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 grab 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 many of those newer, shinier spots are awesome. From gourmet burgers to Filipino rice bowls and falafel you’ll want to tell your friends about, 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 good falafel, and then there’s Kismet Falafel. Our go-to order here is the titular sandwich, an excellent green falafel which is hand-rolled and stuffed inside grilled flatbread, then topped with pickled cauliflower and fennel, mint, and cilantro. The funky Moroccan Salad is great, too - it features marinated olives, dried currants, and a spicy orange vinaigrette. Pair them both with a sumac-beet soda, which may sound weird, but is actually the best soda you’ll ever have. Trust us.
This Filipino stall towards the back of the market is from the same people as Republique, and it’s the kind of place that gets you excited for lunch. Sure, it’s 10:30am and you should be working on that finance report that’s due tomorrow, but instead you’re thinking about whether you should get the ribs or chicken today. All the food at Sari Sari Store is fantastic, so you can’t really go wrong - unless for some reason you don’t get a slice of the buko pie. You’ll need this coconut custard dessert to combat your inevitable 3pm slump.
LA has some of the best Thai food in America. And while there’s seemingly no end to excellent meals in Thai Town and its surrounding areas, the best panang curry in the city actually resides at GCM. Sticky Rice 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 at Grand Central Market, but we always head straight for Tacos Tumbras a Tomas. There’s a line for a reason, and it’s the carnitas. Sure, you could order the birria (goat) or the carne asada, but if you don’t opt for the carnitas you’ve made a mistake. You’ll only need a single order - just ask for more tortillas to go with your one taco and you’ll have enough protein for at least three. If you top them with green salsa and order a Mexican Coke, 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. We go for 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 that sandwich is, the bagel and lox might be even better.
When the chef who used to work at Union - one of the best pasta spots in the city - opens a red sauce Italian stand in Grand Central Market, it’s OK to get your hopes up. And Knead delivers on the promise of very good handmade pasta. Our favorite is the fantastically garlicky aglio olio, with high-quality olive oil covering every square inch of the al dente lasagnette noodles. The spaghetti and meatballs are good, too - the rich, flavorful meatballs are the main event, though we appreciate the bits of short rib in the red sauce, too. Whatever you do, don’t skip the garlic bread - you’ll need it to soak up whatever sauce is left on your plate. All that being said, you can skip the sandwiches - they just don’t live up to the pasta.
Sarita’s is a relative newcomer compared to old-timers like China Cafe, but it’s already established itself around these parts. This pupusa shop had a cameo in a La La Land song montage, so you’ll reliably find people taking photos at the bar stools, but you shouldn’t let that you deter you. Sarita’s has been here for more than 20 years for a reason. And that would be the truly excellent pupusas. There are a bunch of different types of these cheesy El Salvadorian stuffed-tortillas, and they’re all great.
For reasons we don’t fully fathom, the Eggslut line is still ridiculously long. But if you insist on trying it and need something to get you through the wait, Clark Street Bread is strategically placed next door, and has a bunch of pastries, plus a handful of toasts and sandwiches. Get a kouign-amann to eat while you stand, or just skip Eggslut altogether and have a slice of the very good avocado toast. The bread here is fantastic, so even if you’re eating somewhere else, you should probably grab a loaf to take home.
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This Bay Area transplant is doing the sustainable meat thing and doing it well. As with a number of vendors in Grand Central Market, Belcampo combines retail and restaurant in one. Next to a butcher case full of cuts that are common (New York steaks) and others that are less so (beef heart and tongue), there’s a small counter where you should order a burger. The Fast Burger is the Belcampo take on Shake Shack/In-N-Out-style. It comes with perfectly seasoned and crispy patties, and does a good job of showing those big deal burgers who’s boss.
One of the OG Grand Central Market tenants, China Cafe has been serving Chinese-American classics that have barely changed since 1959. Expect things like chow mein, kung pao chicken, and off-menu egg rolls. We like to elbow our way into a seat at the bar, order a huge bowl of wonton soup for $6.50, and load it with chili sauce.
Based on the name alone, you can probably guess what you should order at The Oyster Gourmet - this spot sources their oysters from all over (including Wellfleet, Baja, and Washington State), and the shuckers will be able to tell you what’s freshest. Along with a glass of wine, this is an excellent, lighter interlude between your Sari Sari and your Sticky Rice.
We like that this fried chicken stall has a row of barstools at the counter, so you can sit and eat your sandwich without having to fight a group of people in suits for a table elsewhere in GCM. But easy seating isn’t the only reason to eat here - the fried chicken is also very solid. You can get three or five pieces, but we like the sandwich, which comes with pickles, smoked paprika aioli, and lettuce.
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 available here. It’s certainly the best way to finish up before you roll yourself out the door and onto the 10.
With locations all over LA and even Vegas, Eggslut is now one of the most recognizable names in LA food, and this is the original. Yes, the lines will always be long and yes, people will be taking selfies with that yolk-covered burger. We can’t tell you that these breakfast sandwiches are worth the long wait, but if you walk past and there’s somehow no line, seize the opportunity and order the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.
Seafood-centric Mexican spot La Tostaderia has only been at Grand Central Market for a couple of years, but it has already achieved staple status. Go for the fish ceviche tostada - a tangy mix of white fish, tomato, onion, and cucumber that’s smothered in lime and topped with avocado. Be sure to make liberal use of the Tapatío they hand over with your order. La Tostaderia is a tasty, fresh change from most of the heavy offerings found around most of the market.
The Downtown LA Lunch Guide
To say the LA ramen scene has hit saturation point is an understatement. And yet, there’s always room for one more, right? Right. 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 the thickest we’ve come across in LA, warding off any concern a bowl of 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 Go Get ’Em Tiger. 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 chat with the insanely helpful staff. They’ll help you navigate their wide selection, hopefully give you more free samples than you needed to make a decision, and send you home with all the necessities to put together a cheese board that will make you feel very adult.
As of 2014, you can drink alcohol at GCM. And while Golden Road lost a bit of its allure with its acquisition by Anheuser-Busch, it still has local appeal. Their 20-tap tasting counter is the perfect spot to take a breath in between food binges to down a glass or two of Wolf Among Weeds. They also have pierogies, and you shouldn’t be afraid to order one.