Street Food: The Hidden Talents

The limelight rarely shines on some of L.A.’s best. Four chefs give us a sample of their roots.

Khanh Phan
Nong Lá Vietnamese Café
Victor and Elaine Phan thought their mother’s recipe for beef pho was too good to keep to themselves. In May they opened Nong Lá Vietnamese  Cafe in Sawtelle’s Little Osaka corridor, a strip better known for its Japanese ramen. Khanh Phan’s home-style Vietnamese cooking has drawn raves from Saigon natives looking for the flavors of home: cha gio egg rolls, fried egg-topped bánh mì, and slippery bun with lemongrass pork. 2055 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A.


Stephen Randolph
Randolph’s Smokehouse
Some chefs are born with barbecue sauce in their blood. Stephen Randolph, owner of Randolph’s Smokehouse in South L.A., cut his teeth manning some of the meanest pits in Memphis, specializing in hickory-saturated chicken and ribs. Now he serves succulent barbecue, creamy coleslaw, and baked beans out of a small restaurant next door to the shoe repair shop that has been in his family for half a century. 8472 S. Central Ave., South L.A., 323-587-9698.


Aileen Liu
Huge Tree Pastry
In 1978, Aileen Liu’s family opened Yi Mei, a bustling restaurant in Monterey Park  that specialized in hearty Taiwanese breakfast fare. They sold the establishment in 2007 and regrouped to open Huge Tree Pastry up the street, with Liu as head chef. These days mornings are filled with families from the neighborhood feasting on delicate fried crullers, cups of sweet house-made soy milk, and steamed pork buns. 423 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, 626-458-8689.


Carmen Ortega
Antojitos Carmen
When life gives you masa, make tortillas. Carmen Ortega was a star among the vendors at East L.A.’s Breed Street food fairs for her antojitos, Mexico City-style snacks like braised chicken tinga and huaraches daubed with beans. City zoning ordinances forced the fairs to disperse, but Ortega scrimped and saved to open her own restaurant in Boyle Heights. Now locals can grab spicy chorizo tortas or potato-filled pambazos any day of the week. 2510 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Boyle Heights, 


Photographs by Andrea Bricco