L.A.'s Grand Central Market opened in 1917 and within a decade had more than ninety vendors selling everything from frozen malted milk to oysters shipped from the New Jersey coast. Many of the first patrons were well-to-do Angelenos, who would ride the Angels Flight Railway down from their Victorian mansions atop Bunker Hill. Grand Central Market has been in continuous operation ever since, making it the city's oldest and largest public market.
In early 2013 Grand Central Market embarked on a culinary revamp, bringing in new vendors and cleaning up the space, a 30,000 square-foot arcade that covers the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building. "Our goal with the revitalization is to preserve the legacy of this historic landmark while making Grand Central Market a complete food village representing the best local chefs, purveyors and entrepreneurs," said Christophe Farber, the market's director of development and special projects.
Of the roughly three dozen current vendors, about one-third are new. Like the vendors who were there before them, many of the newbies have hung classic neon signs, which cast an arcade-like glow over the entire market. At one end of the market, G&B Coffee is shaking together espresso and homemade almond-macadamia milk, then pouring it over ice cubes to make what was recently praised in the New York Times as "one of the best iced coffees in the United States." At the opposite end, Eggslut is serving bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches and almost always has a long, windy line of eager patrons extending from its counter. In between the two, there are legacy vendors and new vendors, a mosaic of smells and sounds. Just beyond the aloe plants for sale at La Casa Verde, a fruit and vegetable stand, you might catch a glimpse of a butcher at Belcampo Meat Co. slicing ribs to order or serving up a dry-aged and grass-fed beef burger with beef tallow fries. At Sarita's Pupuseria, cooks are still frying plantains and topping thick, handmade corn tortillas with a dozen different fillings. You can still buy a taco or two from Tacos Tumbras a Tomas, but it'll cost you a little bit more than it used to. At three dollars for a pork, beef, or chicken taco, it remains a terrific deal.
The market continues to reflect the expanding Los Angeles food scene, and everyone will surely be able to find something that appeals to his or her tastes. For the juice aficionado, there is Press Brothers Juicery, offering certified organic, raw juices that are cold-pressed every morning. For the devotee of old school deli food, there are pastrami sandwiches, bagels topped with cream cheese and smoked sturgeon, and even black and white cookies at Wexler's Deli. Lovers of outdoor dining can find a spot at Horse Thief BBQ, one of three vendors (along with Belcampo Meat Co. and Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria) that offer a beer and wine list. Each vendor has its own hours, but most are open daily for breakfast and lunch. Starting this month, many will stay open until 9 p.m. for dinner.
For the time being, Grand Central Market is having a magical moment in which both greasy chow mein and boutique kombucha are co-existing under one roof. Market patrons, who tend to be just as diverse as the culinary offerings, can purchase everything from dried chiles de árbol to imported cheeses to Froot Loops. Gone is the sawdust that once obscured the market floor. You probably won't miss the sawdust, though you might wish the grimy-as-ever bathrooms were the next focus of the revitalization.