The Changing Street Food Landscape: LA Trucks Get Letter Grade

Yesterday, SFoodie ran an interview with Jessica Phadungsilp and Christina Aviles, the owners of the Global Soul truck, who had migrated from the Bay Area to Los Angeles because they couldn't find a way to make a living in San Francisco given the difficulty and price of obtaining the proper permits. But as a New York Times story from yesterday and a late-breaking LA Times story today indicate, Los Angeles is beginning to tighten control.

Currently, the 9,500 trucks in LA are free to move about on public streets (unlike San Francisco trucks, which must secure expensive permits for specific sites), as long as they don't stay in one place too long. The newest proposed change: Making trucks file route maps with the health department -- and making them, like all permanent restaurants, post letter grades showing their health-inspection scores. To pay for more inspections, fees may go up as much as 50 percent.

Should the health department treat food trucks like restaurants? The answer seems a no-brainer: Of course. The letter grades should give the public more comfort with mobile food vendors. But as the street food movement gains visibility and popularity -- and anti-truck sentiment among restaurateurs swells -- we hope that the health department keeps the inspection and permitting process accessible and affordable. That also means recognizing that many trucks are new Americans' entry into the business world, and that all communication should be in the proper language.

Still, SFoodie has pangs of envy every time we read about LA's newer, stricter regulations. Freedom to park on any block? Only two inspections a year? Good god, if San Francisco gave food trucks the same opportunities, just think about how many this city could support.

Of course, a B or a C posted on the side of a lonchero is not going to deter everyone -- especially those of us who've been patronizing trucks for decades. When New York recently began giving out letter grades, the local papers asked LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold to comment. He passed along a common joke: "A stands for American Chinese food, B is for Better Chinese, and C is for 'Chinese' Chinese food."

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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