I don’t know whether it makes me a picky misanthrope or a gentrification-happy hipster that I’m thrilled to see food halls making a comeback as a big-city casual dining option. At once a nod to the past and a showcase for the future, the new wave of communal food spaces blend old-fashioned market shopping with of-the-moment food trends (donuts! ramen! poke bowls!). Reading Terminal Market, Chelsea Market, Faneuil Hall, the Ferry Building, and Pike Place Market have all capitalized on this for decades—centuries, in some cases.
Situated across the street from the iconic Bradbury Building, just down the hill from the new Broad Museum, and a few blocks away from the recently re-opened DTLA classic Clifton’s Cafeteria, the market, which first opened its doors in 1917, has repositioned itself from a has-been to a prime destination.
The purveyors inside are a mix of traditional and new vendors that make the mammoth market equal parts restaurant and grocery store: prepared dishes that run the gamut from penang curry to pupusas to omnipresent tacos al pastor, and ingredients ranging from dried chiles to sushi-grade fish to freshly cranked pasta to dish soap and sponges in the subterranean discount store. Neon signs—a market-mandated fixture at every vendor’s spot—give the space just the right feel of historic, hip, and kitschy.
On a balmy weekday afternoon, when all the doors are flung open and skylights flood the block-long space with California sunshine, the market is downright blissful compared with some of the overheated, overcrowded food halls I frequent regularly (Chelsea Market, I love ya, but you make me want to start punching people in the face).
The simultaneous problem and joy about Grand Central Market, as with most of these halls, is the task of narrowing down one’s eating and drinking choices. Even after stopping by for both breakfast and lunch on the same day, the options were still too overwhelming for our group of three clean plate clubbers to take everything on.
Though I felt compelled to wait in line for the eponymous Slut—a ramekin of sous vide-coddled egg and creamy potato—at Eggslut, I had a moment of regret that I hadn’t swapped it out for a breakfast potato-and-cheese pupusa from Sarita’s as my friend Kim did. (No regrets overall, since that’s why extra forks and spoons were invented, and both were reliably satisfying choices from the vendors selling food before 11 am.) A blackberry and vanilla cream hand pie from Valerie’s gave us our fruit requirement for the day.
If it’s on tap, I’m here to tell you as a beer professional that Golden Road Brewing’s El Nitro stout is a fine companion to morning coffee. And I’m also here to tell you as a pierogi professional that the Golden Road counter is one of the few places in LA where you can get pierogies to go with your beer (!!!). Even better, GR shares the Pierogi Love mindset of tweaking their twice-fried ‘rogies with less-traditional fillings like banh mi pork and creamy leeks. Despite my desires to sit at every kiosk in the market, sampling oysters, currywurst, burrata, brisket, and chow mein, the allure of West Coast pierogies was undeniable.
In a city as vast and varied as Los Angeles, it’s easy to spend a week within its borders and still not be able to sample all the food and culture it has to offer. Grand Central Market may not be the perfect all-encompassing solution, but if you’ve got a day or even just a single meal to spare, take a walk through its corridors to get a hint of both LA’s culinary history and its future in one big bite.
Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Hours vary.
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