. Eight years since Kogi began, minds are still being blown.
Portrait of Frida Kahlo at LACMA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art is in the thick of it, on Wilshire Boulevard, close to The Grove mall and the famous farmers market. At the entrance, Chris Burden’s Urban Light is made up of 202 vintage LA streetlamps. Take a look on the way in, but come back to see it at dusk, when the lamps glow against the pink sky and spiky treetops. Indoors, another very LA highlight is David Hockney’s Mulholland Drive – the British artist spent long spells in the city because he loved its light.
Head to the Art of the Americas building, where, on level 4, there are objects from the major civilisations of ancient Mexico. And in the Mexican Modernism section there are several pieces by Diego Rivera, who painted murals across Mexico and the US between the 1920s and 1950s. One of the most striking pieces on display is his only known easel portrait of his wife, Frida Kahlo, which is eerily similar to her self-portraits. It’s thought that he painted it during their brief divorce. Kahlo’s Weeping Coconuts is also here, a still life she painted towards the end of her life. There are tears on the coconut, and a small Mexican flag is stuck in a prickly pear: it says, "Painted with all the love of Frida Kahlo."
There is a district for everything in LA: jewellery, textiles, flowers, paper, toys, you name it. But the most flamboyant of all is the piñata district, which is roughly at the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Central Avenue in Downtown. Here, you’ll find piñatas in the shapes of princesses, turtles, Minions, fire engines, pineapples, giraffes, ex-presidents. The warehouse buildings around here look a little nondescript but step inside to discover papier mâché wonderlands of colour and glitter and tissue paper tassels, dangling from the rafters.
You can’t miss Amazing Pinatas, a bright orange building with the name spelled out in technicolor. Here, they’ll custom build any piñata you like - as though their selection isn’t big enough! - and you can also buy the sweets to stuff inside them. Meanwhile, at Joker Party Supply, you’ll find balloons, cups, plates and party bags in just about any theme you can think of. On weekends, the piñata district comes to life on the streets, turning into an open-air marketplace with people playing music, cooking tacos, juicing fresh fruit and frying churros.