One of Oaxacalifornia’s many enclaves runs along parallel stretches of Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards in Hollywood, centered around Western Avenue, where Oaxacan mini-markets, panaderías, restaurants, and food trucks operate. The most active corner is northwest of Sunset and Western next to the WSS Shoe Store, where Mixe-owned food trucks of Leo’s and Tacos Tamix both serve some of the city’s best tacos de al pastor. It’s also where LA’s first food vendor from Chinantla, part of the Cuenca del Papaloapan region of Oaxaca, has been serving since March 2020.
Co-owner Claudia Pacheco was born in Santiago Progreso in the municipality of San Juan Bautista Valle Nacional in the Chinantla, a mountainous region in northern Oaxaca teeming with tropical forests. “My grandmother speaks Chinanteco, and I’m very proud of my region,” says Pacheco, who dresses in a colorful huipil chinanteco to serve customers. Previously a U-Haul van but outfitted with a kitchen, La Chinantla Truck is wrapped in bright rainbow colors filled with rows of tempting aguas frescas.
In 2015, Pacheco began her journey as a street vendor selling aguas frescas with a different approach that won over new customers. “I don’t put ice in the jars because it waters down the flavor,” she says. Pacheco started with jamaica, horchata, limón con chia, and a drink she grew to love in LA, Thai iced tea, all of which are kept cool in an ice chest, with ice only added to cups prior to serving. When Pacheco moved to Alvarado and 6th, customers began to comment on the natural, concentrated, lightly sweetened flavors of her aguas frescas. The jamaica retains some of the bitter qualities natural to the hibiscus flower, while the horchata is balanced instead of overly sweet. Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate the strawberry or Thai iced tea agua frescas.
Gradually, Pacheco expanded the aguas frescas menu to include other Mexican traditions. “I researched creamy aguas frescas from Michoacán, drinks made with lime peel, and chilacayota from the Valles Centrales to expand our flavors,” she says. When Pacheco and her husband, Abel, decided to buy a truck they were only going to sell aguas frescas. “The day of our first service in the truck was March 15, 2020, the day restaurants closed,” she says. In response, they added popular street foods like elotes, desserts, Oaxacan dishes, and riffs on the birria trend from Chinantla.
“We wanted to really represent where we came from, so we called it La Chinantla, a name no one knows, but it gives a chance to talk about it and give our customers a little bit of Chinanteco culture,” says Pacheco.
The truck still offers several birria options such as tacos, mulitas, burritos, and birriamen (ramen with birria and consomé), but Angelenos will notice a slightly more complex blend of smoky, toasted chiles in the adobo, and a richer, darker stock compared to other birria stands. “This is actually barbacoa de res estilo Chinanteco, which is very similar to birria de res in the cooking technique,” says Pacheco. The mulitas and birriamen are especially delicious, with the noodle soup generously packed with beef. The menu is inspired by a 2018 trip the family took back to Oaxaca where they tried tacos filled with chapulines, queso fresco, avocado, and salsa.
La Chinatla’s taco de chapulín is rich in vitamins, protein, and nostalgia for Oaxacans, while the tlayuda, cooked on a flat top grill here instead of traditional charcoal, is one of the better local versions of the iconic dish. Avocado leaf-scented black bean puree and asientos (unrefined lard) provide a flavorful base for quesillo cheese, shredded cabbage, sliced tomatoes, avocados, and tasajo (beef jerky), layered inside a folded tlayuda tortilla. For those with lighter appetites, smaller memelas are smeared with the same beans and asientos, plus a slice of tasajo.
The truck’s trendy antojito menu include elotes, elotes locos encrusted with crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, sweet crepes, homemade paletas, and michelaguas, or aguas frescas prepared with michelada ingredients. “We watched videos on YouTube to learn how to make our own paletas, and perfected our paleta de leche quemada (burnt milk) recipe,” says Pacheco. Non-alcoholic beverage drinkers will love the spicy michelagua made with agua fresca de maracuya (passionfruit), the tangy chamoy rim sprinkled with Tajín.
There’s a little something for everyone at this agua fresca truck that happens to serve a ton of snacks. “Flamin’ Hot elotes pay the bills,” says Citlalli, Abel and Claudia’s daughter, who runs the truck’s social media account. La Chinantla is located at the intersection of multicultural Hollywood, and the neighborhood has fully embraced the family-owned truck. “Our customers are Chicanos, Oaxaqueños, Blacks, Armenians, Koreans, Vietnamese — they all can find something to like on our truck,” says Pacheco.
La Chinantla is located on Sunset Boulevard just west of Western Avenue, seven days a week. Open 8:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday and until 3 a.m. on weekends. Find them on Instagram at @la_chinantla.