Food on the move
Visiting the LA area from Philly, I've read about about the LA food trucks and how glorious they are. I want to know who has the best food truck in LA and why? Later...
I think you should search the Los Angeles boards (for example, use the work TRUCK). There have been a "gazillion" postings. Perhaps you can narrow your advice request to a few trucks. The best bet is to try and hit up the trucks when they congregate in a small area.
Which food truck to hit up depends on what you want to eat, when you want to eat it (because not all trucks are available every day), how much time you have, where in LA you are, and what type of transportation you have.
I've enjoyed a Philly cheesesteak from the South Philly Exp (it's not quite Pat's or Geno's), great chicken bites from the Ludo truck, tasty korean fusion taco from the Kogi truck, a somewhat nontraditional banh mi from the NomNom... My friend loves the greasy weiner truck (deep fried hot dogs) and the white rabbit truck (for their lumpia) and the chunknchip truck.
I hear good things about the Grilled Cheese Truck and the Lobstatruck but have yet to be in the right mood, in the right place, at the right time.
Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles, CA
Your list is pretty much mine as with two exceptions:
1. I wouldn't go anywhere near the south Philly exp if you were from Philly unless you were homesick.
2. LA truck culture begins and will end with good old Mexican tacos. A lot of great options there so it would be more dependent on your current location than specific truck. Personally I'm a Rickys Fish, El chato, Leo's guy but i don't make it very east much these days.
There's good advice in your first two responses, but I think Discokill hits on an important fact. Mexican food trucks (lonchera) have been serving great food for a long time. No hype, just matter-of-fact very serviceable food.
While good gourmet/new wave food trucks do exist, a lot of the new wave trucks are built on hype, are copycats of original successful models (think Kogi vs. the huge number of Korean taco truck clones), have a great or interesting concept but are weak on focus, or offer food items to areas that don't have many/any versions of that particular dish or cuisine (banh mi, lobster roll, etc.). If you're a big eater, many of these new wave trucks will leave you light on the pocket and in need of a real meal afterwards as well. And you will be standing for the most part while you eat. If you're lucky, your car will be close by - that will be your de facto dining booth. Bring along some hand wipes too, as much of the food is "hand" food.
You don't mention what part of LA you're planning on staying or how far you're willing to drive - important specifics since "LA" is huge, and for this board's span, it includes Orange County as well. When you're coming to LA might be advantageous as well. The new wave trucks are starting to regularly congregate in certain high foot traffic areas, as well as organizing round-ups.
I live and work in the Westside so my mentions are for this area. First Fridays on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice have been a popular hangout for the food trucks despite all of the merchants protesting their appearances (and subsequent and repeated countermeasures to ban them).
The general area known as, "Little Osaka," has seen an upsurge in lunch trucks over the past couple of years. They usually park on and around Sawtelle Blvd, north of Olympic. The merchants around there haven't been happy either, and they do not make it easy for the trucks around there just like the Abbot Kinney merchants.
Getting back to Discokill's advice, the best, most consistent and readily available truck food in general is usually found at the loncheras. No Twitter-chasing. Four trucks reliably parked on the Westside worth mentioning are:
La Isla Bonita on Rose Ave, west of 4th Ave in Venice. As the name implies ("beautiful island"), this truck is primarily about mariscos (Mexican seafood) but they also do a fair amount of taqueria fare as well. They're usually there from about 11AM-4PM. They do brisk business - the food is very good. The ceviche tostada hits high notes on my palate.
La Oaxaquena on Lincoln Blvd, just south of Rose Ave in Venice. Their shift is from about 6PM to midnight. Very good taqueria food with an emphasis on Oaxacan cuisine. Try the memelas an tlayudas.
Angelicas Cemitas Poblanas parked in front of the Smart & Final on Venice Blvd in Palms. They usually are there from about 11AM-3 or 4PM. Since you're from Philly, sandwiches are in the marrow of your bones. Mexican cuisine covers just about the whole map of food, and cemitas are one example of how this culture interprets a killer sandwich. The tang of the stringy quesillo, the smoke from the spicy chipotle salsa and buttery richness of the avocado slices complement the milanesa. This is all laid on a sizeable sesame egg bun(cema) that's been toasted in the fond of the flat grill. If you're not pork-averse, try the al pastor or the carnitas.
The sister truck of the above-mentioned cemitas truck is actually owned by the brother of the original Angelica truck. He's parked on Inglewood Blvd in front of the Top Valu market just north of Braddock Drive from about 4Pm to 10PM. Pretty much the same deal, but you might see a hand-written sign on occasion with some new or temporary offering. A few months ago, he offered up the, "Torta Cubano," which was jamon, two sliced wieners and scrambled eggs laid inside a bolillo. Perfect bachelor dinner...
I've never been to the following rec, but you might consider this if you're headed down Orange County way. Gustavo Arellano is the OC Weekly's food contributor and creator of, "Ask a Mexican!" He was recently on KCRW's "Good Food" and laid down a nice piece on the lonchera scene down his way. Here's the radio article and the accompanying pix on the blog:
The food truck scene is in its third generation, and it's evolving as we write, but personally, I find the second generation standards - the lonchera - to be the most Chow-worthy.
Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles, CA
Smart & Final
10113 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034
1234 Lomita Blvd, Harbor City, CA 90710
Yes, I neglected to mention the original food truck scene. I haven't tried a lot of the taco trucks mentioned above... but I did enjoy my carne asada taco from the Tacos El Gallito truck. They have a couple of trucks and I think even a restaurant.
Here's a list of reviews of the truck near where I live:
Tacos El Gallito
Fair Oaks and Del Mar, Pasadena, CA
Servorg speaks wisdom about the current phenomena of the Twitter-oriented food trucks. Assuming your avatar photo is recent, you are of the generation that naturally gravitates toward this method of connectivity. I'm not saying it's bad and you may not even be one who uses it, but but that's the way of directing business to a lot of these trucks.
I think Kogi and a few others are the envy of most of these other gourmet-like trucks. You really don't see Kogi around much anymore - at least around my neck of the woods. They seem to pull in enough business being courted for catering corp events, openings, etc. They have clients reaching out to them. The vast majority of trucks aren't nearly as lucky. Some are granted permission to park on-site in certain locations for a few hours at a time, but the vast majority are relegated to a nomadic existence. And this is why they twitter. These other trucks pretty much need the customers to "follow" their whereabouts. It's not to say they are subpar - some are - but most just don't have a broad enough market or have had the fortune of being offered a more stationary profile.
Being nomadic increases the cost burden for these trucks. Transportation costs are the obvious expense, but there are others. LA has relatively strict codes pertaining to eateries, both brick & mortar and mobile (enforcement is a different topic). The one code that can kill a truck is relating to available restroom facilities for their customers. Assuming they park on any given street, the truck is supposedly responsible for attaining access to restroom facilities within a given distance for their customers. Just about any Tom, Dick or Harry can challenge the food truck on this code and threaten them with a call to the authorities - usually the complaint is from a local business owner. Parking tickets, starting/setting up and shutting down the kitchen and just spending time trying to find a decent parking location also bite into the bottom line. Hazards like fires, worker safety and accidents are also a real issue.
Getting back to the loncheras, the better ones seem to be very similar in their ability to stay in one of a very few locations (if not one single location). Like a brick & mortar, knowing their location is key to the customer. These trucks are from the pre-Twitter era, so finding that ideal location and time was a combination of business savvy and luck. But no matter how ideal the location was, they couldn't stay there if their food didn't draw the customers. It's all about the food and how it plays out to their customer base. And that's key to how Chowhounds view food culture. Pull away the hype, the instant-message and the cute name, and tell me - does the food deliver? Is it tasty? Is the price/quality/quantity in line with the expectations of the customer? No bling, easy on the cha ching, and hittin' heavy on that wild thing we hounds are passionate about - the food.
There are about 9 food trucks every Tuesday night from 5:30-9:30pm with tables in Santa Monica behind the California Heritage Museum on Main Street and Ocean Park. Here is a list of trucks for the rest of April:
California Heritage Museum