We found ourselves at Tacos El Venado on a random Tuesday because of a 10-pound burrito that’s as tall as a 6-year-old. The So-Cal based burrito was right up Foodbeast’s alley — being insanely huge for no reason, and itching to go viral.
Angel Tamayo, the man behind the behemoth of a burrito, was damn near born to do this taco stand thing. In a city brimming with amazing taco joints, Tacos El Venado, whether in its Van Nuys truck or North Hollywood stand locations, will often have lines circling the block, while surrounding taco trucks watch and hope to get the stragglers who don’t want to wait in line.
El Venado’s success can be attributed to more than just the occasional stunt food, as Tamayo literally worked day and night to make sure his offerings stood out from the rest, while concurrently navigating through L.A.’s infamous street food bans.
“It’s an all-day job,” Tamayo said. “People think you can just wake up at 4 p.m., prep everything and go to work. It takes a lot of time, and you get little sleep.”
The anatomy of a taco stand is a lot more complex than you’d expect. It starts with picking up the fresh meats from a carniceria, and with Tacos El Venado, that care needs to go into 11 different meat options.
Then you have to buy the produce, which often consists of white onions, red onions, radishes, lettuce, cilantro, limes, tomatoes, avocado, and different types of chiles to make up the salsas. You then need to make sure you have enough corn and flour tortillas for those tacos and burritos. You also need to pick up propane to power up the whole operation.
After you’ve crossed off all of those from your shopping list, there’s pre-prep, where you have to marinate and prep all those meats, begin blending up your salsas, setting up the stand itself, stationing the taco toppings, getting ready for hundreds of people to populate your stand, all while still trying to capture a specific flavor that’s special to Southern California.
Tamayo made a daily routine of getting up at 7 a.m., and putting in the love and care necessary to put together a taco spot that stands out. He even noted there were countless nights he’d lose sleep and doze off behind the wheel, all to craft the dream of “making it,” and creating something successful from the ground up.
If you’re not familiar with street food in Los Angeles, there’s seemingly someone selling tacos, hot dogs, or elotes on every corner. While you’d assume this is just a norm, there is actually a very real daily risk that the health department will come through and shut down the whole operation.
It hasn’t been a very accepting climate, as opposed to other major cities in the U.S., like New York, where selling food on the sidewalk is not a legal issue.
There has been a major push with street vendors this year, though, as the L.A. City Council approved the plan to write a sidewalk vendor ordinance, putting the city one step closer to full decriminalization.
While it looks like the laws will soon change, at this moment, the fear still sits within the minds of all these Los Angeles vendors.
One of the biggest examples of this was in 2017, when one of L.A.’s most popular taco stands, Avenue 26, was subject to a random sweep by the health department, and had every single piece of cooking equipment stripped away. The LAPD took zero credit for that sweep. Hell, you can even routinely find police enjoying tacos from stands like this in Los Angeles, so the raid rested solely in the hands of the health department.
Tamayo admitted that he has had similar run ins with them in the past, but has recently built allies within the police department to give him a heads up when these kinds of sweeps are going to take place.
“They’ll come by here and there,” Tamayo said. “They’ll take everything, your grill, your meat, we don’t [get it back]. It sucks, bro.”
Tamayo has never let that stop him though, risking it all to make a living, fully knowing a health inspection sweep could cost him his entire stand setup, and feeling the challenge of starting his days at 7 a.m. and ending them at 1 a.m.
“I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m doing pretty good,” Tamayo said. “It was a lot of hard work. A lot of time and effort. Remembering all those late nights, early mornings. It was a lot of work.”