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Some of LA’s Best Eats Are at the Car Wash

In a city this enamored with drive-thrus and eating off the hood of your car, cleaning your vehicle should be a culinary experience too

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Cars matter in California. For many they act as sanctuaries on daily morning commutes, as cultural signifiers to entire communities of like-minded drivers, and as places to sit, eat, relax, and escape. That’s not to take anything away from LA’s robust public transportation system or its growing walkability; it’s just that cars, and car culture, have always been a fixture in Southern California, and where there’s culture, there’s food.

This is the land that created the modern drive-thru, the land that perfected eating on the hood of your car. And with all those miles and meals there are bound to be a few messes to clean up, so LA went ahead and perfected the car wash restaurant, too. It makes sense when you think about it: Car washes almost always exist along busy streets, they’re well-lit at night, have ample room for diners and their rides, and because they’re much less busy late in the evening, owners are usually willing to cut deals with trucks, stands, and small restaurants for a portion of the profits.

With LA’s booming street and Instagram food cultures growing as a result of the pandemic, car washes have become backdrops for some of the most interesting meals around, and without all the overhead of more traditional restaurants.

It’s hard to find a more perfect iteration of car wash dining than at Indimex Eats, the standalone Hollywood restaurant that shares a parking lot with a 24-hour self-service car wash at the corner of Cahuenga and Santa Monica boulevards. The tan brick building feels like any other nondescript restaurant in town, but inside is a sprawling menu that weaves from Indian staples like samosas and curries to more out-there affairs, including lamb tikka burritos and tofu tortas with black lentils and a smear of raita. The result is a wonderfully unique-to-LA combination of flavors that appeals to many, much like the genre-bending Kogi BBQ tacos from a decade prior. Plus, no need to keep a stash of extra napkins in the glove box for the inevitable masala spill; you’re already at the car wash.

A blue table with bright orange tikka masala sauce over fries.
Chicken tikka masala fries
Farley Elliott
A bright, brick restaurant showcases Mexican and Indian flavors from the outside.
Indimex Eats
Farley Elliott

Up in North Hollywood, the car wash food scene has been elevated thanks to Meat Me, an upstart street food stand that focuses on LA’s famous smash burgers. There are plenty of pretenders to the street burger game these days, but only Meat Me can lay claim to using halal meat and Armenian sujuk in its patty blend. Located on the grounds of the Tujunga Car Wash at the intersection of Burbank and Tujunga, this newcomer is already pulling in legions of fans from across the greater San Fernando Valley, particularly the Armenian kids who, now more than ever, use Instagram like their own personal menu board.

Nearby in Sherman Oaks is Hot Motha Clucker, another car wash pop-up that’s popular with the San Fernando Valley’s young-and-hungry demographic. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of Nashville-style hot chicken stands around greater Los Angeles these days, thanks in no small part to the success of brick-and-mortar places like Howlin’ Ray’s and Dave’s Hot Chicken, both of which started on the streets. Hot Motha Clucker is built in the same vein, and serves five nights a week from the Fashion Square Car Wash, where patient diners wait in long lines for spicy, tender sandwiches with lots of sauce and melty American cheese.

Much like Hawaiian Hot Chicken further north, the team has even branched out into a space that’s not attached to a car wash, but Hot Motha Clucker is keeping its original street outlet in Sherman Oaks too, just in case.

Car washes are bright, open spaces normally situated on busy thoroughfares, and that makes them ideal for the guerrilla-marketing tactics of the city’s thousands of taco trucks and stands — and for fans seeking a bite of al pastor. At the famed Tacos Leo truck on Glendale Boulevard in Historic Filipinotown, fans queue up in front of a bright-orange truck in the back of a nameless car wash parking lot to watch the taquero flick off pieces of marinated pork and land them in a still-warm tortilla. Others wait for the meat to be stacked into dueling taco-sized tortillas and stuffed with melted cheese to form a mulita. Orders arrive by the disposable plateful, with fans hovering over trash cans or the hoods of their cars to down those last few delicious bites — usually before getting right back in line for more.

Tacos Tamix
Tacos Leo
Crystal Coser

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