In 2009, my husband and I left our beloved West Adams neighborhood in L.A. and moved to the ’burbs so that I could be closer to a new job in Cerritos. I salivated over my 15-minute commute but desperately missed being in the “center of it all,” particularly the vibrant literary, artistic and culinary communities that we had immersed ourselves in.
In 2013 another new job, this one in Downtown L.A.’s financial district, brought another move. We rented out our house and settled into an apartment just minutes away from my office. We marveled at how the newly coined “DTLA,” which once grew desolate after 6 p.m., was now brimming with green space, restaurants, renovated lofts and even couples with children and dogs.
During our two-year stay in Downtown, our family walked, ate, played and learned throughout its districts. Every chance we get, we revisit the now-bustling city center that has the capacity to simultaneously break our hearts (with the soul-wrenching number of people living on the streets) and pique our interest (what new business has opened its doors?). Indeed, poverty and progress was the theme of our Date With L.A. conversation on a recent Sunday as we passed through the heart of Skid Row, then parked at the nearby 4,000-car garage at Row DTLA.
While the restaurants and boutiques that make up this reimagined corner of the former site of Alameda Square are tempting, our ultimate destination was Smorgasburg LA, a five-acre open-air market that takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the flat parking lot behind Row DTLA at 777 S. Alameda Street every Sunday (rain, shine or holiday). Smorgasburg originated in Williamsburg Brooklyn and is part of a phenom that, between its New York and L.A. locales, is the largest weekly open-air market in the country, drawing 50,000 people every weekend.
As we walked up, a DJ curated by Dublab was blasting Robert Palmer’s 1983 R&B hit “You Are in My System,” and, well, I had to dance. Rain was in the forecast, but nobody cared. The market was flooded with people, unique shops selling crystals, records and clothing and the main attraction: every combination of food and drink you can imagine.
Peruvian and Middle Eastern tacos? Sí. Artisan-crafted s’mores oozing decadence? You bet. Lobster rolls and banh mi? Absolutely. Vegan options for sushi, Cuban fare and Chinese street food? They’ve got your stomach covered. You likely haven’t heard of most of Smorgasburg’s vendors because many of them don’t have brick-and-mortar businesses. For instance, my before-meal dessert was from Madame Shugah, a home-based business that sells delicious vegan cookies. I chose a white chocolate and macadamia cookie stuffed with vegan pistachio ice cream.
“What I love about it is that this market is an incubator of concepts,” says General Manager Zach Brooks. “You’re getting to learn about all these great entrepreneurs and many of them don’t have brick-and-mortars, but since starting with us, some of them have gone on to open up restaurants.” Some examples include Wanderlust Creamery, Amazebowls, Daddy’s Chicken Shack, Donut Friend, Guerilla Tacos and Goa Taco.
After spinning around in circles trying to decide what savory to eat (and leaving the impossibly long line at Lobsterdamus), I devoured the Korean Shitake Mushroom Bowl from Workaholic. My husband snagged a grilled cheese slathered with caramelized onions from the burger pop-up, The Heyday. We sat across from a couple who was lucky enough to be at the front of the line at Little Llama Peruvian Tacos. They snapped their food photos, then popped the tacos in their mouths, confirming with head shakes that they were as good as they looked.
And so, we will be back to taste more of this smorgasbord of delights at the edge of Downtown L.A.
Visit la.smorgasburg.com for more.