Up My Street
A common mistake visitors to Los Angeles make is attempting to tackle the whole thing in one go. It’s impossible. LA is not one sprawling city as many believe, but rather ten or fifteen separate towns all joined up by a web of streets, avenues, and interstates crawling with brake-lights, to-go coffee cups, and exhausted podcast playlists. To really get to the heart of this place, you’ve got to pick one neighborhood at a time, and dive deep.
We chose to explore Downtown Los Angeles (or DTLA as it’s known around here) and Expedia.com asked us to share our favorite spots.
Before we begin, here are your guides:
Allister (photos) —-> Marco (food) —-> Erin (words)
[Marco] Los Angeles hasn’t been around long enough to be as rich in history as the Paris and Londons of the world; however, what it lacks in history, it over-delivers in culture. Known as one of the first cities to truly bring the ‘melting pot’ ideology into fruition, Los Angeles has served as a home to natives and immigrants over generations. Within Downtown Los Angeles, amongst the skyscrapers and cranes lies one of the oldest buildings in the city, Grand Central Market. Founded in 1917, the market was set up to service its community, and as time passes and populations grow, the demographics of the market shift with it.
Grand Central Market at 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013, which opened in 1917
In a sense, Grand Central Market has fueled the stomachs of the past century. If a GoPro had been stationed in the market shooting a time-lapse over the past one hundred years of its existence, you’d get an anthropological look at the growth of this loud, bright, and vibrant city called Los Angeles. The market offerings have shifted to reflect each new wave of immigrants. Walking down the stalls of Grand Central Market today, you can indulge yourself in cultural foods from all over the world, brought here by immigrants who have planted their flag in this city. It’s not watered down, it’s not insanely plated, and it’s not meant to impress you or your followers on Instagram; it’s meant to service its community with food from home. And home is exactly what Grand Central Market is to me.
I’ve been eating at Grand Central Market since I was a kid and the soul of this place has never really changed. Though the market has been around for close to a century, some of the recipes being cooked under this roof are completely untouched by time.
Grand Central Market on the outside might seem to represent the butting of heads of new and old. Red flags of ‘gentrification’ have been waved around this place ever since the coming of Eggslut and Belcampo. However, you’ll find the mix of these trendier restaurants with the old-trusties doesn’t feel competitive, rather it feels progressive. In this oddly juxtaposed market, newer stalls feed off the history of the legacy members and the legacy members feed off of the energy of the newer stalls. It’s interesting to now see the organic progressions of growth within the market amongst stalls themselves. Sarita’s now serves pupusas with basil?!
Grand Central Market is now as Instagrammable as it is historically relevant. And though it’s become very tourist-friendly, you’ll find yourself feeling more like a local when you walk through the neon-laden stalls. In the past DTLA had a negative stigma, that it wasn’t safe. And as a native Angeleno who’s been going to this market my whole life, what’s most comforting to me is that the soul of Grand Central Market hasn’t changed, only the people have.
My Three Favorites in Grand Central Market
Pupusas are a staple in any Salvadoran household and Sarita’s feels and operates like the kitchen of a Salvadoran grandma. The main thing to order here are the Pupusas Revueltas. The Revuelta made with masa de maize (corn dough or corn tortilla dough), beans, cheese, and chicharron (pork, but not pork rinds in the traditional usage of the word) is the pupusa standard and equivalent of a cheeseburger — classic, untouched, delicious. The Revuelta here stands out amongst the crowd in Los Angeles, a city filled with native Salvadorans at every street corner, purely through its execution. It takes at least ten to fifteen minutes to get to you, there isn’t a better definition of good things come to those who wait.
Don’t be intimidated by the Curtido (Salvadoran cole slaw) that comes in a baggy with an order of pupusas from Sarita’s, in fact, get as much as you can – trust us!
The Jewish delicatessen culture has long permeated the DNA of Los Angeles. Spread over LA, delis have stood as a historical place of dining for old and new Hollywood. From that rich background, we get places like Langer’s or Canter’s deli whose pastrami sandwiches stand the test of time. However, spawned from a millennial upbringing and heavy hip-hop influence comes a relatively young Wexler’s deli. Don’t be fooled by Tupac and Future blasting through their speakers, their soul food approach to pastrami is as classic as they come. What Wexler’s does that a lot of delis pass off, is smoke their own salmon and cure their own pastrami. Wexler’s truly shows that fundamental technique still reigns king when serving food.
Wexler’s Deli in Grand Central Market serving up pastrami sandwiches so good they’ll make you cry
For those who are into the classic Pastrami sandwich, order The O.G. which features their tender, thick-cut pastrami paired with mustard on rye. However, as an ode to Langer’s Deli just a five-minute drive away is Wexler’s version of Langer’s #19, The MacArthur Park. Served with Russian dressing, swiss cheese, cole slaw, and pastrami on rye, there’s no doubt that this newcomer can stand with the oldies. As you bite into the crust you’ll experience a combination of sweet, salty, savory, and richness like no other. Don’t be fooled by the size of the sandwich, though it seems small on the outside, it’s big on flavor and is just the right amount to satisfy your hunger. For those who are huge bagel and lox fans, Wexler’s house-smoked salmon can throw punches with the best of them. Add a side of potato salad to balance your dish and if you have a sweet tooth, take their black and white cookie to go.
Tacos Tumbras a Tomas
If there’s one item that truly defines Grand Central Market, it’s the carnitas taco at Tacos Tumbras a Tomas, a recipe that has truly withstood the test of time and has maintained clientele over decades. This stall has been in service for over twenty years and isn’t looking to stop anytime soon, their lines also corroborate that sentiment. For those who believe that $3.50 for a taco is too much, let Tacos Tumbras a Tomas single-handedly prove you wrong. With corn tortillas that are bigger than your face, and a gigantic serving of slow-simmered, melt-in-your-mouth pork butt, a single taco seems much more of a knife and fork meal than it does a finger food. The spices are kept a house secret, but the secret in cooking this meat down is lard and time (each batch simmers for at least three to four hours). As time passes by on this stall, the traditional and nostalgic approach to serving food only gets stronger.
The Bradbury Building at 304 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013, which opened in 1893
Blade Runner, a film set in the distant future, was filmed in the Bradbury Building which was built in 1893 — it doesn’t get more Hollywood/Los Angeles than that. When it’s not being used as a set piece in the next blockbuster film, the Bradbury Building (right across the street from Grand Central Market) historically and currently operates as an office building. The exterior looks like your typical everyday commercial lot, but it’s the interior that reveals the true beauty of the building. Once you pull back the doors and enter the building (it’s open to the public), you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. With ornate ironwork everywhere you look, mosaic tile floors, marble stairs, light flooding in from the glass ceiling, and green palm fronts stretching out over the railings, the interior is breathtaking. Though you can only go up the staircase to about the second level, the best views of the building are on the ground floor.
The Broad Museum at 221 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
A fifteen-minute walk from Grand Central Market is The Broad, a brand new contemporary art museum as lauded for the building’s architecture as the art collection it houses. The best part, it’s free! See works by Basquiat, Baldessari, Chuck Close, Keith Haring and Ellen Gallagher.
The Last Bookstore
At 22,000 square feet, The Last Bookstore is California’s largest new and used book and record store, and is one of the world’s largest independent bookstores still open and operating. It’s truly a wonder of a place spread over two floors, selling almost everything you can imagine: books, magazines, records, art, yarn… This magical place really isn’t to be missed.
Downtown Arts District
One of the fastest-changing areas of Los Angeles is this sliver of town between Downtown proper and the LA river. There are loads of popular spots around here all of which you can hit in an afternoon, but here are a few of our favorites:
Lot, Stock and Barrel at 801 1/2 Traction Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90013
Lot, Stock and Barrel
Stuffed full of the best vintage tee-shirts, old Levi’s and other bits and bobs (like Old Glory – the first book from Atelier Editions http://atelier-editions.com/), this is a gem in a city full of super trends. We also love Lot, Stock and Barrel custom chain stitch embroidery service – they’ll stitch your own design onto vintage jeans, old army jackets… what’s not to love?
Poketo at 820 E 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Founded in 2003 by husband and wife Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung, Poketo is one of LA’s beloved design and lifestyle shops. With new outlets popping up around the city, our favorite of their spaces is the one here in the Arts District. The vibe is perfection, and every little thing they sell is lovely. Don’t miss it.
EightyTwo at 707 E 4th Pl, Los Angeles, CA 90013
EightyTwo is an arcade bar boasting over 50 vintage and new arcade and pinball machines. The space is awesome, even if you’re not into arcade games (though after coming here, you will be, trust us). With a full bar serving craft cocktails and specialty beers, live DJs at night and food trucks parking up to keep your belly full, this place is one of the local hot spots. Show up early – the space hits capacity and then a line starts to form, build, and wrap around the block to get in.
End up in Chinatown and eat at Lasa
About a mile north of the Arts District, you’ll hit Chinatown and when you do, head straight for Far East Plaza. The epicenter of the new Chinatown food scene, it’s home to rockstar chefs like Eddie Huang’s Baohaus, Roy Choi’s Chego, Alvin Cailan’s Ramen Champ. We didn’t come here for the headline grabbers, though. We came here to eat at Lasa, the first official tenant of Unit 120 – a space that’s acted as an incubator for new restaurant concepts. Lasa, which means “taste” in Tagalog, is run by brothers Chad (in the kitchen) and Chase (front of house) Valencia. Since Marco (a Filipino-American) is much better placed to talk about Filipino food, I’ll let him take it away from here.
Chinatown at night (top), Adobo peanuts at Lasa (middle), Kinilaw – Filipino style ceviche (bottom)
To talk about the Filipino experience is to talk about food, you can’t separate the two. Cooking is an essential skill in any household whether due to lack of restaurants or quite frankly lack of money. As a Filipino-American, we don’t get many Filipino restaurants out here – only a few take-out joints or very basic sit-down restaurants. If you’re in the general non-Filipino population, you’ve probably never eaten at these restaurants nor had Filipino food at all.
As millennials grow older and move farther away from their childhood homes, the regularity of eating home-cooked food from your own culture diminishes. That’s where the second-generation Filipino-American comes in; Lasa is a representative of second-generation Filipino-American cooking. Tastes that remind you of home, combined with techniques and flavors that come from living in a city like Los Angeles.
What Chad and Chase are presenting to you isn’t a fusion, it’s not putting Sisig of Tocino on a bed of fries to lure you into our culture’s food, it’s an elevated Arroz Caldo (rice porridge) prepared with Filipino ingredients and techniques served to you to make you feel like a Filipino aunt is hugging your stomach.
It’s the right type modernization that can please a crowd of both millennials and traditionalists sitting at the same table. Their Kinilaw (Filipino style ceviche), though prepared different from the traditional, takes the fundamentals, throws in Calamansi Kosho (a citrus and spice condiment), Asian Pear, and Watermelon Radish to push home the origins with which you are familiar, but throws you the delectable curve ball of different types of acidity and texture that you can only get through produce at a Santa Monica Farmers Market.
Chad Valencia in the kitchen (top), dining at Lasa (middle), Beef Cheek Menudo (bottom)
As an appetizer, make sure to get the Kinilaw as well as their version of Pancit. Written in quotation marks, the Pancit that they serve isn’t the most traditional, but boasts of Filipino modernized flavors, which are strong and representative of ingredients you can find at your local Filipino market. As for the main dishes, aim to order their Crispy Duck Arroz Caldo, a duck quarter confit on a bed of a ginger and leek brown rice porridge, and their Beef Cheek Menudo, beef check over a tomato base served with garbanzo beans, Tokyo turnips, and golden raisins, both representative of elevated, hearty dishes. If you have room for dessert, their condensed milk ice cream topped with black sesame polvoron (polvoron is a milk cookie), will cleanse your palette with an amazing one-two punch of both crunchy and smooth and tie the entire meal together.
The kitchen at Lasa (top), Crispy Duck Arroz Caldo (middle), Milk Ice Cream with Black Sesame Polvoron (bottom)
Lasa has figured out how to set up their menu through progressive dishes that get more traditional as you read from top to bottom. On a taste level, it coaxes you from the beginning only to trap you and make you fully understand what our cuisine is without watering it down too much. What’s normally a funky and pungent condiment that’s pushed to the side like bagoong (a fermented shrimp paste), is in a sly manner, added to dishes to elevate them and leave you wondering ‘did I really just eat that?’ For those who need a proper ‘hello’ to not only Filipino but Los Angeles cuisine, Lasa is the place for you to grab dinner.
Thank you to Expedia.com for sending us out around DTLA to explore and bring you our favorite spots.