East Side Eats LA is out to corner the market with savory squared bundles that are part empanada, part samosa, and uniquely named “Squadros.” These hybrid meal pockets packed with farm fresh fillings are a new creation from East Side Eats LA co-owners and chefs, Jose Vazquez and Shruti Patel.
“The entire idea behind Squadros is that it’s a complete fusion of Latin and Indian cuisine,” said Shruti. “I’m Indian and he’s Latin, so we combined our two favorite things to eat—samosas and empanadas—and came up with something on our own.”
Squadros are made with zesty fillings of chorizo, chicken, or vegetables wrapped in a thin layer of pastry and formed into sensibly squarish shapes before taking a dip in the fryer. The result is a baffling balance of light crispness, satisfying heft, and bold flavors.
“As soon as people try it, they dig it,” Jose said. “It’s something completely new that no one else is doing.”
East Side Eats LA currently serves Squadros dishes at the City Hall Farmers Market (Thursdays) in downtown LA and the Torrance Farmers Market (Tuesdays). Every plate comes with three Squadros, each over three inches wide, cut in halves and splashed with flavorful housemade sauces, ensuring that you’re in for a full-fledged meal: fork required.
On the El Loco plate, Squadros are filled with housemade chorizo and potato, enhanced by Latin-skewed flavors of adobo aioli, crema Mexicana and a sprinkling of queso fresco. The Para Los Birds plate has Squadros stuffed with spiced organic ground chicken breast akin to Indian keema, drizzled with crema Mexicana and a rich, tangy blueberry barbecue sauce inspired by the flavors of tamarind chutney. El Classico is the most Indian-influenced Squadros plate, packed with seasonal organic vegetables and topped with the blueberry barbecue and a mint-cilantro aioli. “We also add a tajin yogurt because there’s so much yogurt in Indian food.” said Shruti.
A pico de gallo mix of freshly diced cucumbers and tomatoes adds color to both the chicken and vegetable plates, and all Squadros dishes are garnished with cilantro and accompanied by a side of cabbage slaw. The fresh vegetables, herbs, and produce used to make Squadros are often sourced directly from other vendors in attendance at the same farmers markets, including C&L Farms, Blessed Farms, Thao Farms, and JCK Farms.
As a fusion refreshment, East Side Eats offers a jamaica (hah-MY-kah) agua fresca made with hibiscus flowers and Indian black tea, which adds a caffeine kick for midday lunch crowds at the market. Its deep red cloudy color comes from using fresh blossoms, giving it a fruitier depth of flavor that stands apart from the bright pink versions made with dried and processed flowers. East Side Eats gets these hibiscus flowers and several other specialty ingredients for Squadros from small local vendors at traditional Mexican markets in East Los Angeles.
“A lot of our vendors come from East LA so that we’re always giving back to the community,” Shruti explained.
For catering gigs and pop-up events, Shruti and Jose use East LA panaderias, tortillerias, goods from Homeboy Bakery, and small shops based in El Mercadito de La Primera. They also volunteer their time at the LA Kitchen culinary job training center, the East Los Angeles Women’s Center, the Downtown Women’s Center, and the St. Joseph Center.
With Jose hailing from Boyle Heights and Shruti growing up in Diamond Bar, both chefs are personally tied to the Eastern area. They first met as classmates at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena and worked together in boutique catering before building separate careers at noteworthy fine dining restaurants and high-end catering houses on the Westside. All the while, they continued to cross paths and cook up culinary schemes, taking inspiration from their Eastside upbringings until they finally teamed up full-time on East Side Eats LA in January.
“With our kind of background in this industry, we’ve been very fortunate to travel the world. As we get older, all we want to do is get back and make sure that our roots are known,” Jose said. “Foodwise, it seems that we’re very forgotten on the Eastside. And we want to bring to light that we do it just as well on the East side as the West.”
While your first taste of East Side Eats may be from a Squadros stand at the farmers market, that’s only a small glimpse into their culinary capabilities. Given their combined resumes, Shruti and Jose shine at customizing both casual and formal menus for catered events, ranging from small in-home parties to large, illustrious celebrations such as the Oscars and Golden Globes. Drawing from this breadth of experience, they’re able to take a meticulous yet creative approach to any catering request.
“We like drawing people in based on Squadros and then introducing them to the idea that we do many more things,” Shruti said.
In an extreme demonstration of this versatility, Jose and Shruti competed as a team on the Cooking Channel show Farmers’ Market Flip, where they scrambled to impress judges with impromptu dishes made from available farmers market ingredients. They ultimately won the episode with an improvised dish of kettle-corn-crusted chicken tenders and a citrus salad.
“We try to pride ourselves on being a jack of all trades. On our off time, we’re cooking new things, and we’re trying new things to continually build our knowledge of what food can be and how to pair things together,” Jose said. “It’s always fun to be able to offer what the clients want. We can make it happen at the end of the day.”
Shruti and Jose also collaborate on a pop-up series, Rangoli Food Through Color, which specializes in Indian-influenced cuisine. Their next event will be an Indian samosa workshop and cocktail dinner on Sept. 22 at Stage + Table in Santa Monica, and plans are in the works for a brunch at Phat Birds in October.
Between the farmers markets, catering events, and pop-ups, the mounting schedule for Jose and Shruti is a testament to their unfettered enthusiasm for making food. “In our culinary class, our teachers told us, ‘You guys are going to make a name for yourselves,’” Shruti recalled. “And that’s been something that we’ve always taken with us.”
“The most important thing to us when we cook together, is the fact that I know she’ll always stand alongside me, and I’ll always stand alongside her,” Jose added.
Besides the farmers markets, you can find East Side Eats LA’s Squadros booth at the Chinatown Nights festival on Aug. 25, and more appearances at local breweries are in planning for the fall. For updates, visit East Side Eats LA’s Instagram and Facebook pages, as well as Shruti’s pages on Facebook and Instagram.