If you haven't been to Smorgasburg in Downtown's Industrial District, in the American Apparel complex (now dubbed ROW DTLA) on the corner of 7th and Alameda, you're possibly missing out on the best single-day collection of food in Los Angeles. The concept, brought over from Brooklyn's weekly event, took over the wholesale produce district in mid-June, and the results in the first month have in my experience been pretty great.
First things first: the parking lot is some kind of engineering marvel, easy to get into and completely free for two hours, which is plenty of time to eat your way through the weekly bonanza. Second, there's no admission fee, which makes it easy to get in and wander around exploring the two dozen or so options. Third, the prices are more than reasonable for what you get, which means you can easily fill up for around $25 every Sunday (before beer, but more on that later).
Let's cut to the chase on why you're here, though: the food. Everything I've tasted has been either simply very good, or exceedingly delicious. Yesterday when I dropped in for the first time (I had previously been to a media preview in early June), I was overwhelmed. But then I let the heat sink in and allow my senses to zero in on what I was craving. Smorgasburg truly is a smorgasbord of Los Angeles dining, and the best appetizer is the small birria-filled tortillas from Burritos La Palma. Order up two quick burritos and dip them in the perfectly straightforward salsa before moving on.
Everything I've tasted has been either very good, or exceedingly delicious
I wandered over to Mama Musubi, which makes great warm-rice spam musubi that tastes just like it would in Honolulu. From there it's an easy walk to Ugly Drum, which makes an amazing slow-smoked pastrami that's so good — it just needs some mustard. The bread is serviceable, but I preferred to go straight for the meat, hoping to save stomach space for more tasty bites.
I had sampled Red Hook Lobster during the media preview, but having a full-sized lobster roll, priced at $20, was shocking even for someone who's tired of seeing the roll on menus across Los Angeles. Filled mostly with plump claw meat, both the colder Connecticut-style with mayo and the warm buttery Maine-style rolls were about the best I've had in town. In terms of price to quantity, it's essentially unbeatable.
Looking for some cool relief, I dropped by the far end of the arena (as I like to call it — it's kind of shaped like a gladiatorial bowl) features a loud biergarten helmed by Angel City's beers. I cooled off under an umbrella on a picnic bench with a tall cup of michelada from I Love Micheladas, a handy kit that allows you to turn any beer into a savory, tangy warm-weather cocktail.
Smorgasburg is a bit like a once-a-week hawker center
I took a moment to ponder what Smorgasburg means for Los Angeles. Sure, there are some early difficulties, like moderate lines at the Instagram-happy Amazebowls (a coconut filled with acai is just pure gram-bait) or the extreme heat. Those things don't worry me too much because as the year goes on, the weather will hopefully cool down a bit. Smorgasburg plans to run throughout the year, unlike its East Coast equivalent, which can only operate for half the year because of weather.
And a thing about those supposed lines, which are actually pretty manageable right now: they'll likely even out because of how great the quality of the food is across the board. In the mood for something light? Get a chopped fish bowl from Poke Alaea. Need a taste of Singapore but in one tidy package? Get the Singapore chili soft shell crab at Summer Crab, served on a plush bun. Craving some great tacos? Well Salazar's Esdras Ochoa has carne asada at Califas Taco. Need some of LA's best pad thai (with a bizarro name)? White Guy Pad Thai, which honestly competes with some of the better pad thai I had recently in Bangkok.
To me, Smorgasburg is a bit like a once-a-week hawker center, like a more massive Grand Central Market with free parking (instead of the increasingly expensive lot next to Grand Central). It's a weekend gathering place for all your friends, and it'll please every appetite and preference. That's what dining in Los Angeles is all about: diversity, quality, and affordability. Next week when I'm back at Smorgasburg, I'm going to looking forward to a half-dozen oysters from The Jolly Oyster and another slice of Rucker's Pie.