Where to eat in California: Los Angeles' Grand Central Market

Eggslut is pretty popular this morning. The queue extends from the front counter of this egg-centric breakfast bar in Los Angeles' Grand Central Market, around the corner and almost back on itself. It's like an ouroboros, that Egyptian symbol of a snake eating its own tail.

I quite like the idea of a slut (coddled egg on top of smooth potato puree cooked in a glass jar topped with grey salt and chives) but, having no idea where the line begins or ends, joining it looks fraught with difficulty.

Just as well this 100-year-old covered market in downtown LA is awash with other places to eat. Which, reading that bit back, is like calling the Book of Kells a comic because this place is a cavernous, buzzy, multicultural, neon-peppered smorgasbord of pretty much everything you might want to throw down your gullet.

For instance, just nearby on the Broadway side, there's Villa Moreliana, where you can get carnitas estilo Michoacan – juicy, slow-cooked pork from Michoacan in Mexico – chopped up straight from a large vat of the stuff and served fast and furious.

Further in to this cheerfully chaotic, high-ceilinged foodie smorgasbord there's the Valerie stand, a casual bakery and cafe where customers on high bar-style stools are tucking in to pies, croissants and tarts. Not far from that Knead & Co knocks out high-quality pasta and Italian dishes.

We drift past Sarita's Pupuseria, a corner stall which features handmade corn tortillas (pupusas) filled with cheese, pork or beans as well as other Salvadoran dishes such as fried plantains and yucca con chicharron (yucca root mixed with raw cabbage and served with deep-fried pork skin).

Or maybe Mexican is your thing? If so, there's the small but perfectly formed La Tostaderia stall, which the Los Angeles Magazine last year said "made it cool to eat tacos again in the GCM". 

On the far side we stop to drool over the red-and-pink splendour of the meat counter at the Belcampo butcher-cum-burger bar. Its burgers, says the wall mural behind the counter, are "The Best in Los Angeles".

It's a moot point to us because we decide on the Horse Thief BBQ on the Hill Street side of the market. It's an outdoor patio, ranch roadhouse-style hole in the wall which serves meat plates of beef brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs and herbed chicken. This is heaven to my friend, a man to whom vegetables are anathema, and heaven to me because Horse Thief also has its own bar which stocks Californian craft beers such as Smog City Sabre-Toothed Squirrel and Wandering Aengus Anthem.

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First opened in 1917, the 9000-square-metre, block-long Grand Central Market has been in continuous operation for all of its 100 years. In those days, Broadway was the main commercial and entertainment corridor of downtown LA and the market was populated by greengrocers, fishmongers and Jewish delis. There was even, in a nice echo of eggslut, one stall that sold nothing but eggs.

In the intervening years it stayed open but, like much of downtown, fell into decline until, in 1984, Ira Yellin, a local property developer with a soft spot for tattered, battered downtown, bought and renovated the market.

When Yellin died in 2002, his obituary in the Los Angeles Times recounted an interview in which he said downtown Los Angeles "can be a place of greatness. It can be wonderful". It also quoted him saying of the market: "I'm always totally energised here. It just feels and smells and is utterly special."

Today, the GCM website echoes Yellin's sentiments in its From Food, Community mission statement: "Grand Central Market's mission is to celebrate the cuisines and cultures of Los Angeles. Our commitment is to preserve the legacy of a historic downtown landmark, to gather the city's many communities around a shared table, and to nurture the next generation of local businesses.

"The market provides Los Angeles with a national-calibre eating experience that showcases California's best ingredients, chefs, and entrepreneurs."

It is, indeed, that and more. But, stuffed to the gills with pulled pork and Smog City Sabre-Toothed Squirrel, I find myself unable to do more than perve on Sticky Rice Thai street food, the Press Brothers Juicery, the China Cafe, Golden Road Brewing and the falafel stall.

Still, it's enough to stroll back through the passageways between the colourful stalls, to listen to the babble and buzz of language – Spanish, English, Asian – and suck in the wonderful smells of roasting coffee, piquant spices, smoky meats and the metallic tang of freshly shucked bivalves from the oyster bar.

Could it be I'm hungry again? Surely not…

TRIP NOTES

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traveller.com.au/los-angeles

grandcentralmarket.com

THE MARKET

GCM is open seven days a week, 8am-10pm, at 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013. The parking garage entrance is at 308 S. Hill Street.

TRAIN

Take a red or purple metro line to Pershing Square. GCM is a one-block walk from there.

BUS

There are bus stops at both ends of the market. For details of which bus to get, see the Trip Planner at metro.net

SHUTTLE

There is a free shuttle bus to or from the market to destinations all over downtown. Book your free ride at 213-896-9260.

FLY

Virgin Australia International flies to Los Angeles daily from Sydney and Brisbane. See virginaustralia.com

Keith Austin visited Grand Central Market at his own expense.

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