Huaraches, quesadillas and weekend-only migas: Antojitos Carmen finds a permanent home in Boyle Heights. For the L.A. Times:
PHOTO by GARY FRIEDMAN / L.A. TIMES
The way it used to be, on almost any given evening an irrepressible assemblage of Mexican food vendors would flood a Boyle Heights parking lot in what seemed like seconds. Empty tables suddenly were covered with tubs of masa and astringent salsas, and griddles glowed with immediate heat. Before you knew it, diners would be perched on plastic chairs and crumbling curbs, their fingers stained an inky, huitlacoche-rich black. Couples quickly huddled around cups of goat consommé as kids eyed the cinnamon-dusted ridges of freshly fried churros. It was a mesmerizing sight, one that transformed a patch of otherwise-empty asphalt.
When authorities shut down the not-quite-nightly Breed Street food fair some months ago, vendors were forced to accept a more itinerant existence. Where there was once an unrivaled concentration of street-food specialists is now a diaspora of barbacoa masters and pozole purveyors dispersed across several Eastside blocks. Veteran vendor Antojitos Carmen, meanwhile, found a permanent place for its movable feast.
It’s still sparse — not much more than a half-dozen brick-red booths staring out onto César Chávez Avenue — but Antojitos Carmen the restaurant is home nevertheless. After two decades spent hunched over sidewalk fryers, the Ortega family was recently able to move its operation indoors. The month-old restaurant already feels lived-in: Photos of Carmen Ortega’s hometown of Yurécuaro, Michoacán, adorn the walls; regulars pick up orders with mere nods of the head.