How TikTok Helped This Massive LA Street Food Market Grow During The Pandemic

It began with a perfect taco and has become a happening through TikTok. This food market that began modestly on Artesian Street has virtually exploded since the coronavirus pandemic. Now more commonly referred to as the Avenue 26 market (an homage to the Avenue 26 Tacos), the location is described by Eater as the "biggest and most diverse street food market anywhere in Southern California." To understand this story, we must first introduce you to the tacos you need to put on your foodie bucket list – Avenue 26 Tacos. The tacos at Avenue 26 have helped drive the street food movement in LA and are widely considered to be some of the best in the country with varieties like suadero, al pastor, and carne asada (via Insider). Even better – each taco only costs $1 – even in LA.

As Javier Cabral of LA Taco described to Insider, "Street food is so essential to the city, and it took [around a decade] for the politicians to finally realize that and try to make change and make it legalized." Cabral is referring to the fact that street food wasn't actually legal in LA until 2019, but the first permit to vend wasn't even issued until January 2020 (via LA Taco). And while this quasi-legality slowed growth, including through ever-changing COVID regulations throughout the year, in winter 2021 this entire market took off, thanks to TikTok – and maybe a little Instagram, too.

Avenue 26 took off because of TikTok

Abegail Cal, co-founder of Sweet Meats, told Eater that Avenue 26 is "basically a mini club," saying it has expanded to include clothes, art, music, and more. Cal believes the market has "grown almost 400 percent" in the 3 months she's been working at this Lincoln Heights location. "TikTok was the thing that blew us up," said Robert Preece, a former manager at Dave's Hot Chicken who now sells over 160 pounds of pancake batter each week with his family as round novelty treats with sweet toppings. 

The rise of these street vendors through social media comes in stark contrast to city officials' efforts to criminalize this culture during the pandemic. Despite legalization, fines have been plentiful (via LA Taco), and these private vendors were largely left out of permitting and relief conversations. The Lincoln Heights neighborhood may now be thriving, but its older reputation is that of a "gang-infested area," according to one vendor. As community members and digital foodies take both pride and notice in this area, the future remains unclear. 

Cal's Sweet Meats co-founder Aaron Moreno wondered, "Do we go along with all the permits and all that stuff and all the overhead that's probably going to have to come with that organization, or do we just find the next spot?" Whether this viral growth will benefit these street food sellers or ultimately drive them away remains to be seen. No matter the future, this LA present sounds and looks delicious.