We get it. The thought of Grand Central Market can be a drag. The tourists, the lines, the hovering of said tourists while you eat your taco so they can score your table when you're done. It's not exactly what you envisioned for your Saturday afternoon.
The thing is, Grand Central Market overcomes all of these things. Why? The food. Sure, lots of worthy businesses have been pushed out in lieu of newer, shinier ones, but let's get real - those newer, shinier spots are awesome. From gourmet burgers to panang curry to falafel we’ll drive across the city for, some of the best food in all of Los Angeles is happening at GCM right now, and it’s time for you to (re)experience it. So take a breath, come hungry, and consult our guide to make the very most out of your day at Grand Central Market.
There’s falafel and then there’s Madcapra. Your Israeli aunt might faint at what’s going on in this corner of the market, but this is falafel taken to incredible new heights. Like Andre the Giant heights. Order a green falafel and watch as they hand roll and grill flatbread to order before topping it with cauliflower, pickled fennel, labneh and crisp, never greasy, balls of chickpea goodness. Pair it with a sumac-beet soda which, yes, sounds really weird, but trust us on this one, it’s the best soda you’ll ever have.
Have you heard? LA has the best Thai food in America. And while Thai Town and its surrounding areas seemingly have no end to top-notch cuisine, don’t look now because the best panang curry in the city actually resides at GCM. Sticky Rice (and their more noodle-based concept Sticky Rice II) has immensely solid Thai street food across the board. But if you don’t go all-in on that sweet and savory panang, you’re simply doing it wrong. We drive long distances to get this dish, and so will you after trying it.
There are a few taco places to choose from at GCM, but we always head straight for Tacos Tumbras a Tomas. There's a line for a reason - carnitas. There’s a wide range of meat choices, including birria (that would be goat) and carne asada, but if you go past the carnitas you’ve made a mistake. You'll only need a single order - just ask for more tortillas and you'll have enough protein for at least three tacos. Top with green salsa and with a Mexican coke to sip and you’re doing Grand Central Market right.
Langer’s, Canter’s, Greenblatt’s, Brent’s. While the old pastrami strongholds of LA were duking it out for best in town (spoiler, it’s Langer’s), Wexler’s quietly threw its hat into the ring and changed everything. Make no doubt about it, this is some of the best pastrami in Los Angeles. Our move is the MacArthur Park (an ode to Langer’s, of course) with coleslaw, swiss cheese, and russian dressing piled on top. But for as close to perfection as it is, the bagel and lox might be even better.
For as incredible as GCM’s transformation has been over the last few years, there’s still a faction of people miffed at the rapid disappearance of the stalls who had called GCM home for years. Sarita’s might only be 15 years old, but that’s old world status around these parts. And with over 15 varieties, even first-time eaters of the cheesy El Salvadorian treat will find something they love.
This Bay Area transplant is doing the sustainable meat thing and doing it well. As with a number of vendors in the market, Belcampo combines retail and restaurant in one. Next to a butcher case full of cuts common (New York steaks) and less so (beef heart and tongue), there’s a small counter where you can order takeout inspired classics like their Belcampo Cheeseburger. The Fast Burger is the Belcampo take on a Shake Shack/In N Out-style burger, and does a good job of showing those titans who’s boss. In both burgers, the patties is perfectly seasoned and crisp in the right places. We’re not mad at the do-gooder feeling that comes with eating grass-fed, well cared for meat, either.
One of the OG Grand Central Market tenants - they’ve been open since 1959 - China Cafe has a menu full of Chinese-American classics that have barely changed since then. We’re talking chow mein, kung pao chicken and off-menu egg rolls. Our pick? The wonton soup. $5.50 gets you a huge bowl of broth, flavorful wontons and bok choy, with some chilli sauce on the side that you’ll definitely want to utilize. Your challenge - actually getting a seat at the bar. Be prepared to throw some strategic elbows to secure your spot.
You’ve probably seen McConnell’s tubs in a grocery store, which means you definitely put them in your shopping cart, therefore you know why the line here is always so long. You could go for a scoop (Boysenberry Rosé Milk Jam anyone?), but why settle at just that - there’s sundaes, floats, and build-your-own ice cream sandwiches on offer here. It’s certainly the best way to finish up before you roll yourself out the door and onto the 10.
Eggslut needs no introduction. Arguably the spot that sparked the entire GCM modernization, Eggslut is now one of the most recognizable names in LA food period. Yes, the lines will always be long and no, you can’t turn on Instagram without seeing that yolk-covered burger, but the fact remains it’s godd*mn delicious. We usually go for the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, but don’t count out the tri-tip and chimmichurri extravaganza that is The Gaucho.
Although it’s one of the newer kids on the GCM block, La Tostaderia feels like it’s been in town much longer. This seafood-centric spot is serving up tasty tostadas piled with ceviche and seafood tacos galore. Go for the fish ceviche tostada - a tangy mix of white fish, tomato, onion and cucumber, smothered in lime and topped with avocado. Be sure to make liberal use of the Tapatío they hand over with your order. It’s a tasty, fresh change from the heavy offerings found around most of the market.
To say the LA ramen scene has hit saturation point is an understatement. And yet, there’s always room for one more, right? Right. And Ramen Hood is just the spot. In no world should vegan ramen be as good as regular ramen, but in Ramen Hood’s case, it’s better. The sunflower seed broth is rich, flavorful and fantastic. The noodles are as a thick as you’ll find in LA, warding off any concern a bowl vegan ramen will leave you hungry. And that egg you see floating on top? It’s made from soy milk and wizardry. Get the spicy ramen to take it all to the next level.
Dominating the Hill Street end of the market is G&B, a big coffee operation from the same people as Larchmont’s Go Get ‘Em Tiger. It’s also a serious coffee operation, with drip coffee, cold brew, and espresso all made from carefully selected beans. Walk up to the bar to order a cappuccino (perhaps with their housemade macadamia almond milk), or take a seat at the counter for a waffle with your macchiato.
Dairy-free people, this one’s not for you. DTLA Cheese celebrates everyone’s favorite milk product with salads and sandwiches, but our favorite thing to do is to head towards the cheese case and get talking to the insanely helpful staff. They’ll help you navigate through their wide selection and send you home with all the necessities to put together a cheese board that will make you feel like a real life grown up.
Attention: You can now drink alcohol at GCM. And while Golden Road lost a bit of it’s allure with its recent acquisition from Budweiser, it still very much has local appeal. Their 20-tap tasting counter is the perfect spot to take a breath in between food binges and down a glass or two of Wolf Among Weeds. Don’t be afraid to order a pierogi though.
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