Okay, let’s get what everyone’s thinking out the way right now: crowds. If you’re going to venture downtown to the Grand Central Market, you’re going to have to deal with people, and not only people, but tourists. But don’t let that put you off. There’s a reason the market is always brimming with people and commotion—and that reason is the food.
Situated in the Homer Laughlin Building, smack in the middle of the famous Bunker Hill District in downtown Los Angeles (and still next door to the historic Angels Flight Railway), the Grand Central Market is a myriad of food culinary exploration and delight that is not to be missed. From the freshest bagels and lox to the best donuts hot out the fryer, to the most succulent fried chicken sandwich your mouth has ever savored. Every smell is a new world of possibilities; every morsel a taste explosion, and you can even get a cold beer to wash it all down with. And if that’s not enough to convince you, Grand Central Market is also still a functioning market with the freshest produce, meats, and fish you can find.
Here, we break down a few of our favorite food spots at the GCM, along with their signature dishes—and because we know it never hurts to ask a local, we asked the owners of each of our picks to spill the beans on their own go-to’s in the market.
THE DONUT MAN
Originally founded by owners Jim & Miyoko Nakano in 1972, The Donut Man began as part of a franchise, but became a culinary icon after a little girl pointed to Jim and said, “Look, it’s the donut man!” prompting the couple to recreate the shop as its own, independent business. Not too long after, a local farmer suggested that Jim find a way to use the juicy, red strawberries from farmlands surrounding Glendora in a signature donut creation. The renowned Strawberry Donut was born and helped put the shop on the map after being featured on countless Best Of lists. 50 years later, the Glendora shop still looks similar to its original store, and the Nakanos expanded to Grand Central Market in 2020.
The Fresh Strawberry Donut has been the iconic staple donut of The Donut Man since 1974 when it was first introduced to the public. Spilling with large, juicy, fresh, hand-picked strawberries from local California farms, the best way to enjoy it is to pick it up and bite into it like a burger, allowing the flavor explosion of sweet, vine ripened strawberries mixed with soft glaze dough to entice you back every strawberry season (February – September).
JIM’S FAVORITE DISH FROM ANOTHER VENDOR
“The Garlic Ramen by Ramen Hood is a refreshing and full-flavored offering with Garlic Sunflower Seed Broth, Bean Sprouts, Scallion, Bok Choy, King Oyster Mushrooms, Nori, and Chili Threads. This hearty dish fills your stomach and your taste buds with a delightful meal of vegan scrumptiousness.”
Based on family recipes from owner Sara Clark, Sarita’s was established in 1998 and serves handmade pupusas with dozens of different fillings (including vegetarian and vegan options), as well as fried plantains, empanadas, yuca con chicharron, stews, and other celebrated Salvadoran dishes.
Pupusa Revuelta. No one Pupusa is the same, as each is made to order by hand, always fresh, piping hot, and never frozen. You also get a show watching yours made right in front of you. The pupusa Revuelta is like a fluffy, thick, cloud filled with pork, beans, and cheese. It’s the perfect balance of all three, and the gooey cheese gives it a great cheese pull that melts in your mouth. We suggest enjoying with their homemade spicy pickled cabbage (Curtido) and homemade salsa, as these really bring the flavors together in a match made in pupusa heaven.
SARA’S FAVORITE DISH FROM ANOTHER VENDOR
“One of my favorite dishes would have to be Shiku’s pork belly. It’s so juicy and tender, and actually melts in your mouth. It’s also packed spice and flavor.”
This Grand Central Market fried chicken stall was founded in 2018 by Chris and Christine Dane. The husband and wife team specialize in everything from fried chicken and buckets of bone-in pieces to chicken breast Sammie’s and jumbo tenders with dipping sauces.
SIGNATURE LUCKY BIRD DISH
Honey Hot Sammie is one of Lucky Bird’s spicy sandwiches that offers a little bit of sweet to help temper the heat of the Sammie. We love that it’s a different option for a spicy sandwich. This Sammie takes a similar approach to dunking fried chicken in a hot bath of spices, but done with honey and vinegar instead of a traditional oil bath.
CHRISTINE’S FAVORITE DISH FROM ANOTHER VENDOR
“When I’m craving a satisfying meal, I go to Sari Sari and get one of their bowls. Filipino food is so delicious, and Sari Sari really hits the mark when it comes to flavor in their cooking. I’m also a huge fan of putting a fried egg on anything, especially some garlic rice.”
Shiku means “the people you share food with” or your family, your community. Run by Kwang Uh and Mina Park, the team behind Baroo restaurant, whis mom-and-pop stall serves homestyle Korean food.
Kimchi-Braised Pork Belly is the sleeper hit of Shiku’s menu, becoming their top selling doshirak (or rice box), with regulars coming by weekly for it. The braising liquid from kimchi gives the pork belly an unmistakable Korean depth, and served with the braised kimchi itself and a couple of other house made banchan, it’s a very hearty, comforting meal.
KWANG & MINA’S FAVORITE DISH FROM ANOTHER VENDOR
“If we had to choose one, we would say the Chocolate Espresso Chess Pie from Fat & Flour, paired with a latte from Right Quick Coffee. Nicole of Fat & Flour is the pie queen and it’s dangerous that she and Right Quick Coffee are our neighbors in the market.”
According to General Manager Michael Kassar, Wexler’s Deli stands for three things: tradition, craftsmanship, and quality. Born of a desire to serve classic Jewish deli food made by people who care, Wexler’s uses old-school methods to handcraft their pastrami and smoked salmon. After curing in a special blend of salt and spices, their meats and fish are slowly smoked in-house over applewood and sliced by hand in front of your very eyes.
Bagel with Lox. Seeing as Wexler’s is the only deli in America to cure, smoke, and hand-slice their meat and fish in-house, you won’t get another bagel with lox this good and this fresh anywhere else.
MICHAEL’S FAVORITE DISH FROM ANOTHER VENDOR
“I really like the Spicy Ramen from Ramen Hood. I still can’t believe they get that amazing meaty flavor in their broth but it’s vegan. It hits all the flavor notes of my favorite tonkotsu ramen, but you don’t feel like your gonna die later.”