Trojans don’t just visit Los Angeles, they also taste it. In an effort to introduce students to more local restaurants and cuisine, USC Program Board Special Events Committee presented Taste of Downtown LA on Tuesday afternoon at McCarthy Quad.
“It’s a chance for students to taste a little of the food [from these local restaurants], see if they like it and then if they do then they can go and support them,” said Amy Gong, Program Board director of special events.
This is the third year that the event, which runs once a semester, has been put on. This year, Taste of Downtown featured 10 different restaurants and food trucks with cuisine ranging from a healthy twist on European street food to New England summer favorites.
“In Downtown L.A. the food culture is so big, and I really want the students to get involved in that culture,” Gong said.
Bryce Rademan, the owner of Spitz, said his restaurant puts a twist on a European food similar to shwarma.
“We basically took a European street food called doner kebab and elevated it, made it lighter, fresher, healthier with all the great flavors,” Rademan said. “It’s really simple fresh ingredients done well.”
Rademan said that his restaurant is a great place for college students to hang out.
“We geared it toward that demographic,” Rademan said. “We have a location in Little Tokyo which is a favorite of USC. We have a full bar there — beers, wines, sangrias — students come for USC football games, sporting events. It has a really cool, party-type vibe.”
At the event, Ozero, a coffee, juice and smoothie place, gave out milk teas and chai teas in addition to strawberry cake samples.
“We do have the best boba in Little Tokyo. We’re very known for that,” said Kevin Liu, Ozero’s manager. “A lot of people name us the best boba in Downtown Los Angeles, so that’s something to be proud of.”
Liu hopes that Ozero’s presence at Taste will attract different customers.
“A lot of students here like tea,” he said. “We want to attract more students to check it out, do homework and chill here.”
Gilberto Cetina’s family-run restaurant Chichen Itza, located only a few blocks from USC in the Mercado la Paloma complex, features authentic southern Mexican food from the Yucatan Peninsula.
“We brought probably the most representative dish here today, tacos de cochinita pibil,” Cetina said. “It’s basically suckled pig braised and wrapped in brown leaves with citrus and marinade. We cook it for 12 hours very slow, so it comes out very tender. We’re featuring it in tacos with pickled onions and a little habanero sauce.”
Cetina said that the restaurant makes it a point to give back to USC when possible because the USC community has been so supportive of his restaurant.
“Now we’re 12 years old, but in the beginning it was really difficult,” Cetina said. “It was kind of through the support of different departments at USC, which gave us catering jobs and support, that we’re here today. We love USC and we’re happy to use this opportunity to expose more people to our food and also give back to the university that has really given us a lot in terms of business and catering.”
A newcomer to the event this year was the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Ashley Moreno, the marketing and events director for the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, said that they were there to promote the newly launched single serve beverage system.
“It brews coffee, tea and espresso,” Moreno said. “Students can sample the hot beverages to demo the machines. We think they would be perfect for the whole college life, you can put it in your apartment or dorm room.”
Another type of beverage at the event was lemon ice samples from Del’s Lemonade food truck. Van Fraiser, the driver for the Del’s Lemonade food truck, said that Del’s is unique because it originated on that other coast.
“Del’s lemonade is a New England tradition in the summer,” Fraiser said of the Rhode Island-based company. “We’re glad to bring it out here to the west coast so more people can enjoy it.”
Fraiser’s favorite thing about the ice is its texture.
“It’s all natural, very light lemonade, not overly syrupy,” Fraiser said.
With such variety at the fair, students experienced an enjoyable and informative afternoon.
Kaylyn Sung, a junior studying computer science and business administration, could definitely see herself making the trip to some restaurants.
“The Italian one is really good, they gave me their menu and I was actually just talking [to a friend] about going there sometime,” Sung said. “The ravioli was great.”
Saravanan Ganesh, a first year graduate student studying computer science, said he found out about the event on Facebook and was excited to learn about more eating options in the area.
“I’m new to L.A. and so this is a nice opportunity to find out some new eateries and get to know L.A. better,” Ganesh said.
But Isabel Lee, a sophomore majoring in business administration, seemed to best sum up the mood of the face-stuffing crowd, when she explained what she liked about Taste of L.A.
“This is one of my favorite events all year that program board throws,” Le said. “They have a lot of cool places, there’s free food, what’s not to like?”