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How Watts Became A Foodie Destination, Despite The Neighborhood’s Gang Culture

Growing up in the small city of Baldwin Park, CA, we didn’t have the mainstream gangs one would have seen portrayed in media, but you could still have your day ruined by wearing the wrong colors, or simply being a young Mexican boy walking home from school.

Every city like this has its own gang etiquette. You know where you shouldn’t walk through, you know what you shouldn’t wear, and you know what spots are generally safer to eat in than others.

In 2001, after middle school basketball practice, my teammates decided to walk down to a local burger shop for a bite. My broke ass sheepishly decided to just go home, so I told them I was going to work on some homework — much to my own benefit.

I was lucky that day, as one of my buddies frantically called me that night, letting me know that a drive-by had just occurred while they were sitting and just trying to enjoy their post-basketball meal. It was of no fault of their own, just a product of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, with a gang member haphazardly sitting on the other side of the restaurant, essentially with a tattooed target on the back of his head. Thankfully no one was hurt.

While gangs aren’t just running around shooting up the whole city 24/7, growing up in these types of neighborhoods creates a certain sense of hyper-awareness.

Which brings us to a particular neighborhood within Los Angeles, with its own unique set of gang etiquette.

There was a time when the average Los Angeles consumer wouldn’t even give second thought to entering the city of Watts for its food. Back then, the prevalent gangs around there alone would be a big enough deterrent, as the idea of walking down Crip or Blood territory was a big no-no.

Over the last decade or so, Watts eateries such as All Flavor No Grease, Hawkin’s House of Burgers, and more recently Locol, have encouraged foodies from all walks of life to enjoy their eats, and nary a problem has stemmed from it.

No, the gangs haven’t disappeared. Hawkin’s Burgers still sits in what is recognized as Blood territory, and when All Flavor No Grease was famously set up on 108th street, many might not have known they were biting through gooey quesadillas in an active Crip territory.

Despite being on gang grounds, there seems to be a level of respect for these home-grown Watts establishments, a respect that has managed to keep trouble away from the restaurants and its customers.

On the Katchup podcast, Watts legend Keith Garrett, owner of All Flavor No Grease, spoke candidly about his relationship with the neighborhood’s gang culture. Among the surprising revelations, Garrett spoke about actually bringing the Bloods and Crips together for a cease fire agreement, in support of his sidewalk food popup.

“There was a meeting held at Markham Middle School, with both rival gangs,” Garrett said. “It was like, ‘If Keith said it was cool, it gotta be cool. He come in peace, so we know he wouldn’t put our lives in danger to come get a plate.'”

(Audio) Keith Garrett opens up about selling food in gang territories.

Garrett said that from that point, both gangs saw his food stand as neutral ground. There’d be rival members walking by each other, and while the tension between them still existed, they respected Garrett enough to eat there, support, and not cause any malice that would affect his business.

“When I came on the scene, I came on the scene with my arms open, and said I love everybody,” Garrett continued. “There’s no color line. No Blood, no Crip, wherever you’re from, you could come over and come get food.”

All Flavor No Grease started in a front yard, in a less than savory neighborhood, yet there were people from all over Los Angeles coming to try this new style of quesadilla.

Suddenly, foodies, news stations, Yelpers, and those hearing the hype by word of mouth, could walk into a once feared neighborhood and eat together.

 

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That same sense of community and respect exists with Hawkins House of Burgers, often recognized as one of the best burgers in Los Angeles.

Owner Cynthia Hawkins explained to NPR, that theirs was the only building on the street left untouched during the Watts Riots in 1965. It was no accident, as Hawkins hospitality and reputation of feeding the community easily gave them a pass during the madness that nearly burned down the whole city.

 

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It is restaurants like these that have made it safe for the common foodie to enjoy ‘hood eating spots, to the point that chef Roy Choi opened his Locol restaurant in Watts. With name-power alone, Choi had New York Times and L.A. Times columnists and foodies across the nation fearlessly strolling into Watts.

As a consumer, you see the positive Yelp reviews these spots garnered, the jaw-dropping Instagram photos, the celebrity cosigns, or that these little shops in the hood are getting their own booths at Camp Flognaw, and there’s a feeling of safety being relayed.

When such a wide range of eaters can get behind these restaurants, it’s something special, regardless of location.

The gangs in Watts are what they are, but thankfully there is a sense of respect through food, which has helped these businesses thrive and given the world a chance to enjoy the city’s unique flavors without fear.

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#foodbeast Brand Cravings Features Food Trucks FOODBEAST SPONSORED Video

Famed Quesadilla Maker All Flavor No Grease Will Debut New Food At This Festival

All Flavor No Grease has become a household name to foodies in Southern California. Although there’s a slight kitschiness to the name, the hype around one of Los Angeles’ premiere quesadilla makers is reaching monumental heights.   

What started out as a small quesadilla operation in the front yard of a house in Watts, California, has grown into a booming food truck business, specializing in ultra savory shrimp, steak and chicken quesadillas, thanks in part to more than 100K Instagram followers, a community of die-hard fans willing to wait hours for a taste, and – of course – delicious food.

Now, as All Flavor No Grease prepares for two upcoming food festivals, Hansen’s Natural Sodas Fresh Coat Mural Fest on Saturday, Oct. 7 and OOZEFEST 3 on Saturday Oct. 14, LA’s famed purveyor of quesadillas is making something that’s never been on the All Flavor No Grease menu — and never will be again.

The Flava Bomb, an original one-time only AFNG creation starts with a flour tortilla, filled with a three cheese blend of Colby Jack, cheddar, and mozzarella, then stuffed with steak and bacon. The final result is the equivalent to a money bag emoji of savory, crispy decadence that provides a seemingly endless cheese pull.  

“The next time I make this, it will be for my family,” Keith Garret, owner and operator of AFNG explained to FOODBEAST.

This melty, cheesy and crispy creation is exclusive to Hansen’s Natural Sodas Fresh Coat Mural Fest, at The Container Yard in DTLA’s Arts District, and OOZEFEST 3 at the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana, Calif.

If you’re already salivating — there’s still time to plan ahead and get yourself a spot in line — you won’t find it anywhere else.    

Photos by Evan Lancaster


Created in partnership with Hansen’s Natural Sodas

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Adventures Culture Features Video

There Is An African-American Taco Movement In South L.A. That Is Shaking Up The Food Scene

For all the cold pressed green juices and photogenic brunch fare that Los Angeles gets its new rep from, one must not ever get it twisted — L.A. is a taco town. Just as sure as the City of Angels will always be a Laker town and not a Clippers town, tacos take the top spot in Angelenos’ collective appetites as the the go-to craving — over avocado toasts, over sushi, and yes, even over the vaunted In-N-Out burger. Around these parts, Taco Tuesdays are practically a recognized holiday.

Though the Latino community has always been the standard-bearer in how and what a proper taco should be, L.A.’s constantly cooking melting pot has influenced the likes of Roy Choi to build a culinary empire off of his fusion of Korean BBQ tacos. Stoking the flames of said melting pot and helping proliferate it’s ever-bubbling mix is an African-American taco movement in South L.A. that’s making enough noise to warrant inclusion in the conversation of taco relevancy.

In the series opener for First We Feast’s new show, Food Grails, noted hip-hop journalist Miss Info heads to ground zero of this exciting culinary movement, where the communities of Compton, Watts, and South L.A. are the backdrop for an interpretation of tacos that’s fueling many entrepreneurial goals for local ambitious cooks.

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#foodbeast Food Trucks FOODBEAST Hit-Or-Miss Nightlife

Your Complete Guide To OOZEFEST 2016, The Cheesiest Festival Ever

oozefest

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any cheesier, the sequel to Oozefest is upon us, as over 50 of southern California’s prominent restaurants and breweries are gathering in Santa Ana to celebrate all things cheese.

Last year’s event was pretty epic, featuring oozing goodness such as Mozzarella Bun Burgers, cheesy cotton candy and even the world’s tallest grilled cheese stack.

This year’s festival will look to surpass last year’s hype, and if you look at the scheduled line-up, it will absolutely do so.

Oozefest is quickly becoming the premier go-to food festival for cheese lovers, as last year proved that the event could bring out the best in So Cal chefs, asking them to think outside the box, and provide a food experience that cannot be found anywhere else, including their own restaurants.

With that said, it’s time to get your taste buds excited, as this is the cheesy goodness you’ll have to look forward to at Oozefest Pt. 2.

NOTE: This covers a majority of our vendors, but some are choosing to debut an item at the festival. Vendors also subject to last minute changes. Check which vendors are on which day on Oozefestival.com


Grits Fullerton: Grits Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese at a cheese festival is a given, and Grits is coming in strong, stuffing it with bacon, jalapeno grits, jam, cheddar and port salut, all between sourdough bread.


SideDoor 5Crowns: Lamb Cheesesteak Sandwich

Side Door’s lamb cheesesteak is as dope as it sounds. Stuffed with lamb meat and topped with veggies, this cheesesteak is then smothered in a cheese sauce that’ll have you drooling.


Slater’s 50/50: Vampire Dip

Slater’s has built its reputation on crazy burgers, but they’re taking a step back from their forte and whipping out a dope artichoke dip, instead. This thing is going to be loaded with garlic, so this would be the perfect time to check if your date is secretly a vampire.


Elbows Mac and Cheese: QueSo Caliente Mac n Cheese

Mac & cheese is Elbows’ specialty, and they’re rolling into Oozefest with something special. Their macaroni will be mixed with ghost pepper, provolone, and cheddar cheese. Topped with Mexican shredded beef, seasoned taco shell crumbs, guacamole, a tomato and red pepper salsa, sour cream, and house made shredded beef taquitos on the side.


Chapter One: Duck Croquetas

If you’ve never had duck before, you can get your bill wet with Chapter One’s Duck Croquetas. It’s a shredded duck-filled ball that’s breaded and deep fried before getting smothered in lime crème fraîche and queso fresco.


Pour Vida Latin Flavor: Cheeseburger Taco

Cheeseburgers and tacos are perfectly amazing on their own, but put them together and you have magic. With a housemade tortilla, the Cheeseburger Taco comes with shredded cheese, Kobe ground beef, shredded cheese, shredded ice berg lettuce, house made thousand island and a roma tomato.


Puesto Mexican Street Food: Pork Belly and Chorizo Tacos

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How do you upgrade a chorizo taco? Add pork belly, of course. This bad boy has chorizo, seared pork belly, goat cheese, creamy jalapeño salsa, salsa negra, pickled red onions, and microgreens on a blue corn tortilla.


Treatery: Strawberry Cheesecake S’more

 

In the midst of all the festival’s cheese pulls and dripping cheddar, you’re eventually going to want some dessert, and that’s where Treatery is going to come in beautifully. Their s’more is going to consist of strawberries on a graham cracker, with a cream cheese marshmallow sandwiched in.


The kebab Place: Open Face Gyro

The Kebab Place is coming in hot with a beef/lamb mixed gyro, topped with fresh cucumber, roma tomato, tzatziki, house cilantro sauce and crumbled feta.


Slapfish: Lobster Taquitos

Slapfish won the people’s vote at last year’s Oozefest, and this year they’re coming back with lobster taquitos filled with pure Maine lobster, cheddar cheese, creamy clam chowder and their signature Slapfish hot sauce.


Green2Go Brea: Gluten and Egg Free Mac & Cheese

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After loading up on all the fried food, you’ll probably want to invest your body in something a bit healthier, and that’s where Green2Go will help you out. While their mac & cheese is mixed with delicious candied bacon and maple bacon Kettle chips, you’ll be happy to know that it’s egg-free and has zero gluten.


Infinity Sauce: Jalapeno Boats

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Infinity Sauce’s Jalapeno Boats will have a cream cheese base, infused with Infinity’s chipotle hot sauce, topped with chorizo, then layered with melted cheddar cheese. The Infinity fun doesn’t stop there, as they’ll also be creating a giant hot sauce tower.


Surfas Culinary District: Wolf Pup Braised Pork Belly with Pomme Aligot

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Surfas’ offering is a mouthful to say, but totally worth putting in your mouth. An IPA Braised pork belly, raclette and 2-year-Australian cheddar blended Aligot with parsley citrus salad.


Sit Low Pho: Jalapeno Ham and Cheese Egg Roll

These aren’t your typical egg rolls, as Sit Low Pho is adding some spice to them, and keeping the cheese pulls at a maximum level. Stuffed with cream cheese, mozzarella, and ricotta, you’re definitely going to have fun with this stretchy cheese sensation.


Shuck Oyster Bar: Yakitory Style Shrimp Balls

Shuck is putting together a shrimp and beef meatball skewer that’s covered in cheddar cheese sauce. With three per skewer, you better come hungry and ready to control that dripping cheese.


The Iron Press: Chicken Mac & Cheese Waffle

Walking into Oozefest with some serious waffle swag, The Iron Press is grilling waffles with mac & cheese, chicken, and bacon all hiding within its fluffy squares.


Urbana Anaheim: Choriquezo Doblatida

Urbana’s Choriquezo is almost like a mini quesadilla, stuffed with chorizo and Oaxaca cheese. They top it with a tangy habanero salsa and some crema, giving you a delicious little taste of Mexico with every bite.


Citizen Kitchen: Caciocavallo Impiccato

When a dish is hard to pronounce, you know it’s good. Citizen Kitchen’s hanging Caciocavallo is spread on a white truffle-yeast donut (not cake donut, so it’s more like bread than a sweet donut). Then it’s topped with sliced Granny Smith Apples, house dried oregano and white truffle oil. The videos circulating online from various Oozefest previews have been receiving hundreds of thousands of views:


Cafe Calacas: Queso Fundido Chorizo Brioche Donut

What’s in a name? In this case, everything. This buttery brioche donut is going to be smothered in a Mexican favorite called queso fundido, which is an oozing melted cheese, sort of like a raclette.


Sgt Pepperoni’s Pizza Store: Balls Deep

Sgt. Pepperoni is going balls deep with a cheese-stuffed meatball that’s covered in a deep fried cheese-dough dome. A side of marinara lets you dip your balls, and get a cheesy sensation like no other.


Chomp Eatery: Unicorn Grilled Cheese

The Unicorn Grilled Cheese is a colorful mix of four cheeses that looks like someone melted a rainbow and smashed it in between a couple slices of bread. Get your camera phone ready, because this one has “Instagram likes” written all over it.

 


Nacho Nation: Los Angeles Pizza Nachos

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What’s a cheese festival without nachos? Nacho Nation is going to hook you up with their Los Angeles Pizza Nachos. These aren’t your standard, run of the mill, 6-year-old’s birthday party kind of nachos, these consist of fresh corn tortilla chips, spicy marinara sauce, shredded mozarella cheese, sliced pepperoni, beef chorizo, black olives, oregano, and a ranch & marinara sauce drizzled over top.


Bruxie: B.A.M.F.

Bruxie is a OG in the Orange County waffle scene and they’ll be at Oozefest, offering another crazy creation. Their B.A.M.F. lives up to its name as the waffle will be topped with fried chicken, cheese and their buffalo sauce.


TLT Food: Blue Crab Grilled Cheese

TLT is strolling through their famous Blue Crab Grilled Cheese. Yes, it’s the same TLT that won season two of the Great Food Truck Race and their grilled cheese consists of Blue Crab, a special cheese Blend, scallions, jalapeños, sambal, on grilled sourdough.


VIP Beer Vendors

Modern Times Brewery: Oneida Pale, and Fruitland Gose
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Good Beer Co + FOODBEAST Collab: Santa Ana Saison With Cranberry and Orange Zest

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Reverend Nat Cider: Sour Cherry Cider, and Revival Cider

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4 Sons Brewing Co: Cinnamon Raisin Belgian Quad
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Laguna Beach Beer Co: Greeters Pale Ale, and Canyon Road Red Ale
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Unsung Brewing Co: An Amber Lager with Cacao Nibs
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Acoustic Ales: Shake Your Money Maker Brown Ale, and Ginger Mule
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Saint Archer Brewing: Mosaic DIPA

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Notable Marketplace Vendors

While the VIP restaurants above are going to be lit, the Marketplace is going to be just as loaded with pretty crazy pay-as-you-go food options.

 

Kogi BBQ: Kimchi Grilled Cheese

The legendary food truck that fused Korean and Mexican food, will be making a special appearance in the Oozefest Marketplace, slinging a Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwich. If you’ve never had a chance to try the Godfather of food trucks, here’s your shot.


The Naughty Churro: Pizza Churro

The Naughty Churro is definitely Rookie of the Year in the festival scene, making serious noise at the 626 Market with a colorful cotton candy churro ice cream sandwich and churro chicken sandwich. Now he’s making noise with a pizza stuffed churro that already has social media buzzing.


Mess Hall Canteen: Pulled Pork Mac & Cheese Sandwich

This monstrous grilled cheese will be stuffed with not just mac & cheese, but pulled pork mac & cheese. This thing has some serious girth, and if you’re planning to take a picture of it, you better clear out some space on your phone for this massive sandwich.


All Flavor, No Grease: Extra Cheesy Quesadilla

#mondaynightfootball #AFNG #Awwready

A video posted by Keith Garrett #AFNG (@allflavornogrease) on

This is really a treat for Oozefest-goers, as the famous Watts quesadilla spot is leaving its Los Angeles post for the first time and slanging its colossal quesadillas at this festival.

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Cravings Restaurants

LA’s Iconic ‘Quesadilla Man’ Is Coming To Orange County For A Weekend

“No one’s copied Keith Garrett yet, because you can’t,” said Farley Elliot of Eater. “And that’s no bullshit.”

Quesadilla lovers in South Los Angeles’ will know All Flavor No Grease as the spot to get a glorious fix of meat and cheese in a tortilla.

The iconic neighborhood stand, run by owner Keith Garrett, draws customers from all over the city happily waiting in the blazing sun to get their hands on one of his quesadillas. Garret combines meat, cheese, and his special pico de gallo in such a way that people flock to his outdoor flattop.

#mondaynightfootball #AFNG #Awwready

A video posted by Keith Garrett #AFNG (@allflavornogrease) on

His sense of community has kept him from moving the stand outside of Watts since he opened.

For the first time, however, Garrett will be taking his quesadilla spot out his Watts driveway and stepping into a whole new county.

This will be my first time out of LA County.

The All Flavor No Grease stand will make its Orange County debut at Foodbeast’s Oozefest II this year at the Market Place section. His arrival in the area will hopefully draw him a huge new demographic of quesadilla lovers.

This will be my largest event. I’m stoked. I’m over ecstatic!

If you want to secure your quesadillas, cause they’ll easily sell out at the Market Place with a $5 admission fee. Also, make sure to grab your VIP tickets as soon as possible to get all-you-can-eat-and-drink. Might as well go all out.