Kerstin Kühn explores Grand Central Market

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th March 2015
In her latest blog post, LA-based food writer Kerstin Kühn explores Grand Central Market, one of the city’s historic culinary gems. At nearly 100 years old, Grand Central Market is one of Los Angeles’ most historic venues and cultural gems and a recent revival has seen it turn into one of the city’s culinary hotspots, too.  The 30,000sq ft market first opened in 1917 and has been in continuous operation since, reflecting Downtown Los Angeles’ ever-changing population. In the early days, vendors included the likes of green grocers, fishmongers, Jewish delis and butchers and over time, it became a popular destination for the city’s large Latino community, with Mexican food vendors and spice stalls joining the market. In 1984, property developer Ira Yellin bought Grand Central Market with the aim of preserving this historic Downtown site and turning it into a vibrant, contemporary food spot. He passed away in 2002 and since then his widow Adele has continued to champion his vision. In the past two years, Grand Central Market, much like the rest of Downtown LA, has seen a remarkable transformation. Less than a decade ago, it was mainly about tacos and fresh produce and, although authentic, it was a bit rough around the edges and not exactly a hang out for the food loving masses.BelCampo Today, more and more contemporary operators are joining the market, in a complete overhaul of its offering. Ranging from a BBQ restaurant to an artisan cheese vendor, hipster coffee shop, gourmet pizza place and a healthy juice store, what once was a destination for blue collar workers in search of a hearty lunch, the market now also draws in a crowd of suits from the nearby financial district and foodies from across town. Some of the traditional operators – like the 56-year-old China Café, a handful of Latino vendors, a green grocer and two spice stores – remain but many have been replaced by an increasing number of modern concepts. While some critical voices argue that the gentrification of the market takes away its historic value, others insist the new wave of operators is giving those long-standing vendors exposure they would never otherwise have had, including a place in food mag Bon Appetit’s top 10 hottest restaurants in America. What’s clear is that Grand Central Market is now more popular than ever before. Its rich diversity of food stalls epitomises Los Angeles as a whole and not only makes it a unique culinary destination but also the most fascinating of all the food halls in the USA today. Here’s a highlight of some of my favourite Grand Central Market vendors:

Belcampo Meat Co.

A full-service butcher-shop-cum-restaurant serving 100% natural, organic, grass-fed meat and poultry raised on a 10,000-acre ranch in Northern California. All meat is butchered on site and what doesn’t sell, gets cooks up in the kitchen, meaning there’s virtually no food waste. What to order: The cheeseburger is the pièce de résistance here: a patty made from dry-aged beef, served medium-rare and covered with caramelised onions and cheddar. At $12.50 it ain’t cheap but it’s worth every cent.

Eggslut

EggSlutThis kiosk bills itself as a ‘chef driven, gourmet food concept’ that celebrates the humble egg. The ovo-centric menu takes classic comfort food and gives it a modern twist, including sandwiches on house-made brioche buns, burgers and salads. Eggs aren’t just for breakfast at this place but for lunch, dinner and any other time of day, everyday. What to order: The namesake signature dish comprises a coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar and served with a demi baguette ($9). It’s an ingenious balance of comfort and innovation.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream

Mcconnells Founded in Santa Barbara in 1949, McConnell’s makes its fine ice cream from scratch using the milk and cream from Central Coast grass-grazing cows, which it pasteurises at its own creamery. It sources local, sustainable and organic ingredients from farms and artisan producers and ice cream flavours range from chocolate covered strawberries, to sea salt cream and cookies, and toasted coconut almond chip. What to order: Eureka lemon and marionberries is one of the most delicious flavours. Oregon marionberries are cooked to jammy perfection and folded into tart and tangy, Eureka lemon, milk and cream.

The Oyster Gourmet

Run by Frenchman Christophe Happillon, who bills himself as Los Angeles' only Master Ecailler (shellfish master), this is GCM’s most upmarket and unique venue. Serving sustainable seafood from around the USA, with a focus on oysters, it’s as much its menu as it is its unique design that draws in the punters. The 14-seat circular bar comprises a wooden structure designed to resemble a clam. Oyster_GourmetFeaturing canvas wings that can be pulled up and down, they create a sense of space and openness when up and completely close in the bar when down. What to order: Oysters aside, the tuna poke is a must try. A generous portion of cubed raw tuna is seasoned with sesame oil, soy sauce and chopped chillies and heaped on a scallop shell ($10). Paired with a cold glass of Sancerre, it’s heaven.

Sticky Rice

This Thai street food concept was the first to join the market as part of the ascending wave of new operators. Sticky Rice, which started as a stand at the Altadena Farmer's Market featuring food fromStickyRice chef Johnny Lee, is a counter worth sitting at both for the food and to watch the chefs in action in the tiny open kitchen. What to order: Gai yang is the thing to order here, tangy Thai barbecued chicken is served with sticky rice and som tam, spicy green papaya salad ($9).

Tacos Tumbras a Tomas

One of the long-standing traditional vendors, Tacos Tumbras a Tomas has been run by Tomas Martinez and his brothers Manuel and Jesus for 20 years. The stall built its success on the famous fried pork dish of carnitas but also specialises in birria, goat served in a spicy red sauce. Other meats Tacos_Tumbrasinclude carne asada, grilled chicken and carne al pastor, which are served in tacos, burritos, tortas, tostadas or in combination plates with rice and beans. What to order: For $3 you get a vastly generous portion of carne asada piled on corn tortillas, with lime wedges and extra tortillas on the side. It’s greasy, spicy and fresh all in one mouthful.   Kerstin_KuhnKerstin Kühn is a freelance food and travel writer, specialising in restaurant and chef stories. The former restaurant editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, she relocated from London to Los Angeles last summer, where she lives with her husband and two cats. With a vast network of chefs from around the world, Kerstin has profiled the likes of Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, the Roca brothers and Massimo Bottura. She has been a contributor to publications including FOUR Magazine, the Evening Standard Food and Travel MagazineM&C ReportDesign WeekFrame Magazine and City and Canary Wharf Magazines and also writes her own blog, La Goulue. You can follow Kerstin on Twitter @LaGoulue _

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th March 2015

Kerstin Kühn explores Grand Central Market