by Dan Johnson
While many of you packed into Row LA this weekend to sample a cornucopia of culinary delicacies at Smorgasbord, I embarked on a different journey into local food.
The inaugural Taste of Fifth Street was an informal opportunity to peruse the gastro-wonderland that is the stretch of 5th St between the Metro stop at Pershing Square and Broadway. Three food locations go largely neglected thanks in no small part to the perpetual dystopia porn unfolding on that lively block.
First stop on my west to east cheap-o tour was Jacky’s Restaurant. Whether the “B” in the door was a grim warning or a subtle homage to the 2005 Houston Astros was uncertain. What I can confirm is that I’ve walked past Jacky’s hundreds of times and never thought to patronize it.
There’s a stigma here. Bad things happen here. The cops are here too often. Then again, there’s another school of thought that says the cops aren’t here enough. Either way the cookie crumbles, the bare bones interior at Jacky’s does not inspire the level of confidence I would ordinarily need to sit and spend a few minutes.
Yet, I’ve been lusting after the $7 four taquitos con arroz y frijoles special advertised in the window. With an eye toward self-preservation, I opted for the papa filling over the pollo because one has sustained the Irish for millennia and the other comes with a stigma for salmonella.
The wind began to luff out of my sails almost immediately as the counter-man announced a seven-dollar total then gave me twelve dollars change off a twenty-dollar bill. Bad arithmetic skills or subtle grift? You decide!
The Taste of Fifth Street is not for the impatient or picky, so I pocketed my suspicions and settled in for what was ultimately a delightful little meal. Nothing tasted rancid. The red sauce was delicious. The papas were perfectly cooked.
If you’re not put off by the lethal overtones of passing street traffic or the décor that has clearly been purloined from other, now defunct businesses—give Jacky’s a shot.
Just to be crystal clear, I spaced out each meal by a few hours on the off chance that one would make me shit my brains out. It’s important to know where guilt falls. Four hours after my Jacky’s dalliance, I felt no colon quivers whatsoever.
For the sake of this review, let’s call the next establishment “Espresso Bar.” It doesn’t have an actual name posted on it. Nor does it have a business listing online. It may as well not exist, which seems to be a selling point for the clientele.
At $5.99, the half pasta plate offers a slightly less than adequate portion of whichever generic house pasta style you would like. I ordered the #3, which is actually the #2 sauce. This took a little bit of careful negotiation to get right. Now that I think of it, I could very well have gotten the #3 sauce, which is actually the #4.
None of this matters. The real selling point here is the opportunity for making new friends. A jovial fellow across from me was enjoying his first Boba ever. We bonded after he wondered aloud if he should drink the little balls at the bottom of the drink.
Everywhere else in America, this query would be greeted by a roast. “Jesus, you dope, they served it to you! Of course it’s edible.” Alas, this is Downtown Los Angeles and his survival instinct was well honed.
I had a damn enjoyable time with my new friend. He was exactly the sort of overly candid, salt of the earth presence I used to really savor in Downtown. Mostly gone, I was delighted to have spotted one in the wild. Bless you, sir.
Alas, the pasta was not great. Ambiguously flavored and imbued with that unsettling crunch that soft pasta should not have, I found it to be slightly burdensome. On the plus side—it was not objectionable to my intestines.
Last on the pain train was perhaps the most worrisome monument to dubious edibility available in Downtown. 7-Eleven. It had been years since I’d last wandered in. After all, this place is fucked.
If a fluke fatal bus crash isn’t a major warning from the fates that you should stay away from an establishment, I don’t know what is. Hell, I got another warning last week as I strolled down 5th St in front of a pack of overly gregarious young women who looked eerily out of place in their rompers.
Not out of place was their uniform high spirit. There are many manic people here, but most of the others are spiritually prepared for the security guard at 7-Eleven to bust out the door and start indiscriminately spraying liquid habanero at a man who had just stolen a Gatorade. The look of disbelief on these girls’ faces after they found themselves in the splash zone was a true Taste of Fifth Street.
Conscious of the 50/50 chance of being fucked on a whim inside, I made quick moves to snag two slices of pizza. You don’t have a choice of toppings here. Well, check that—you can choose to peel off the awful looking ham and sausage. The logic at the 7-Eleven hot food counter is “you should take all of the protein you can.”
And take I did! $2.43 later, I was outside chatting it up. It was fifteen minutes until maximum eclipse and at least one individual was staring directly at the sun with only two pairs of sunglasses to protect his eyes. A woman scooted up in a wheelchair to ask if I could get her a cup for her ice. I offered her the pizza instead, at which she immediately scoffed. She’d been hurt before.
Once across the street, another individual in a 94.7 The Wave shirt spotted the cardboard pizza triangle and immediately made me for an idiot. His pitch was necessarily direct—he needed $2.71 for a pint because he was on the edge of the Delirium Tremens. At $2.71, Delirium Tremens has easily the cheapest remedy for possible death of any ailment. Still cheaper is not binge drinking to begin with.
Despite what you hear on the internet, I am not a total dickcheese, asshole, chode farm, turd bucket, weasel. Only partial. In keeping with that distinction, I gave the man my pizza. Now that I think of it, he probably didn’t eat it. Because carbs only soak up alcohol. That would be counterproductive.
The kicker of the 7-Eleven pizza was that it tasted better than the much more expensive pizza up the street at Pestolini. Sorry to keep beating that dead horse.
I’ll call Taste of Fifth Street a rousing success. My stomach is no worse for the wear. My wallet is not that much lighter. My spirits are lifted now that a once obscure pocket of local dining has been revealed to suck much less than initially suspected.
My only regret is that the cafeteria turned rat-trap at Fallas Paredes had to close years ago due to rampant drug dealing. That would have been a lovely 8.72 capstone.
I award each “restaurant” a “1” on the binary and give Jacky’s the Klonopin Cup for Excellence.