As “In Concert at the Hollywood Bowl” series airs its finale, it only seems fitting to end with a bang. Its "Fireworks!" episode will be a party in itself, with performances by pop icons like Katy Perry and Pink Martini, and composer John Williams conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic as they perform his “Star Wars” compositions.
Since food and drink play a large role in making the Hollywood Bowl experience whole, we’ve put together a guide that brings another key aspect of what makes L.A. summers special: the food at Smorgasburg. The bustling, open-air food market, which would normally take place on Sundays year-round in downtown L.A. if not for the pandemic, has a bevy of vendors currently operating in some capacity that you can still support.
From Japanese katsu sandos to Tijuana-style tacos and Hong Kong buns, here are some purveyors from Smorgasburg’s lineup that will help you relish the last days of summer.
Japanese Sandwiches from Katsu Sando
When chef Daniel Son worked at a Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo in 2012, he would often end his shifts with a late-night visit to a Japanese “konbini” convenience store. There, he’d find comfort in eating katsu sandos (fried and breaded pork cutlets, sandwiched between pillowy slices of white bread), bento boxes and onigiri rice balls.
Son wanted to introduce his versions of these grab-and-go items to folks in his hometown of L.A. as a love letter to the konbini experience. Thus, the idea of Katsu Sando was born. He held his first pop-up event at his family's now-closed West Hollywood sushi restaurant Kura in 2017. He expanded from there to other pop-ups, eventually garnering a cult following at Smorgasburg. One of his items that caught the attention of many (and found its way into plenty of Instagram posts) was his decadent A5 Wagyu katsu sando.
Amid the pandemic, while Smorgasburg is on hiatus, Son opened a brick-and-mortar location in Chinatown, which currently has takeout options for pickup and delivery. The restaurant offers a number of freshly made katsu sandos, a mushroom katsu variety and a unique honey walnut shrimp sandwich that pays homage to the culture of Chinatown. The menu also brings in other Japanese comfort dishes like katsu curry and simple konbini store favorites such as fruit sandos and onigiri.
Tijuana-Style Tacos from Tacos 1986
Tacos 1986 quickly took L.A. by storm when it launched as a humble Hollywood street stand whipping up Tijuana-style tacos in late 2018. Soon after, it became a dedicated Smorgasburg vendor. People flocked to the taco mavens to see their vibrant taquero Jorge “Joy” Alvarez-Tostado tend to the trompo, a vertical spit impressively holding roasted, marinated meat. Tacos 1986 has since expanded to four brick-and-mortar outposts throughout the city from Westwood Village to downtown L.A.
Alvarez-Tostado and Victor Delgado, the founder of Tacos 1986, both grew up in Tijuana. Delgado said that tacos were always a big part of his daily meal. When Delgado moved to L.A. about 11 years ago and wanted to find a taqueria that would give him a taste of home, he said he wasn't able to discover any that fit the bill. Thus, Tacos 1986 was born.
What makes Tacos 1986 stand out is that their corn tortillas are made to order, and besides the adobada on the trompo, their other grilled — not griddled — meats are perfectly charred. Their thick guacamole, which Delgado says is never watered down in any way, is an integral part of their tacos. You’ll find on their menu tacos, quesadillas, mulitas and vampiros (a toasted, open-faced taco similar to a tostada), with proteins like asada, adobada, chicken and mushroom.
Tacos 1986 is currently open for dining, pickup and delivery, and the team plans on returning to Smorgasburg when it reopens.
Hong Kong-Style Buns from Bolo
A perfect bolo bao is a beautiful thing, and chef Tsz Chan and her partner Joey Ngoy have literally made it their business to create them. They launched their Bolo concept in 2016, and since then gained faithful fans at Smorgasburg. The duo is in the midst of opening a brick-and-mortar location in Glendora, which is slated to open in October.
For the uninitiated, a bolo bao is a Hong Kong pastry that, contrary to its translated name of “pineapple bun,” doesn’t contain any of the tropical fruit. Instead, it has a crumbly yellow top that resembles a pineapple.
Hong Kong-born Chan is not only a chef that staged at a Michelin-starred restaurant; she’s also a designer for brands, many of which exist in the food realm. Her bolo baos grew to become a vehicle for sandwich fillings, like fried chicken. Her sweet bolo sandwiches she makes are stuffed with pineapple and ube ice cream.
Even though Smorgasburg is closed at the moment and the Bolo team is still working on the buildout of their restaurant, you can still taste their buns by ordering 12-packs online; those can be shipped nationally. It's great to eat plain or use in your own culinary creations. Pearl River Deli in Chinatown, which is currently open for pickup orders, also serves a decadent Macau pork chop sandwich using Bolo’s buns.
“LA Phil 100” Beer From Los Angeles Ale Works
When the LA Phil celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2018, it partnered with Los Angeles Ale Works (LAAW) to develop its own special brew: the LA Phil 100 Brut IPA.
It’s a hoppy and citrusy beer that is low on the bitterness side. LAAW managing partner Andrew Fowler suggested pairing it with ceviche or fish tacos; however, the dish you choose shouldn’t be overly spiced. It also works well as a brunch beermosa.
The LA Phil 100 is currently available for pickup in four-packs and crowlers at LAAW’s Hawthorne brewery, and is also sold at Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and independent bottle shops like Venice Fine Wines.
Top Image: Plates of tacos from Tacos 1986 | Patrick Manalo