Exploring Latino L.A.: Introduction

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A gathering in Boyle Heights. Courtesy of Ray From L.A. via Flickr

According to demographic projections, California’s Latino population is set to surpass the state’s caucasian population this month. While this is old news in Los Angeles, where Latinos already outnumber whites by a comfortable margin, there is perhaps no better moment to assess Latin American cuisine in the city of angels while this momentum is sweeping California.

The California Restaurant Association reports that 2,742 of L.A.’s 18,848 restaurants are considered “Latin.” And while the term Latin leaves a lot to be desired, I want to learn about the wide array of Latin American food available in this city that is a lot more complex than tacos and burritos (although that’s a key part of Latino food culture here, and it’s certainly been elevated to an art here).

From Belizean, to Cuban, to Oaxacan, to Guatemalan (and everything in between)– I want to know why certain types of Latin American restaurants concentrate in certain neighborhoods, and where specifically to find the best examples of each region’s cuisine.

Why does there seem to be a relatively high number of Cuban restaurants in Echo Park? Why does Belizean tend to be in Mid-City? Why is Salvadorean food oftentimes easily spotted in Hollywood?

In the following weeks, I’ll visit Latino restaurants, food trucks and food stands across Los Angeles to answer some of these questions.