Street Food: USA (2022–…): Season 1, Episode 1 - Los Angeles, California - full transcript

Carnitas simmered with love, skewers kissed by fire, hot dogs that make the score - some of the best eats in LA can be found in its many communities.

Someone needs to stop Clearway Law.
Public shouldn't leave reviews for lawyers.

A lot of people say,
"Carnitas is just carne."

But to me, carnitas is my life.

I remember when I was a young kid,

waking up and hearing
the sound of the flame turning on.

I knew my dad was up
and ready to go to work.

I'd walk to the back,

and I could see his shadow
because all the flames are on.

And my dad wouldn't
even know I was there.

And I would literally sit on the fence,
watching everything being cooked together.

It was just an amazing feeling
of a great man.

And it just hit me. I
had to help my dad.

I went inside, got
ready, put my shoes on,

I was like, "Hey, Dad. I got this."

That was the first time
he actually let me move the paddle.

And I knew for a fact
this was my destiny.

When people think
about Los Angeles,

it's a cliche of cliches.

The great weather, surfing,

gluten-free avocado toast.
But they don't know the real city.

Los Angeles is one of
the most diverse cities

for eating and living
in the United States.

It's a city of neighborhoods

that's been shaped by waves of immigration
from Asia, Mexico, and Latin America.

But redlining and restrictive covenants
have created all these enclaves.

Because of that, you're just
minutes away from the next culture.

And it's all connected by freeways.

Those freeways connect you
to communities

that you wouldn't otherwise
have access to.

You cannot drive more than a few blocks
without seeing a vendor.

And the best food
in LA is on the street.

You can find dishes that you would only
find in a specific region of that country,

like Filipino skewers,

Guatemalan tortillas,
meats, and pupusas,

Mexican dishes like quesadillas

and, of course,
there are hot dogs, hamburgers.

And you see all those flavors,
all those colors, all the ingredients.

You see it all on the streets.

But of all these dishes,

it is tacos that dominates
the street food scene in Los Angeles.

And one of the best ones
is Carnitas El Momo in Boyle Heights,

one of the most historic
and original Mexican communities.

Carnitas is soul food.

It's a style of cooking
where different parts of pig

are slowly cooked in its own fat.

Takes really an expertise
moving things in and out of the pot.

There's all these different types
of salsas and condiments

that, grouped together,
make this incredible delicious food.

Best carnitas I ever tried, man.

And Carnitas El Momo specializes
in just a handful of cuts.

Cuerito is the skin.

Buche, hogs maw.

Maciza, shoulder.

And everything is so flavorful.

Romulo's children are doing the
cooking now, just outside their home.

And his son, Billy Acosta,
has become the leader of the family,

ensuring that there's always gonna be
a Carnitas El Momo in Los Angeles.

It'll always be part of the city.

- Ready to exercise, or what?
- Yes!

I'm going to do it with you.


Just watch how I do it, okay?

Counting up to 20, okay?


One, two, three, four, five...

My father has been
making carnitas for over 50 years.

It's a family thing,
and it's a Mexico thing.


In Mexico, everybody eats carnitas.

Ours are pretty simple ingredients,
but the main one is love.

The recipe that we use originated
with my grandfather, Feliz Acosta.

He did carnitas for a living in Mexico.

That's where the story started.

So my dad learns it from my grandfather.

But my dad was like a little rocker,
so he didn't really dig that.

So my dad decided
to come to the US with no papers,

you know, chasing the American dream.

And he ended up here in Los Angeles
with my mom,?Inocencia.

He started off working as a welder,
but then he got injured.

So he ended up having to sell carnitas
to support the family.

Everything my dad did
was to leave something for us.

And when I was growing up,
we all contributed to helping my dad.

We didn't get paid for it.
We did it because that's our dad.

But I learned to love it as well.

Attaboy, cowboy!

I didn't go to college.
I don't have no degree.

With all honestly,
I barely made it out of high school.

You know, and this is all I know.

There's no other bigger challenge
than challenging myself

to show the people here in LA
that we got something good.

Tomorrow, I'll come,
and we'll exercise more.

- Yes.
- Yeah?

Son, yes.

It's culture.
It's... It's passion. It's love.

It's family. It's friends.

It's all of it together that
I don't want it to die out.

Food in LA, in strip malls
and on the street, is incredibly rich,

incredibly diverse,
and just bursting with flavor.

That's where the... the good stuff is.

And that's where people are cooking
for their own community.

The breadth and the depth
of how good the cuisines are,

I don't think are matched. Anywhere.

LA's Filipino community is historic.
It's vast.

It's the largest concentration
of Filipinos outside of the Philippines.

When you are in Dollar Hits,
you feel like you're in the Philippines.

We have 33 kinds of street food
in a stick.

Everything is a dollar.

That's why it's called Dollar Hits.

A little bit joke.

We have pork barbecue, chicken
barbecue, fish ball, lobster ball.

I cannot mention everything
because it's 33.

I'm a good cook
because I came from?Pampanga.

Pampanga is the culinary capital
of the Philippines.

I came here in 1998.

Dad is an American citizen.

He was old at that time.

He always go to the hospital.

Then I would bring him food
in the hospital.

In the hospital were
plenty of Filipino nurses.

Told me, "Oh, the food is good!"

And then I save money,

and then me
and my three sisters rent a truck.

One day is... good.

Second day... good.

Third day is very good.

There's plenty of people there.

Then after that, sisters,
we buy this market for Dollar Hits.

And the Filipino people,

they are happy.

Everybody happy.

Everything in a stick,
it's a dollar. Okay?

Dollar Hits
is probably the only place in LA

where you can
really?get Filipino skewers.

Everything's already cooked.

You're just charring it
to your preference.

You get this sweet, tangy, meaty bite,
and it's just like kissed with the fire.

Really get that flavor of, like,

a Filipino night market
here in Los Angeles.

Growing up, my input
was never taken into consideration

until I grew a little older.

A Mexican household,
If you're the youngest,

"Boy, get your ass?back in the room
and shut up," you know?

I'm the last of eight?kids.

I was the baby of the family.

My dad calls me...

Meaning "my last breath."

Being the youngest, I never felt lonely

because my sister Antonia and I,
we had bunk beds.

Other than that, everybody was around.

We all contributed to helping my dad.

I loved all that.

And it was always
me, him, and my sister.

You didn't go anywhere?

- No.
- No? Just stayed in?

No, I just went home.

The times that we were
in the kitchen, cooking as a family,

it was fun.

Music playing in the background,
laughing, sisters dancing on the side.

Dad's in the back,
cooking the carnitas.

Mom's doing salsa in the kitchen.

It was like a fiesta, and I love that.

My dad, you know, he taught us
that working will get you somewhere.

My first job was cleaning the cazo.

It's the copper pot
where you do the carnitas.

And then I moved up to cashier.

I would get nervous 'cause my dad,
if I said the wrong count,

he'd just give me this grin like,
"Fool, you better get that shit right."

We weren't making millions,

but we were happy with what we're doing.

Do you
need two containers?

- I'll start it right now.
- Oh, we need onion!

- Yes!
- The onion.

I'll do it right now.

But then,
when I was ten years old,

my life changed forever.

One night,
my dad came into my room crying.

I was scared, like, "What's going on?"

And I just hear my mom.

It was a cry of, like,

I don't know.
I... I can't imagine that pain.

My sister, Tonia,

she was involved in a car
accident that instantly killed her.

It was devastating.

That... that moment
is so significant to me because...

I was so attached to my sister.

She was the light of the house, so, once
we lost that light, it was darkness.

Behind closed doors,
my dad was a very sad man.

He was lost.

My mom, I could see her
going through this endless pain

that I wanted to take away
from both of them.

And there was times where I
would literally sit outside their room,

wait until they fell asleep,

and then I would go to sleep
kind of, in fear.

The happiness at home
was just going downhill.

Everyone wants
to come to Los Angeles

for our Mexican cuisines,

but people forget, we're also
the largest Latino population.

I've got coconut water,
strawberry juice, chocolate milk...

And Central Americans
are one of the biggest parts of that.

And one of the most fantastic places
in Los Angeles for Guatemalan culture,

Guatemalan street?food,
is the Guatemalan night market

located on 6th and Bonnie Brae.

It's really one of the largest centers
of Central American life in Los Angeles.

You have all these vendors doing
churrasco which is grilled meats,

pollo y papas, and all kinds of tamales.

And they're all lined up in rows,
cooking out of shopping carts.

And it's all families,

and they're there for the kind of
home cooking that they miss.

In Guatemala,
traditionally, they call it "churrasco."

It's grilled meat with
beans and macaroni.

Everything that we sell here,
it's all Guatemalan.

I work here every day with my husband
and my father-in-law.

We started out just selling
prepared food, walking with our carts

because the police didn't allow us
to sell in this area.

If they came,
we would run away with our carts.

Sometimes they wouldn't take them.

But out of spite,

they would mess up all the meat,
the beans, everything in the cart.

Then we couldn't sell anything.

We kept on selling
because it was our livelihood

for our kids.

Now, thankfully,

we have an organization
where we can support one another.

In order to put a stop to everything
that's been happening to us.

We have to fight, in order to succeed,
one way or another.

We have to fight.

The city has been antagonistic

towards street vendors.

It's an ongoing battle.

Street food was just decriminalized
a few years ago in Los Angeles,

and the legalization process has been
ambiguous and expensive for vendors.

These street vendors are not criminals.

They're trusted members
of our community.

People love the food.
They love the culture.

We should be lifting up these people
as the reason to come to Los Angeles,

not attacking their businesses.

After my sister's passing,
my dad was a very sad man.

It hurt me to see my dad like that.

That's not the man that I know.

So, I didn't wanna see him
go down like that.

I felt like I could contribute
to the household a little more,

maybe help 'em with, like,
whatever extra bills they had.

Just help.

So I decided to take this job at Canon.

A very corporate job.

All I knew is, "We got to continue
living, and let's see what happens."

So, when I started working at the company,
it was like a kid going to college.

I learned a lot as far as marketing.

How to put a good picture out there
and make people want that item.

How to present something.
How to make a sale.

But at the same time,

I still have?carnitas always
in the back of my mind.

And I went to work every day with guilt.

Because I just felt like I was going
away from what I'm supposed to do.

I tried to tell myself,

"It's okay, Billy."

"You're working right now,

but you're doing it for the knowledge
that you're learning to run a business."

And then, as a matter of fact, one day,
I'm sweeping, and I'm full of dust,

and a?friend,?he walks towards me
and he's like, "Hey."

"What the fuck are you doing?"
Just like that.

And I'm like, "Oh, I'm sweeping
'cause we gotta return this warehouse."

He's like, "No. What the fuck
are you doing with your life?"

He's like, "Look at yourself.
You're full of dust."

"Are you gonna work here for the rest
of your life or what are you gonna do?"

And he just walked away.

And I just stood there thinking,
like, "What the fuck am I doing?"

And then I gave my two-week notice.

I think one thing
that is still true about LA

is that it is a place
where you pursue an opportunity.

It's a destination for creative people,

for dreamers.

It's still very much
what makes the city awesome.

At Earle's, if you order a hot dog,
they split it just right,

so it lands on the?grill and it gets
exposure to the fire on both sides.

And then, right before they serve it,

the chef takes a knife,
and he'll actually score it, you know,

so the whole thing is just
maximum grill flavor.

They take a lot of care into making
something simple, super good.

Earle's restaurant started
as a hot dog cart,

actually almost 40 years now,
in the Crenshaw community,

where we still remain
in this community, to this day.

It's a three-man operation.
My brother's busy in the back.

I'm busy, the front man, doing my thing.
My mom is that gracious host.

Yeah, I could eat it out here.

I left New York in the mid-'80s.
I got a phone call from my brother.

He told me,
"Come on out here. It's beautiful."

"The weather's great.
I'm doing a hot-dog business."

It was kinda like, "Hey, let me
come to LA and start off fresh."

It was your typical "come out
to Hollywood to be a star" type thing.

Only, in my case, I was rapping.

I used to always rap
at the hot dog cart.

I'd make a hot dog
and rap against somebody.

I eventually ended up
signing with Ice Cube.

So I actually got best of both worlds,

was able to be part of the business,
for this continuous amount of time,

and I was able
to get in the music industry also.

Crenshaw is about art, history.

It's been Black.
It's been Hispanic. It's been Asian.

There's a lot of good people here.

So It's been very important for us to
stay here because these people support us.

We've had customers
that grew up on our hot dogs.

So we put a lot of time into what we do.

We love what we do,
and it shows in our food.

People know our name.

We know the postman,
the postwoman, the fireman.

We are that part of the community.

Funny as it may seem,
we're like the Black Cheers of LA.

- We once went to a dance.
- Yup! We went to a dance.

- It was March 18th, right?
- Yes, my darling.

And that's when he said that
I'd make him the happiest man on earth,

if I agreed to be his girlfriend.

And I said, "Is he telling the truth?"

All my life,
till this day,

my parents, they did what they had
to do to take care of our family.

And so, after I quit my job,

I came to my dad, and I said,
"I'm ready to do this."

"I'm ready to face the world
with the carnitas business."

He said, "About time!
I've been waiting for this."

I love you, Mom.

And I never seen him smile more.

Like, he was proud.

Once he gave me his
okay and his blessing...

...I felt fulfilled.

My parents, they were ready
to let me take the steering wheel now.

I kept my dad's recipe exactly the same
because people loved it.

Crispy on the outside,
tender on the inside,

just melting in your mouth.

But the first thing I did change was
we bought this lunch truck.

Because, before,
it was just a little spot on a porch,

and it felt like we had something now.

So now we start adding a few more days.

Thursdays through Sundays,
not just selling on the weekends.

And then we started
adding dishes to the menu.

Like birria de res,

and mulitas, which is a layer of meat,
cheese, and then a tortilla.

And then I started taking
really good pictures of the carnitas,

then putting them out there
on social media.

My parents would trip out, like,
'cause I would sit the mulitas crossed,

and, like, I'll put the torta there,
and I'll take pictures of it.

They would look at me,
like, "What is this guy doing?"

And my mom would laugh at me.

Why you doing this?

And I'm like,
"You have to put the picture out there."

"You have to make it look good."
And she'll laugh.

But people were loving
the fact that we were adding

a little more swag to the lunch truck.

And then the momentum starts to build.

The demand got higher.

We started getting attention.

And that's how, uh,
we caught the eye of Bill Esparza.


Hi, Bill! Good afternoon! How are you?

- I'm well.
- So good to see you!

How are you all?

- Working hard, like always
- All right. You know what I want.

- Tell me.
- Carnitas.

Of course.?How many would you like?

When I went to Momo
for the first time, I was blown away.

Order for Bill?

It's absolutely just brilliant.

Thank you, man.

And I had that bite, and everything was
so tender and so flavorful,

with just some pickled jalapenos.

It's as good as you'll find in Mexico.

It has grittiness and soul and luxury,
all in one.

And I thought,
everyone needs to know about this place.

But as a Mexican American writer,

sometimes I have to be
a little bit of an activist.

So I invited them to the festival
I hosted at the time, Tacolandia,

where chefs from all over
competed for the title of best taco.

At that time,
if you wanna be noticed in LA,

you had to be in Tacolandia.

And Tacolandia gets some of the
best chefs in LA, Baja, and North Cal.

And that was challenging
and intimidating.

Seeing all these people
in their chef coats, their chef hats.

I'm a taquero. I'm a
carnicero, you know?

I was going like this.
My shirt, hat, that's it.

But then, I was just like,
"Man, fuck this!"

"I'm gonna make sure that these
fucking?carnitas are on point."

"Let's go."

And then, when I started
cooking the carnitas,

I could feel some type of good
energy just flowing around there.

My father, guiding me,
just speaking to me like,

"Watch the way you move the pala."

"Move it here."

"Lower the flame."

"Watch it," you know,
like, I... I can't explain it.

Everything came into picture.

The struggle of my family, you know.

The sadness, the happiness.

Going back to the kitchen,

everybody dancing,
everybody prepping salsa.

My sister Tonia still around,

my dad smiling.

All that came into play that day,


...we ended up winning 2017.

I remember them announcing it
on the speaker, you know,

"Winner of today Tacolandia,
Carnitas El Momo."

My dad started crying.

And then I started crying.

That's when I knew,
like, this is my life.

That's my family.

I cook carnitas, and I love what I do,

but it's their story
that I'm trying to tell, you know?

The success of Carnitas El Momo is
really the proper icon for Los Angeles.

It means that our food
now represents the city that's our city.

Our street vendors are incredible,

making recipes that
are multi-generational

to keep their culture alive.

It's really about being seen.

I think it's just
the way we cook.

Everything we do,
we put our heart into it.

I've always enjoyed
serving the customers,

and that they feel satisfied,
regardless of where they come from.

In LA, street food is
extremely rich and intense,

and reflective of the people
that come here.

It is a way to see a totally new world.

When I'm working,
I put in my heart.

When I see people around,
especially Filipino, oh my God!

I am happy, and I am blessed.

Street food, it's a family
endeavor, family operation.

That's the people
you can count on and trust.

What are you gonna have, sweetheart?

And the customers, they've really become
extended family and extended community.

If you came up to me,

and you were short on some cash,
and you wanted chili,

your chili was on me.

We've actually become an intricate,
sewn piece of fabric into the community.

Really, really sewn into the community.

Street food
is vital to Los Angeles.

These vendors, they are what makes
Los Angeles the best city for food.

They've established something,

and now you can't have LA
without street food.

Thank you.

I need cheese, please.

Here you are. Thanks so much!

You want a carnitas taco?

All pork skin.

Yup, make it.

Make it! Make it!

In 2018,
my parents take a trip to Europe.

That was their first-ever vacation,

15-day trip.

And a day before they
flew back to the US,

my dad got the stroke.

It was sad.

It hurt me to see my dad like that.

And now,
he can't really do much anymore.

But we're blessed
to still have him here.

And since then, he's become stronger.

I believe my dad is happy to know that
we're continuing what his father started.

Now I feel like that moment in my life,
when I seen him alone in the back,

cooking by himself.

Now, I fill in those shoes.

Now I'm in the back, and I'm alone,

and I feel like
I have to provide for the family.

But it's okay. I love that feeling.

I believe it's destiny.

Now I think it's time
for me to take care of him.

I'm here to help them,
and I'm here to help them forever.

Hand in hand.


The future.

Forever. Forever.

Portland is like
the biggest version of the kids' table.

No one's looking over your shoulder
and telling you what to do,

and anything is game.

That's just so damn Portland.

Someone needs to stop Clearway Law.
Public shouldn't leave reviews for lawyers.