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Grand Central Market: A guide to LA’s iconic food hall

How to make the most of the vibrant food hall

Illustration by Sunny Eckerle

Opened in the first half of the 20th century, Grand Central Market has survived depressions, recessions, and multiple phases of Downtown redevelopment. It is a vibrant and thriving community of multicultural stands and food stops, with 37 vendors in total. Flashy new food halls are marching into Los Angeles, but none can compete with the enduring Grand Central Market. Even after all these years, the lunch hour is so popular, it can be hard to find a seat. Below is a guide filled with insider knowhow and fascinating tidbits; it’s everything you need to know to make the most of your food hall experience.


The quick low-down

Vendors are packed closely together inside Grand Central Market.
Wonho Frank Lee
  • Prepare to stand in line. To avoid the thick crowds, visit midmorning and nighttime. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
  • The stereotypical diner? None. You’ll encounter everyone from American Apparel-clad tourists to hip Historic-Core residents to construction workers on their lunch breaks.
  • The best way to get there is to take the Red Line to the Pershing Square Station. After disembarking, you can either exit at Pershing or Fourth Street. Choose the latter—you’ll pop out just around the corner from the market’s entrance on Hill Street.
  • Don’t miss: Sarita’s Pupuseria, Wexler’s, and Knead & Co.
  • Price point: Depends how hungry you are. But it can be pretty affordable if you’re on a budget; Eater LA once ate three meals for $18.29.

6 must-try vendors

For a century, Grand Central Market has played home to butchers, fishmongers, spice sellers, and standalone miniature restaurants, each with their own unique history. A push to modernize the market around 2012 brought newcomers such as Sticky Rice, Eggslut, and Texas barbecue mavens Horse Thief. Longtime vendors were pushed aside, but some places—including Sarita’s Pupuseria—remain.

Don’t be overwhelmed. Below are our favorite spots.

Breakfast

China Cafe: One of the market’s oldest vendors, China Cafe is also one of its busiest and most beloved. Order a bowl of hot wonton soup filled with pork, shrimp, chicken, scallions, boiled egg, and plump wontons.

Eggslut: Still the belle of the breakfast ball after all these years, Eggslut is among the most highly trafficked vendors in Grand Central Market. The former food truck has since expanded into locations across the city (and even in Las Vegas), but keeps a well-worn footprint on the Broadway side of the market to this day, drawing hundreds of diners daily.

Valerie: Owner Valerie Gordon has completely redone her newer all-day market stall, adding cozy seating for diners looking to stick around from breakfast through dinner. The morning specials are the most compelling, with an array of pastries to complement the specialty coffee and hot food on hand.

Lunch

Horse Thief: Outside on the patio off Hill Street you’ll find Horse Thief BBQ, one of the first in the new wave of market tenants. Its leafy summertime seating is a boon for diners looking to grub on brisket, pulled pork, and craft beer from the attached small bar.

Sarita’s Pupuseria: One of the longer-running vendors, Sarita’s is something of an El Salvadorean legend. With an inexpensive menu of flavorful favorites, particularly the namesake pupusas (a sort of thick Central American closed quesadilla), Sarita’s continues to thrive for nearby workers and families returning after years away to find the stall still doing its thing.

Wexler’s Deli: Chef and owner Micah Wexler has used Grand Central Market to launch a veritable pastrami empire. Wexler’s has become a standard-bearer for the modern Jewish delicatessen movement, with everything from sandwiches on rye bread to black and white cookies.

Dinner

Golden Road Brewing: Golden Road is LA's beer, the first locally brewed option to make it seriously mainstream. Now they've got a standalone stall at Grand Central Market, with freshly tapped beers and pierogis for anyone in the mood to nosh. Bonus points for being located close to the doors on the Hill Street side of things, which means lots of daily sunshine and a nice cool breeze while you sip your next beer.

Knead & Co.: Bruce Kalman’s Knead & Co. is a do-it-all vendor space where guests can order up a plate of hot pasta and meatballs or snag meals to take home for dinner. There’s a full lineup of breakfast options too, but the hearty red-sauce Italian fare is perfect for a lingering dinner in the middle of it all.


How to get there

Enter Grand Central Market from Hill Street, and you’ll find G&B Coffee and Horse Thief BBQ.
Wonho Frank Lee

The market occupies the bottom levels of two old buildings at the bottom of Bunker Hill: the 1897 Homer Laughlin Building, which was designed by City Hall architect John Parkinson as the first steel-reinforced structure in Los Angeles, and the 1905 Laughlin Annex or Lyon Building, which was once home to an office for Frank Lloyd Wright. Entrances are located on both Broadway and Hill.

Subway: Take the Metro’s Red Line toward Downtown LA and exit at the Pershing Square Station. Once there, you can either exit at Pershing or Fourth Street. Choose the latter—you’ll pop out at the intersection of Fourth and Hill (the station is a boxy, unmarked yellow and white structure).

Bike: There’s a bike-rental hub near the Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway, which is right next to the market. One-time rides cost $3.50 for 30 minutes. To pay, all you need is a credit card. (More information on bike share and pricing here.)

Drive: The paid parking garage is at 308 Hill Street. It’s $3 for the first 90 minutes and $2 each 15 minutes after that, with a maximum of $25.


A market for the wealthy

The crowded market festooned in bunting in 1966.
Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

Waves of Angelenos of various ethnicities have mingled in its cavernous space, rubbing shoulders, buying everyday and exotic foods. In a sprawling, car-defining metropolis, the market is one of the few places where this interaction occurs so vividly.” — Levin & Associates

It wasn’t always that way. Racial segregation was rampant in Downtown Los Angeles when the market opened. Bunker Hill, now home to high-rise apartments and glossy museums, was, in that era, an enclave for wealthy white families who wanted the luxury of living close to the hub of the city’s action but separation from the rest of the multi-ethnic community around them.

A funicular built in 1901 called Angels Flight connected Bunker Hill to Hill Street below, and, by 1917, a collective of all-white vendors (butchers, florists, grocers, and the like) had finalized plans to move into the newly erected Grand Central Market to siphon business from families living up the hill.

By the 1970s and ’80s, following a rise in national immigration, the market began to take on a much more ethnically diverse look, with Central American, Mexican, and Chinese vendors occupying more and more real estate.

This new look persisted through the 1990s and early 2000s, when sawdust still covered the floor and many vendor stalls remained woefully underutilized.

A makeover in 2012 was geared toward making the open-air market more upscale, kind of like a “community market version of a hotel lobby.” As Los Angeles Magazine reported in September, a pair of evicted vendors have filed a lawsuit against market ownership for discriminating against nonwhite sellers.

But press attention, including a 2014 Best New Restaurant nomination by Bon Appétit, followed the makeover, and with it came more foot traffic and even more new restaurants and stalls. The market is now open later and sells more cheese and wine than ever before.


I’m here. What now?

If you’ve eaten more tacos and ice cream than one stomach can possibly hold, and if you have some time to kill, check out some other nearby LA classics. Walk or ride your bike around Bunker Hill.

  • Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, known as MOCA, at 250 South Grand Avenue. The permanent collection includes works by Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Joseph Cornell, and Berenice Abbott. It’s closed Tuesdays, but otherwise open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission is $15.
The Bradbury Building’s spectacular lobby.
Peter Burka via Flickr creative commons
  • Get a glimpse of the Bradbury Building, which is the oldest commercial building still standing in Los Angeles. The landmark at 304 South Broadway has appeared on screen many times, including, perhaps most famously, in Bladerunner. Wonderfully, the lobby and first-floor landing are free to the public. That’s enough access to give you a look at the 1893 building’s “magical light-filled Victorian court that rises almost fifty feet with open cage elevators, marble stairs, and ornate iron railings.” Hours are 9 a.m to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
  • Housed within an old bank, The Last Bookstore has a bohemian vibe, with some tomes displayed in an vault and others forming tunnels and art pieces. The store, at 453 South Spring Street, specializes in old and vintage books, but it also sells vinyl. Hours are 10 a.m to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

— Associate editors Elijah Chiland and Bianca Barragan contributed to this guide.