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What is a Mexican restaurant without guacamole? For that matter, what is a hipster cafe without avocado toast? These are the questions facing a number of restaurateurs this summer, and you will notice the avocado theme here. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, avocados cost nearly double what they did a year ago.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: In LA's Boyle Heights neighborhood, El Tepeyac Cafe uses loads of avocados for its delicious homemade guacamole - 50 boxes a week. Operations manager Bernadette Thome says they have no choice but to pay more.
BERNADETTE THOME: I mean, we're in a Mexican restaurant, and everything pretty much on our plate requires guacamole, so to completely be out of it would not work.
DEL BARCO: El Tepeyac has been around since 1955, and Thome says the owners are resigned to price spikes. She says they try not to charge customers more, though they sometimes have had to. The higher prices mean they have to shop around.
THOME: We always buy an avocado somewhere, so if we can get a different quality or different sizes, like, a little bit cheaper and they're a little bit smaller or a different kind of avocado, then we'll do that as well, too, until we can get through it.
DEL BARCO: There's a simple explanation for expensive avocados, says David Magana, a senior horticulture analyst in Fresno with RaboResearch. People want them.
DAVID MAGANA: We have the highest, or the strongest, demand for avocados in the U.S. probably ever.
DEL BARCO: Magana analyzes wholesale prices from Mexico, which supplies most of this country's avocados. He says 24-pound cartons of midsize avocados from Michoacan are selling for $66 each.
MAGANA: That is 91% higher than what they were a year ago.
DEL BARCO: A couple of weeks ago, they were even higher. Magana says fruit and vegetable production is always subject to weather conditions. This year, production of California avocados was way down.
MAGANA: Remember that last year we had a heat wave in California in July, August, so that impacted blooming. It started later than normal. The yields were lower this year.
DEL BARCO: Mexican farmers had to take up the slack for California, so they sent their best. But now, they're running out.
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DEL BARCO: In LA's Silver Lake district, the restaurant Sqirl is known for its gourmet avocado toast, an entire avocado on a thick slice of country bread from a local bread-maker with garlic creme fraiche and topped with hot pickled carrots in a homemade za'atar.
JESSICA KOSLOW: Kind of wild and quirky - not what you think of when you think of avocado toast.
DEL BARCO: Jessica Koslow is the chef and owner of Sqirl, where the avocado toast goes for $10 apiece.
KOSLOW: I do believe that avocados are a luxury item.
DEL BARCO: Koslow says she only uses avocados from California, which are not always in season.
KOSLOW: So that's where the challenge comes in. How do you have avocados year-round? We don't, but we're not everyone else.
DEL BARCO: Koslow says some restaurants substitute avocados with other ingredients, like cheese. But when her local suppliers run out, she simply takes her avocado dishes off the menu. By now, Koslow is used to seeing high prices for avocados everywhere.
KOSLOW: You know, last year, I was in New York, and I saw avocados being sold in the Lower East Side for $4 an avocado. That shocked me. I remember laughing and taking a photo of it. And now it doesn't surprise me.
DEL BARCO: The good news is that prices are expected to lower by September as production ramps back up in Mexico.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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