Mar 2012

Discovering Downtown One Bite at a Time: Grand Central Market, Chinatown, and Olvera Street

Grand Central Market - Los Angeles

The weather in Los Angeles was even more gorgeous than usual this past weekend, so The Astronomer and I spent much of it outside soaking in the sunshine. On Saturday afternoon, I curated an urban hike through downtown that included plenty to see and eat.

Our first stop was at Grand Central Market, a bustling place where people gather to eat, meet, and shop. The energy inside was palpable, and everything gleamed with deliciousness.

Sarita's Pupuseria - Grand Central Market - Los Angeles

After perusing the aisles, hemming, hawing, and gawking, we finally chose to sit down for a bite at Sarita’s Pupuseria. Here, the Salvadoran specialty made of thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheeses and meats is made from scratch and griddled to order.

Sarita's Pupuseria - Grand Central Market - Los Angeles

Our pork- and cheese-stuffed pupusa ($2.50) arrived after a ten minute wait.  A watery tomato salsa and curtido, a lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar, were available at the counter for us to garnish as we pleased.

The warm pupusa was crisp and golden on the outside and oozed with cheese and shredded pork within. Even with the curtido and salsa curbing the pupusa’s richness, one was more than enough for the two of us. It was muy rico!

Tacos Tumbras a Tomas - Grand Central Market - Los Angeles

For the second part of our Grand Central Market lunch, we swung by Tacos Tumbras a Tomas for a goat torta. We chose this spot because of its impressively long line. Whenever I’m in doubt about where to eat, I always head toward the stand with the mass of hungry people huddled around it.

Tacos Tumbras a Tomas - Grand Central Market - Los Angeles

Our goat torta ($5.50) was truly massive, weighing in at perhaps three pounds and requiring 2.5 hands to hold. In between the spongy bread there was shredded iceberg, avocado, tomatoes, salsa, a few stray pinto beans and bones, and heaps of stewed goat meat.

The entire situation was under-seasoned; however, with a shake of salt and a squeeze of lime, we were set for goat torta bliss.

Angels Flight Railway - Los Angeles

For the next portion of our urban adventures, The Astronomer and I boarded the Angels Flight Railway to take us to the top of Bunker Hill. The short ride provided us with much amusement and good cheer.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

From the top of Angels Flight, we walked a short way to the corner of First and Grand to get an eyeful of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Here, we contemplated the greatness of architect Frank Gehry and pondered whether Cool Haus‘ “Frank Berry” creation did the man justice.

Buu Dien - Chinatown - Los Angeles

Our second edible stop on the hike took us to Buu Dien in Chinatown. I’ve been meaning to eat here ever since Jonathan Gold declared its banh mi the city’s best. Y’all know how I feel about Vietnamese sandwiches.

Buu Dien - Chinatown - Los Angeles

The highlight of Buu Dien for us was the shop’s owner, Pham, who gave us the best unsolicited advice ever. In regards to The Astronomer retaining his Vietnamese language skills, Pham suggested that I ask him to recite ten Vietnamese phrases each night before allowing him to come to bed. And in regards to family planning, Pham urged us to pop out the little ones as soon as possible.

I kind of love how candid and blunt Vietnamese people can be among their own. It makes me feel uncomfortable and right at home all at once.

Buu Dien - Chinatown - Los Angeles

While Pham chatted us up, his wife prepared our banh mi thit nguoi ($2.50). The bread seemed a little chewy this afternoon, but the cold cuts and pate were on point. I’ll have to swing by a few more times before declaring whether or not Buu Dien’s banh mi is tops.

Mr. Churro - Los Angeles

Our final stop brought us to Mr. Churro on Olvera Street, where all churros are fried and piped to order. Oh man…

Mr. Churro - Los Angeles

We ordered a single churro filled with cajeta ($3) and couldn’t have been more thrilled. What made this churro extra special was its custardy innards. That, combined with the warm caramel and sugared exterior, made this one supremely satisfying specimen. It was our favorite bite of the day.

Who says nobody walks in L.A.?

Sarita’s Pupuseria
317 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Phone: 213-626-6320

Tacos Tumbras a Tomas
317 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Phone: 213-620-1071

Buu Dien
642 North Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: 213-617-8355

Mr. Churro
12 East Olvera Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: 213-680-9036

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There’s more to eat in Downtown Los Angeles:

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9 thoughts on “Discovering Downtown One Bite at a Time: Grand Central Market, Chinatown, and Olvera Street

  1. I’ve gotta try Mr. Churro post-haste.

    Fun trip around downtown – there’s so many options to try at GCM – I’ve only tried a handful but glad you were able to try Tacos Tumbras a Tomas. The coworkers and I often go there or Ana Maria’s for the massive, meat-filled tacos or combo platters. Such a great deal.

  2. Wow, those churros look amazing. I’m tempted to fly back just to try them! Thanks for the virtual walk around downtown LA.

  3. – when I worked downtown, I did enjoy swinging by to pick up a pupusa w/ curtido and a side of chicharones!
    – curious about that banh mi place. I’m on a mission to find Viet food I really, really like in LA.
    – Just swung by Olvera street this past weekend as part of the Amazing LA Race, but sadly, we were in such a rush, no time for food… I know some friends who would love those churros!
    Thx, Cathy!

  4. Yum! I am ever on the hunt for pupusas and can’t believe I’ve never stopped at Sarita’s in all my visits to Grand Central Market. Must try.

    Love the pic of the churros!

  5. Mr. Churro is awesome! My boyfriend is all about the California burrito there. May not be the most authentic offering, but it has captured his heart AND soul, I think.

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