TAAGLAA: Olvera Street

Tiger’s Adventures Across The Greater Los Angeles Area
By Sandra Moore
Assoc. Design Editor

Though it is the oldest part of Downtown Los Angeles, Olvera Street is by no means dilapidated. As Tiger Illustrator Angelica Navarro and I made our way through the clustered streets of LA, we marvelled at the bright splash of color against gray buildings that denoted the line between Olvera Street and the rest of city.

After climbing out of our car, we took a moment to wander through the closely packed kiosks and then settled down to eat lunch at El Rancho Grande, a small restaurant with a wall missing entirely, offering a beautiful view of Olvera Street. The restaurant served a melánge of traditional Mexican food: tacos, taquitos, sopes, enchiladas, with sides of salad and refried beans. El Rancho Grande is merely one of the many restaurants in the area to serve such cuisine.

Initially, both Angelica and I ordered taquitos, meat wrapped up in corn tortillas and fried until crispy, then heavily dosed with a light guacamole sauce. After I discovered that the meat they contained was not chicken, as I initially thought, but beef, I, being a non-beef eater, regretfully abandoned them in favor of the potato tacos, which were satisfyingly filling and decadent. Though the establishment offered the typical soft drinks and water, I decided on horchata, a Mexican rice drink that pleasantly reminded me of iced milk tea and was refreshing in the heat.

Afterwards, as we strolled through the many rows of vendors, it became apparent that if one sought to practice either their Spanish or their bargaining skills, this was the place to be. We did not negotiate ourselves because the prices were cheap enough for us to be content, but all around us there were people bargaining in either English or rapid-fire Spanish. There were many stalls, yet the selection was perhaps a little repetitive: most stalls sold miniature guitars, fans, marionettes, and calaveras, sugar skulls. There was also a surprising amount of Frida Kahlo merchandise—her famous portrait was plastered over handbags, T-shirts, earrings, plates, etc. Some stalls didn’t sell just Mexican-themed items—we passed by a stall that was selling pop art of Marilyn Monroe. In addition, the selection was not limited to merely trinkets from kiosks, as some stores were actual buildings and sold items such as handmade clothing. In the end, though, Angelica bought a miniature guitar, and I a beautiful fan that I used immediately, as well as a handmade vase for my mother.

Olvera Street is like a little bubble of Mexican culture. The line between Olvera Street and the rest of LA is so sharp that when we stepped out of the plaza, the sudden reduction of noise and color was jarring. Despite my embarrassingly poor Spanish—sorry, Mr. Whitney—Olvera Street was still an extraordinary cultural experience that’s only a short drive away.