One of my favorite street-taco vendors, Tacos el Sampa, set up shop on West Evans Avenue a few years ago, selling carnitas, barbacoa, and tacos al pastor from a trailer equipped with a flat top and rotisserie and sheltered with a blue FEMA-style tarp. Over the course of a couple of years, the menu solidified — the uncommon but questionable tacos arabes were dropped, for example — and the hours became more regular. Tacos el Sampa was one of the true south-side stalwarts, showing up on the same corner regardless of the weather and setting up folding tables and chairs for customers in the parking lot of a vacant temporary labor office when the weather was good. After the office re-opened last year, the taco vendor disappeared for a while — then eventually reappeared across the street in a much less visible location that had me worried that the vendor wouldn't be able to draw the same crowds that frequented the old location. But rather than throw in the tortilla, Tacos el Sampa now has a permanent home.
After having little success in that spot tucked alongside an auto mechanic's garage, the mobile taqueria moved to the parking lot of a vacant nightclub that had most recently been Starz2 Karaoke and, before that, the unfortunately named Phatbaby's Lounge. The blue tarp and the Tacos el Sampa banner with its signature dancing jalapeño could be found in sub-freezing weather, rain or snow, often with a dozen or so customers seated around card tables or ladling salsas from enormous stone molcajetes. And now that the club has opened again a Bar la Estrella, Tacos el Sampa has moved its food operation inside. The Starz sign is still there, but below it a yellow banner advertises tacos, tortas, burritos, gorditas and sopes. A second banner on the building features the familiar dancing jalapeño, only with the name Bar la Estrella instead of Tacos el Sampa.
The street-food scene on West Evans has never rivaled that of Federal Boulevard, but Tacos el Sampa was as good as any other vendor I've found town. A few others have managed to carve out a niche — Taco King has held its ground just west of Bar la Estrella for a couple of years, and recently Tacos el Gringo took the place of El Guero Taquero at Evans and Tejon. But Tacos el Sampa's move into a brick-and-mortar spot is the most promising development yet; here's hoping its delicious street fare survives the transition to an indoor kitchen.
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