Students flocked to McCarthy Quad Thursday afternoon to sample a variety of food and drink at the biannual Taste of Downtown Los Angeles event. The gathering, organized by the Special Events Committee of the Undergraduate Student Government’s Program Board, featured complimentary tasting samples so that students could try new and different cuisine.
Denise Rockstroh, assistant director of Program Board, and Taylor Wong, publicity chair of Program Board, spearheaded the event, which has been in the works since April. This year, it drew nearly 2,500 students and 11 eateries, including two food trucks.
“We have a good mix of old favorites and new vendors this year,” Wong said.
Some local favorites included Viztango, an Italian restaurant on Figueroa, and Spitz, a European style take on Turkish street food, with a nearby location in Little Tokyo. Chichen Itza, located in the Mercado La Paloma, featured crowd pleasing Mexican food from the Yucatan peninsula.
“Many students don’t have cars, especially freshmen, so going off campus and finding these restaurants might not be a possibility for them,” Rockstroh said. “Bringing all these restaurants and vendors to USC and making them available is a great opportunity for everyone to try new foods. It’s definitely gained more popularity since we started it.”
Though most restaurants brought around 400 food items, some brought more to cater to an impressive demand.
“Vendors who have been here before know how many students come, so they are well prepared,” Wong said.
Eateries at the event included Fickle L.A., a new restaurant in Little Tokyo and Bird Pick Tea & Herb from Pasadena. Dina Levashova, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering, especially enjoyed Bird Pick’s hibiscus tea, a specialty of the teahouse.
“I’ve never been to eat off campus,” Levashova said. “Maybe I’ll try it more often, because I did like Viztango.”
Many students agreed with Levashova that the event encouraged them to try off-campus food.
“I have a meal plan, so that makes it harder to go out. But I’ll definitely try out more places,” Linda Xu, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering, said.
Though many of the restaurants were local and individually-owned, some larger restaurateurs were giving out their samples. Built, a local restaurant owned by The Counter burgers, was one of the larger companies present at the event, serving hormone-free beef and turkey burgers. The Lobos truck, also new this year, brought its “comfort food with a conscience” to the quad. Vendors that frequent the USC campus, such as the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, as well as Popchips, Hubert’s Lemonade and Jarrito’s took to McCarthy, as well.
Despite the heat, the event was so popular that many restaurants ran out of offerings. In fact, every company present except for Viztango Cafe, the Lobos Truck and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf ran out of food before 2 p.m.
Tito Rivera, owner of Viztango Cafe, noted that the event was about food, as well as an opportunity to come together with the USC community. Tito also works with student organizations to help them raise money. All nonprofit organizations who sign in with Viztango receive 20 percent of their transactions back.
“We try to get closer to the students, to the community and organizations. We come to Taste of Downtown L.A. every time to connect with the new students so they can know what our restaurant is about,” Rivera said.
Students waited in long lines for many of the restaurants, especially Viztango and Chichen Itza, in order to try foods that they otherwise might not have had the opportunity to come across.
“I don’t eat out that often, but I like when all the restaurants come to me,” Ashley Holman, a sophomore majoring in cognitive science, said.
The event, and the draw of complimentary food, also reflected the amount of cultural diversity in the area around USC.
“L.A.’s one of the most diverse places: you have Mexican food, Asian food, Italian food,” Wong said. “It’s great that students have an experience where they can go to one place and taste all these different foods.”