The Original Farmers Market is the most misunderstood place in LA. Yes, it’s attached to The Grove, an outdoor hell-mall filled with fanny-packed tourists riding fake trolleys and taking selfies in front of a fountain timed to “Uptown Funk.” Sure, on weekends, it has slightly fewer people inside than the Sahara Tent during a Kygo set. But even so, there’s still real magic to be found at The Original Farmers Market - you just have to know how and when to experience it.
No matter which day of the week you go, remember this one golden rule: Arrive before 11am. This is when you get to witness the 90-year-old historic landmark come alive - without the crowds to hinder your experience. You’ll spot trucks delivering daily produce to the grocers, hear the sounds of florists cutting flowers that just came in from Downtown, and smell all the baked goods wafting in from various ovens around the market. It’s a cornucopia of sensory stimulation and one of the single best experiences in LA. Here’s where to eat while you’re there.
Choosing a favorite vendor at The Original Farmers Market is like picking your favorite scene that Jennifer Coolidge stole - deeply personal and next to impossible. But for us, it’s Singapore’s Banana Leaf. No matter if it’s 100 degrees out or 60 degrees out, we always find ourselves gravitating to this tiny stall for excellent Singaporean staples like the sweet and creamy laksa soup and one of the best beef rendangs in town. It’s buttery, yet earthy and filled with plentiful heaps of tender beef that could be cut with a spoon if you wanted. That said, no meal here is complete without a side order of their perfectly flaky roti paratha and curry dipping sauce. Unlike many stalls at the market, SBL makes everything to order, so expect to wait a little longer for your food, but just know that it’s worth it.
Pampas is one of the most popular stalls in the entire Original Farmer’s Market, so if you come during peak hours on the weekends, just know you’re going to wait. That said, even a 50-person line shouldn’t deter you from this excellent Brazilian spot. Pampas is what’s called a ‘kilo’ restaurant, meaning you pay by the weight of your plate, instead of a set price. It sounds pretty economical at first, until you reach the end of the cafeteria-style line and your plate is stacked six inches high with food. Offerings change daily, but if you spot the creamy catfish moqueca or feijoada - a hearty pork, beef, and black bean stew - put them on your plate immediately. From there, make your way over to the churrasco-style meats where you’ll find everything from garlicky linguiça to perfectly-cooked picanha.
As we stated in the intro, the best (and arguably only) time to go to the Original Farmers Market is before 11am. And while there are several decent early morning vendors selling breakfast, Michelina Artisan Boulanger stands out. This French bakery/counter is located in the heart of the market, but when you’re here it still feels like you’re hanging out in a quiet sidewalk cafe. Order anything that catches your eye from the baked good case (the super moist chocolate almond croissant is a favorite), a perfectly-made cappuccino, and the silky Parisienne omelette. Then just grab a seat at the counter, open up a newsletter (JK, your news app), and start your day off right.
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Monsieur Marcel has been open for over 25 years and is one of the largest and most well-known tenants at the market. The space contains several different concepts, including a full gourmet grocery with its own cheese shop and patisserie, a seafood market perfect for picking up fresh fish to cook later at home, and a sit-down bistro. It’s certainly a great spot to hang out with a wine and cheese flight and dodge the manic weekend crowds, but we like Monsieur Marcel best for weekday lunch. It’s still lively (with particularly good people-watching), but calm enough that the friend or client you invited will feel immediately comfortable. We’re big fans of the perfectly gooey quiche lorraine or steak-frites, but if you really want to make a statement, do the $39 fondue service.
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Situated by some of the flashier stalls inside the market, you might pass Fritzi Coop a few times before noticing it, but this tiny chicken specialist is absolutely worth a visit. There’s excellent chicken across the board here - from grilled “naked” style to full-fried and spicy tenders - but our go-to order is the Nashville hot chicken sandwich. Filled with a massive piece of crimson red chicken slathered in spicy oil and a generous handful of jalapeno slaw, this is one of the better hot chicken sandwiches in LA, which in this town, is saying something. The sandwich itself comes at three spice levels (hot, hotter, and inferno), and while we don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way, our move is always the inferno.
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The Gumbo Pot
On those cold, cloudy days where the only thing that sounds appealing is to go snuggle up in a movie theater at The Grove, you will absolutely find us at The Gumbo Pot beforehand. This 35-year-old Cajun spot has delicious options (the slightly spicy shrimp and chicken jambalaya is a standout), but at the end of the day, we always go back to our favorite: the Gumbo Ya-Ya. This steaming pot of spicy chicken gumbo with shrimp and andouille sausage is savory, spicy, and just a little bit sweet. Also, be sure to order some chocolate beignets for later during the movie.
There are a few really good butcher shops at the Original Farmers Market (Huntington Meats is another great option), but we tend to go to Marconda’s first. This old-school counter has been around since 1941 and is where you’ll find us anytime we’re preparing a big at-home feast or simply looking to store some steak in the freezer for later in the week. In addition to beautifully marbled beef, Niman Ranch pork, and Colorado lamb, they’ve got pretty much any cut you can think of (plus some stuff you probably can’t), like liverwurst and tongue loaf. For fresh chicken, head two stalls over to their equally excellent Puritan Poultry shop. Local delivery available - for more information, or to order, check out their website.
If you’re the person who constantly reminds every friend at every dinner that you’ll eat their pickle for them, immediately go to Kaylin+ Kaylin. This tiny shop is nothing more than a counter in the middle of the market (look for the glowing neon green “Pickles” sign) that sells one thing - pickles. There’s a rotating list of flavors that range from honey mustard to full sour to our personal favorite, jalapeño. If you aren’t sure which kind you want, they’ll happily let you taste test until you find the right jar. This is a great activity while you wait for your food at a nearby vendor to be made.
Open since 1917, Magee’s isn’t just the original Farmer’s Market restaurant, it’s one of the oldest eating establishments in the entire city. As the story goes, Blanche Magee figured all the farmers dropping off produce at 3rd and Fairfax would want some lunch, so she filled a basket with corned beef and other personal favorites and started selling. Fast forward a century and this LA institution is still going strong and selling the same famous corned beef. You can get it in a sandwich with rye bread and spicy mustard, but we actually prefer it as a plate instead. That way you can experience the perfectly-balanced brininess all on its own - and get two sides of your choice as well.
Bob's Coffee & Doughnuts
If Bob’s was a stand-alone donut shop somewhere else in the city, we’d imagine it’d come with flickering fluorescent lights and a smoky interior filled with grumbling regulars doing crosswords and bitching about bike lanes. What we mean to say is this LA classic is as straightforward and zero-f*cks as it gets. Though it’s not home to our absolute favorite donuts in town, they’re still good and worth a stop anytime you’re at the market before 10am. The menu is pretty wide-ranging, and we love the apple fritter and the gooey house cinnamon roll best. Come by between 8 and 9:30am and get the “early bird special” - a coffee and any donut of your choice for $2.95. Don’t quote us on this, but that’s probably the most affordable breakfast you’ll find in LA. Cash only.
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Moishe’s is located in the main courtyard of the market, a place we often avoid simply for how crowded it gets. We make an exception for this place. The long-standing Mediterranean shop has solid shawarma, kabobs, and wraps, but it’s their falafel that we rank among the best in the city. Each one is made to order and comes out piping hot with a crunchy, crispy exterior and a perfectly moist interior. A plate comes with two sides of your choice and we usually just double up on the hummus and then order a separate side of their sweet and nutty mouhamara.
Unfortunately, the pandemic had something to say about Du-par’s 24-hour operating schedule (it now closes promptly at 6:30pm), but this classic diner is still a great place to take out-of-towners who are sick of eating granola bowls for breakfast. The hotcakes will always be the order here - they’ve been making them since 1938, after all - but if it’s close enough to lunchtime, go for the patty melt. Grilled on rye bread with just caramelized onions and swiss cheese, it’s a remarkably simple version, but one that will keep you full all day.
We love Nonna’s not just because of the delicious food, but because empanadas are the perfect thing to hold and nibble on while exploring the rest of the market. There are close to 30 different kinds in their hot case at any given time, so whatever you’re in the mood for, you’ll probably find it. That said, standouts for us include the spicy salsa chicken verde, the aromatic veggie samosa, and the pork, ham, and mustard-filled Cuban.