Forget the Sbarros and Cinnabons dotting the shopping mall food courts of your misspent youth. The modern food hall is a stylish lifestyle hub meant to lure you in for a meal and keep you spending dough for an entire day.
Food halls are nothing new in the rest of the country. Pike Place Market in Seattle and Faneuil Hall in Boston have been around in one form or another for 100 years. San Francisco’s Ferry Building has been a foodie hub since 1898. Others, like Miami’s Lincoln Eatery and Raleigh’s Transfer Co. Food Hall, are still in their infancies.
In 2017, LAist’s Oren Peleg predicted that the “food hall-ization” of America would spread to Los Angeles. He was right. Although L.A. has been home to plenty of food halls over the past century, the last few years have seen a wave of new openings. What used to be touristy rarities have become landmarks of Southern Californian cuisine.
Two decades ago, the idea for Mercado La Paloma was hatched as a redevelopment project for the Figueroa Corridor. At once a non-profit studio for musicians and artists, a space for local entrepreneurs and a public health and education center, the Mercado finally broke ground in 2001. In the years since, this cooperative has brought eight food vendors into its world cuisine fold. The most popular eateries are probably Oaxacalifornia, home of the torta oaxaqueña (a Oaxacan-style sandwich platter) and purveyor of freshly squeezed juice medleys, and Chichen Itza, chef Gilberto Cetina’s Yucatecán operation, which makes killer cochinita pibil. Other vendors serve shark empanadas, vegan yatakilt stew and yellowtail tartare. They’re all worth the effort, whether your sitting down to dinner or popping in for a quick lunch.
777 Alameda St., South Los Angeles. 213-748-1963.
After the success of Steelcraft Long Beach, communal eating company Steelcraft opened a Bellflower food hall this summer. They’re also working on a new space in Garden Grove, which is good because the Long Beach location gets crowded, especially during the 100-degree heat of summer. The Bellflower location — with free parking behind the massive, fanned, heated and shaded post-industrial plaza — is both handicap-accessible and wonderfully spacious. The space is filled with shipping containers occupied by an exceptional collection of vendors. They include Pholanthropy, which donates a portion from every purchase of their succulent ribeye and oxtail pho to charity; chef Neal Fraser’s Fritzi Coop, which offers a delectable Carolina Reaper and ghost pepper-infused fried chicken sandwich known as The Inferno; and The Standing Room, home of the gargantuan Napoleon Burger.
16500 Bellflower Blvd., Bellflower.
Grand Central Market, California’s answer to the East Coast’s many indoor markets, is the grandaddy of Los Angeles food halls. Founded in 1917 and revamped multiple times since then, it has grown into one of DTLA’s essential food destinations. That’s due in part to its size, its history and its hours. It’s home to 38 vendors serving dozens of international cuisines from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Vibrant, loud and labyrinthine, this microcosm of ethnic and class heterogeneity is set inside a gorgeous Art Deco hangar. None of that would matter, though, if the food wasn’t good. From the chicken parm at Bruce Kalman’s Italian-inspired Knead & Co. to the Nuernberger sausage (sweet and chunky with onions and veal) at Berlin Currywurst, Grand Central still has magic to spare.
317 S. Broadway, downtown L.A.
The Russian nesting doll of food halls, SocialEats at The Gallery is also the newest addition to Southern California’s food hall scene. Opened in mid-July in the bottom floor of a pre-existing space in Santa Monica, it looks like a charming museum of beachy art. Upstairs, in a former McDonald’s, giant fake ice cream cones and neon astro turf hang ny the kitchens of Azulé Taqueria, whose six-taco sampler features house-made avocado salsa and tender barbacoa, and Paperboy Pizza, where the white pizza achieves the perfect balance of garlic and mushrooms. You’ll find the real action on the ground floor, anchored by David Chang’s Fuku, which offers fried chicken sandwiches with accoutrements like elevated waffle fries and macaroni salads. Don’t miss the chicken BLT and stir-fried noodles with butterfly shrimp at chef Graham Elliot’s Petite Harvest Co. and the yakisoba with Cajun shrimp at Street Noods.
1315 3rd Street Promenade, Suite C, Santa Monica. 310-584-7836.
Of downtown’s major food halls, The Fields LA, opened in 2018, is the most fun by a country mile. Housed in an industrial-chic space next to LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium, The Fields was designed to encourage eating and playing in equal measure. C.J. Boyd’s and Free Play, both from French Laundry alum Timothy Hollingsworth, offer arcade games and some of the best bar food in the city, including an elite spin on deviled eggs at Free Play and the Otium at C.J. Boyd’s, a fried chicken sandwich with Peruvian aji verde hot sauce, Japanese shishito peppers and a spritz of citrus and soy (it’s named for Hollingsworth’s elegant DTLA restaurant). The hall is set up to host 200-person gameday live-watches amid the working student crowd. That may sound like cultivated douchebaggery but the vibe here is welcoming and adventurous, a culinary retreat next to USC. All that’s left for The Fields is to prove its longevity.
3939 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A. 213-419-9465.
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Prosciutto Crudo DOP + melon – name a better summer duo! From now until August 18, when you shop 2 trays of Prosciutto Crudo DOP in our marketplace, enjoy a complimentary melon. The perfect start to any Italian anitpasti platter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . LEARN & SHOP: Sweet yet salty, elegant but easy, the platter promises to satisfy all tastes and improve any occasion. 1. Choose your salumi: Choose two or three varieties of thinly-sliced cured meats, such as prosciutto, mortadella, or sopressata. 2. Select Formaggi: Choose one or two soft cheeses, such as pecorino or mozzarella, and aged cheeses, such as Parmigiano Reggiano or provolone. 3. Garnish: On a separate plate, drizzle honey, figs, and other sweet spreads to accompany the salumi and formaggi. 4. Add Color: Add a few colorful preserved vegetables, such as olives, semi-dried tomatoes, or eggplant, in ramekins nearby. 5. Eat That Pane: What is a platter without bread? Slice a loaf of bread thinly; include breadsticks for some bonus crunch! 6. Design: Arrange the platter. We prefer to use a wooden board, so guests can cut and scrape as needed. 7: Relax: Provisions prepared, it’s time to sit back and relax. 8: Mangia: Our favorite part of building an antipasto platter is eating the antipasto platter!
A post shared by Eataly L.A. (@eatalyla) on Aug 11, 2019 at 4:24pm PDT
Brought to the Westfield Century City as part of a massive, multi-year overhaul that included an upscale revamp of the mall’s food court, the Mario Batali-free Eataly is an oddity. Part grocery chain, part food hall and part tourist attraction, it isn’t a sit-and-chill space although it does offer indoor seating around its Rosso Pomodoro pizzeria. In fact, it’s easy to get disoriented by all the activity, like pasta-makers feeding noodles through a grinder or the thump of house mozzarella being rolled. Stick to Eataly’s U-shaped track and pick up bits and pieces from its in-house vendors: a quarter-pound of 24-month aged prosciutto di parma and a slice of Sergio Mor ubriaco all birra rosa (soft cow’s milk cheese bathed in red wine). Or visit one of the loveliest rooftop restaurants in the city, Terra, whose spinach garganelli con funghi pasta is as Insta-friendly as it is tasty. If that doesn’t suit your fancy, there’s still a Panda Express in the mall’s food court.
10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City. 213-310-8000.