Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

On the Street: Latin Flava Cultural District Cart Serving Up Tastes of Puerto Rico

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

On the Street: Latin Flava Cultural District Cart Serving Up Tastes of Puerto Rico

Article excerpt

Hector Aponte is in good position to put the yuca relleno on the local fast track -- in foot-traffic heaven near bus stops in the heart of the Cultural District.

The 4-by-10-foot food trailer he owns and operates with partner Barbara Balcita offers Pittsburgh a rare commodity -- the taste of Puerto Rico -- from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, across from Katz Plaza on Penn Avenue.

As opposed to food trucks, which are regulated by the city to stay a prescribed distance from permanent restaurants and relocate every 30 minutes, the food cart scene is a more-or-less permanent sidewalk affair, determined by lottery and a growing Downtown.

"This is our spot until we give it up," said Mr. Aponte, a Brooklyn native of Puerto Rican parents. "This site was on the list [as available] in January." Another Downtown vendor told him that "if I can get it I should grab it," he said. "This is a hot spot."

The yuca relleno, a deep-fried patty made with the mashed root vegetable cassava, known in Latin America as yuca, is a regular item at Aponte's Latin Flava, as are chicken and beef empanadas. Every day there is also a rotating special. A special of beans and rice with steak and onion in red sauce sold out the other day by 12:30 p.m., he said.

Mr. Aponte's trailer is one of 265 food trucks and trailers that operate under permit by the Allegheny County Health Department. That number is up from 2011, when 220 mobile vendor permits were issued, said Guillermo Cole, health department spokesman.

In 2012, the number jumped to 243 and this year to 265, he said. Among this number, 77 are inside Heinz Field, PNC Park, Consol Energy Center and Peterson Events Center.

He said he could not break down the numbers to indicate where the growth is greatest, "but anecdotally, Downtown" is the growth area.

When mobile vendors are in the city, they are additionally regulated by the Bureau of Building Inspection, but trailers, or food carts, go through the vetting process of the Department of Public Works to locate on sidewalks, said Mary Fleming, assistant chief of the bureau.

When a vendor leaves a site, it may come up for grabs in the annual lottery. …

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