Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles received a major (ongoing) facelift a little over a year ago, consonant with the ongoing gentrification of downtown in general. The entire area has been transformed utterly from what it was when I first arrived in Los Angeles in 1993, right after the riots. Then, the “fortress” of the financial district, as Mike Davis memorably describes it in City of Quartz, was largely deserted after the close of business, and the experience of the rest of downtown was in stark contrast to the gleaming skyscrapers and business hotels that had been constructed in the middle of it, a “self-referential hyperstructure”, to once again use Davis’s language.
In the last decade or so, however, the area has been “revitalized”, which is another way of saying it has been made safe for the upper middle class, with the homeless and the poor squeezed out and businesses that once catered to people of lower means making way for big box stores. More startlingly, for anyone who was familiar with the old downtown, residential development has exploded (and the residential population has almost tripled) with lofts etc. attracting hip, “artsy” people and shiny new restaurants and bars opening up to cater to people who live in lofts.
This is no longer Tom Wait’s “Downtown”, even if it’s now filled with people who actually listen to Tom Waits—and that discrepancy more or less sums up my ambivalent response to these transformations. (Of course, as I am no longer a full-time resident of Los Angeles it could be said that I no longer have any “say” about any of it.)
Through all this change Grand Central Market, which opened almost a century ago, was sort of a holdout, and even now with the ongoing facelift it remains perhaps the one prominent space in downtown where the area’s past and present and its uneasy class/race mix still meet on the same plane. You’ll still see working class Hispanics and African-Americans eating affordable lunches and you’ll see as well (largely white) lawyers and executives in suits. You can still get a mountain of meat in $3 tacos at the great Roast to Go or Tumbras a Tomas, and now you can also buy ribeye for $30/lb at the counter of the boutique “family farm”, Belcampo. As more and more upscale restaurants enter the space (there’s an oyster bar on the way) one does wonder if the makeup of the market and its customers will completely change. In the meantime another index of the change in the market’s profile is that Bon Appetit recently named it in its list of the top 10 new restaurants in the country (even though it’s really a food court).
On the day before our departure we spent a couple of hours wandering around the market and eating tacos. Herewith, a little collage of the market as it currently appears. Please click on an image to launch a larger slideshow with captions.
Our tacos, by the way, were quite good—and even though there was a much larger crowd at Tumbras a Tomas we quite preferred Roast to Go’s tacos. Both give way more meat than any taco could support (and at both places it’s $3 per taco).
This is the last of my Los Angeles reports for this trip. There’s a chance we might be back again in December, but we’ll be back next summer for sure (and I look forward to coming back to Grand Central Market). If you’re an Angeleno and have places you’d recommend we eat at on our next trip, please write in.