Welcome to L.A. Week on First We Feast. As part of our continuing initiative to devote more coverage to Los Angeles, we’ll be running special features all week to explore the city’s ever-evolving food scene—from its most vaunted chefs, to its gritty underbelly.
As a city plagued by bumper-to-bumper traffic and chopped up into segmented pockets, L.A.’s identity has always been that it lacks one. What is its central core: the 405 freeway?
Over the past few years, Angelenos have found their center of gravity with the emergence of Downtown, which underwent a complete transformation from seedy afterthought to booming tourist destination. Historic buildings gutted and re-purposed for hip retail spaces, an Ace Hotel, a thriving Arts District, and walkable streets all combined to make DTLA the new focal point.
In addition to all these things, a vibrant restaurant scene has taken root in the neighborhood. Places like Alma, Bestia, and Baco Mercat played a large role in attracting pedestrians and building the area’s reputation as a nightlife hub. The success of these restaurants made an important statement: Serious dining could be found outside of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, and furthermore, that DTLA deserved national recognition from the food media.
But for a pure glimpse into L.A. life, people know to head to Grand Central Market, a massive 30,000-square-foot food hall founded 1917 that is a #foodporn paradise. Filled with produce vendors, butchers, and more than 25 lunch counters, GCM is an intersection of past and present. Recently, the historic structure re-tooled its image by ushering in a new crop of talent to sit alongside veterans of the scene. Now, old-school carnitas stands share the same space as neo-Jewish delis. The clientele is as similarly diverse: abuelitas hungry for pupusas, construction workers sipping soup and beer at China Cafe (a longstanding tradition), and hipsters braving the line to crush bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches from Instagram star Eggslut. That the entire complex was shortlisted by Bon Appétit for “best new restaurant” of 2014 speaks to the massive influence of this institution—even if it was stretch to categorize it as “new.”
We sent our photographer, Liz Barclay (@liz_barclay), to capture the market’s diverse vendors and clientele—click through the gallery above to see GCM in all its glory.