The AltaMed Food & Wine Festival, known as ‘California’s prime Hispanic food and wine festival,’ celebrated with a weekend of south of the border flavor and fine wine that spanned across both LA and Orange County. The LA festival, held in downtown’s iconic LA Live, was a sight to see and be seen.
The otherwise-packed streets adjacent to the Staples Center and Microsoft Theater closed to traffic in order to make way for a seemingly endless path of tents doling our bottomless tastes and pours. The city lights shined down on a jovial crowd, with live music from the Spanish Harlem Orchestra igniting the mood.
The festival’s ‘East LA meets Napa’ theme was true to its word, with a smattering of Angelino culinary icons cooking up classic renditions and novel twists on Central and South American favorites. Likewise, an array of wineries ensured that a perfect pairing was always close by. Margaritas and sangrias were free flowing as well.
With a largely Latino focus, it’s safe to say there were no shortage of tacos at AltaMed. From King Taco’s signature al pastor to Maestro’s pork belly tacos, the festival had just about anything that could go into a squid ink, hatch green chile, or just plain ol’ corn tortilla. Tostadas from El Portal and Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria added to the mix, as did Chago’s tortas.
Pez Cantina went all in with a red argentine shrimp a la diablo with scallion slaw, dried shrimp and chili oil. Equally, Honduras’ Kitchen paid homage to its homeland favorites, such as baleadas with refried beans, cream and cheese, and San Pedro sula, or ground beef in fried plantains. La Fonda’s chicken mole and La Huasteca’s tamales, ceviche and chile en nogada were just a few more of the festival’s worldly items.
For a fun play on Latin fusion, Yamashiro and Bike Brewery each served up some great poke wonton nachos. The Chicken Koop’s (extremely) hot chicken easily matched any chile pepper of the evening, and Otium’s meatballs were melt-in-your-mouth. But of all the places to take the cake for most extravagant dish, the award goes to Sysco—yes, the food supplier—who wowed patrons with lobster claws covered in caviar and edible gold leaf.
Desserts were in full force and naturally picked up steam as the evening drew on. Sweet Flour’s tres leches cake, panna cotta and assorted cookies and Gourmeletas hand-dipped ice cream pops were among the festival’s sweet indulgences. Porto’s Bakery certainly came to play as well, with towers of oh-so-good pastries to be had.
Festival proceeds benefit AltaMed, a full-service medical provider to more than 300,000 people in Los Angeles and Orange County. Founded in 1969, AltaMed was established as a free clinic and remains committed to providing “quality care without exception.” 96 cents of every dollar raised go directly to AltaMed patient care. For more information on the AltaMed Food & Wine Festival, visit AltaMedFoodWine.org.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.