All the City’s a Market

It’s one of my favorite things about living in Los Angeles. On any given week, I may visit any number of ethnic markets: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Korean groceries; Italian delis; Russian and Polish markets; Mexican carnicerias, Oaxacan specialty shops and the Vallarta supermercado; stores dedicated to Persian, Argentine, Hawaiian, British, Spanish, Ethiopian and all other variety of global foods.

Grand Central Market stall in 1920

Grand Central Market stall in 1920

One market I used to visit periodically if I was in the neighborhood — which happened to be the farmacias, counterfeit sportswear shops and old-theaters-turned-Mexican-iglesias of Broadway in downtown — was the Grand Central Market. An open-air affair spanning the length of the block on the ground floor of a large building, the market opened in 1917 and over the course of recent decades had turned into its equivalent of any similar market in Mexico City, Mazatlan, Guadalajara or a hundred other large Mexican cities — piles of dried chiles, pinto beans, mangos and nopales, cases of stinky meat and pig’s heads, votive candles and fresh corn tortillas.

But with the renaissance of downtown has come a rebirth of the Grand Central Market. I had heard that the market had become a legitimate food destinations. And as we were headed downtown to the Dwell Design Conference anyway, decided to make a lunch stop and check it out.

A pig's head outside the market welcomes you — a nod to tradition

A pig’s head outside the market welcomes you — a nod to tradition

Thankfully, much of the Mexican flavor of the market remains — there are still nopales and piles of dried chiles and beans. But the stinky meat displays and whole pig heads have been replaced by boutique meat purveyors with names spelled out in cool retro fonts, the tortilla conveyor belts by racks of grilling Thai street chicken, smelly fish counter with shucked oyster counter.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the building was the queue for the Eggslut counter, which snaked around from one side of the market to the other. Young, trendily dressed, tattooed interracial city couples waited patiently for whatever the eatery was dishing out. Clearly, being a small country pack of impatient children and their father with his cell-level aversion to lines, we were not going to eat there.

The queue for the Eggslut

The queue for the Eggslut

I decided to do a bit of investigating when I got home, to see if there was some reason people lined up for Eggslut other than the simple sheep-like compulsion to get into a line when they see one. The descriptions on Yelp of this brick-and-mortar outpost of a popular food truck revealed all the standard attractions that inspire young foodies to queue up — brioche buns, chipotle ketchup, sriracha mayonnaise, applewood bacon… Tasty, I’m sure, but nothing unusual there. So I opted for more traditional options.

Which brings me back to that Thai street chicken — the first thing I decided to buy, from a vendor with the simple name, Sticky Rice. The gai yang smelled smoky and sweet, served with a pad of their namesake rice and a little bowl of green papaya salad. Next I stopped by the Berlin Currywurst for a Nuernberger sausage on a fat roll with onions and sauerkraut and some insanely delicious fries.

Villa Moreliana

Villa Moreliana

I couldn’t do a lunch at the Grand Central Market without some Mexican, so I stopped by Villa Moreliana, which specializes in pig (on the taco menu: ribs, skin, tongue, ham, heart, liver, kidney, snout, ears, feet and tripe). I opted for the carnitas platter, their specialty — a pile of oily, fatty butt chopped and served with steamed tortillas, rice and beans and blazing hot salsa. While I was waiting, the hombre behind the counter handed me a carnitas taco to snack on.

I brought our global feast — Thailand, Germany, Mexico — back to the outside table on the Broadway sidewalk, and we all dug in. There was something oddly harmonious about the meal, sitting there in the heart of the melting pot that is L.A. Each taste was utterly authentic to its provenance, and utterly delicious.

Lunch

Lunch

After lunch, we took a more leisurely stroll about the market. I saw lots of other places I wanted to try and will have to save for the next trip downtown: the beautiful cuts at Belcampo Meat Company, Mark Peel’s Bombo fish counter, DTLA cheese monger, Roast to Go antijitos Mexicanos, McConnell’s Ice Cream, who make my favorite flavor ever: sweet cream. Who knows, maybe we’ll even hit Eggslut if the line’s ever short enough — you know they’re serving some pork belly somewhere on that menu.

Here’s a quick pic tour for you. Better yet, go visit yourself.

Grand Central Market
317 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Hours: Sun – Weds 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., Thurs – Sat 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Tasty cuts at Belcampo

Tasty cuts at Belcampo

IMG_7350

Trendy retro branding

Trendy retro branding

Two shots of Imogen

Two shots of Imogen

Flynn and the Mexican produce

Flynn and the Mexican produce

Beans and chiles

Beans and chiles

Market girls

Market girls

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Greggie
    Jun 05, 2015 @ 01:17:00

    Great mouth-watering story and terrific photos. I forgot how much Flynn has grown since I held him as an infant in your old house. Yes, we are all getting older. I was at the market recently and pleased that they have blended some of the old stalls with new and added seating. Eggslut was just featured on Eye on LA. I didn’t see McConnell’s. I’ll have to look for it next time.

    Greggie

    Reply

  2. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Jun 05, 2015 @ 01:55:16

    Wonderful lunch Sean-Thank you for sharing! Have a great weekend!

    Reply

  3. Glennis
    Jun 05, 2015 @ 13:17:40

    What a coincidence! I was just there on Wednesday afternoon. The line for Eggslut is unreal! My friend and I also had carnitas from Morelianas. I’m intrigued by the oyster stand, but I wish the prices were better. I’m glad to see there are still old-timers there, but I worry that the place will become too gentrified.

    Reply

  4. Glennis
    Jun 05, 2015 @ 19:09:36

    Yeah, it was always a little weird to thread your way past the crowd around the liquor store. On my Wednesday visit, I actually visited the restroom and it was surprisingly clean! I wish they’d kept the neon sign from the old fishmonger – wonder what happened to it?

    Reply

  5. andreathompson2
    Jun 07, 2015 @ 22:46:00

    I think they think it’s cool to stand in line at a place called “Eggslut”. Immy is gorgeous!!

    Reply

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