Fruta Fresca

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For ten years, I’ve never given food cart vendors more than a casual glance during my time in Los Angeles. They were scenery to me, in the same league as bus stops, panhandlers and sidewalk prophets. I’d have sooner accepted tickets to a “free show” on Hollywood Boulevard than have stoppped to patronize a street vendor in front of a Bank of America. That is, until I got a hot tip about the fruit carts.

Each vendor has a fresh selection of assorted fruits, peeled and ready for chopping. Depending on your appetite, you can order a three or five dollar bag, (I highly recommend the five dollar bag). Your options are: pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, orange, coconut, mango, papaya, cucumber and jicama. Unless you specify what you want in your mix, he will chop up a bit of each and scoop the whole thing into a plastic bag. Next comes the reason to seek these carts out: chile powder and lime. A quick sprinkling of both over the fruit in the bag creates one of the most addictive, healthy snacks I’ve ever had in my life. It may seem odd to eat fresh fruit and chile powder out of a plastic bag with a plastic fork, but trust me, it’s a treat.

So, now you know. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

18 Replies to “Fruta Fresca”

  1. Mmmm, yes. I learned that trick in Chicago, where I’d buy plates of mango with lime and salt (and sometimes chile, depending on the vendor). Another treat that I haven’t found in LA, though I’m sure I’m just in the wrong neighborhood, is elote – corn on the cob coated in all sorts of revolting things like butter and mayo and chile and oh my god it is so delicious.

  2. Annika- oh man, that does sound delicious.

    Kerry- You sound like a lot of fun! Coincidentally, some fruit actually IS found on the ground, so you’re in luck.

    Westwood- I did see some kind of license on the cart (if you look at the picture it’s a yellow sticker on the top right of the lower portion of the stand), although I don’t know who regulates these vendors, nor do I know what the standards or requirements are. The cart was clean, the man wore fresh plastic gloves and the fruit was delicious. A quick google search of the phone number tells me that the fruit may originate at a company called “Palmas Commissary.” I’ll say this: I’ve eaten at restaurants that are way more sketchy than this cart.

  3. Re: Elote. You can find it down in the fashion district, downtown, around MacAthur Park on the weekends. I’ve seen it over by Temple and Edgeware near a lavenderia. Usually, the are in large pots pushed in shopping carts. I believe that the proper condiments are squeezable butter, mayonaisse, parmesan cheese, chile and a hint of lime juice.

  4. Oh heavens, people. Live a little. The fruit is such a nice treat, and it’s healthy, and the chances are they’re just as sanitary as if you bought the stuff yourself and cut it in your lunch office at work. “Just as soon eat food found on the ground”–that’s a very extreme statement. Have a little faith! Do you think the fruit sellers don’t make a decent attempt at keeping things relatively clean?
    The world is not full of evil people or germs out to get you.

  5. Hey Annika, when I used to live on Temple Street, my little sister used to get those things all the time…..I’ve never tried them myself, and they sure don’t look very healthy…

  6. How can you people not love eating from food carts? Food carts are awesome cheap ways to snag a quick meal!

    Must be an East Coast thing…

  7. Suzanne – Food carts are indeed a West Coast “thing!” Los Angeles is full of carts and cart patrons, and I, for one, am a frequent visitor to hot dog stands, fruit carts, and taco stands for unbeatably cheap tacos and tamales. I often find myself at the bacon-wrapped-hot-dog carts lined up 6 deep at 2am after shows on Hollywood. I’m from the East Coast, and I’ve actually eaten at more food carts here in LA than I have in any city on the Atlantic side of the States. But maybe it’s because LA is so darn big! Point being… food carts and their loyal patrons are alive and well here on the West Coast.

    Annika and Katie – I need to find this elote that you’re talking about! My mouth is watering!

    And WestwoodNC – I guarantee you’ve eaten dirtier meals at Grade A restaurants than you can find at many fruit carts, and other street stands for that matter. Working in various restaurants, all Grade A, for 5 years gave me a little insight to the back-end of the industry. I was quite surprised. Frankly, I’m much more satisfied to watch the food being prepared right in front of me than waiting for it to be brought out from behind doors or curtains.

  8. Foodcarts are not a west coast thing — New York has had hot dog carts forever. And my 5th Ave/46th St. Manhattan office had a fruit stand on the sidewalk, next to the coffee and donut cart that parked next to the candy cart.

  9. Shane, I just took your excellent advice and procurred my first plastic bag-o’-goodness from the fresh fruit cart that the dog and I regularly pass on our walks. The proprietor only offered a $3 bag, but it was huge! I opted for the “everything” order, which included cucumber and some jicama along with mango, melon, pineapple, watermelon and orange. With the chili powder and the lime and a little sprinkle of salt… DAMN! I’m hooked.

  10. Lee – Yes, food carts are a West coast thing, and an East coast thing, and a Chicago thing, and a Southern/ Gulf coast thing… This isn’t a debate about who came first, or who’s had what “forever.” Suzanne posted a comment suggesting that Los Angeles residents (aka “you people”) didn’t love food carts, and my comment was in defense of the many loyal LA food cart patrons. My previous office in downtown Portland, OR sits across the street from a kebab cart next to a churro stand next to a burrito stand next to a burger stand next to a tamale cart. So what? They’re all delicious, they’re everywhere, and they don’t belong to any city or coast or region.

    Now I’m off for a kosher hot dog at the cart down the block. Yum.

  11. Lee: I see a lot of folks on the Left Coast thumb their nose at food cart cuisine (and a lot of midwesterners, too, for that matter…). It tends to look a little unbalanced, you know?

    Being in Philly and being so close to NYC, I can’t help but wonder why. Food carts are damn good eats!

  12. Suzanne – I’m not sure you read my comment, or the comments of the other food cart appreciators in this thread. If Left Coasters are “thumbing their noses” at food cart cuisine, then why are food carts so prevalent here? Why did Shane Nickerson even take the time to make his original post? Why were there so many food carts lined up one next to the other across the street from my office in Portland, and what’s deal with the long lines? Why are the lines 6 deep for bacon dogs and the 2AM Echo Park tamale man? Doesn’t sound like cart nose-thumbing to me.

    If anything, sounds like a couple of Right Coasters thumbing their noses at a couple of grumpy posters (Westwood, Kerry) and plain ignoring everyone else. It’s not an exaggeration when I say a vast majority of my friends and aquaintances enjoy good food cart yummies. Yes, food carts are damn good eats, and you aren’t the only ones who think so.

    Why I’m even taking the time to debate about food carts… Yeesh. I’m just wasting the time I could be using to find yet another awesome LA fruit cart, which, I’m sure, isn’t too far down the block.

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