DOWNTOWN L.A. | Grand Central Market
Most San Diegans find Los Angeles to be a place to avoid usually but one incredibly redeeming quality is their food scene and Grand Central Market adds color to the options. It has excelled in providing a variety of cuisines for the curious and hungry.
I was journeying thru Los Angeles on the way back to San Diego when I realized I had not eaten breakfast and the clock struck nearly 2PM. I decided to swing thru the Grand Central Market, one of the many places I would come to as a child, located in downtown L.A. It was a few minutes off the freeway with plenty of nearby, easily accessible parking.
As I walked up to the massive market entrance, I was in awe of the beautiful pink petals of the jacaranda trees which were in FULL BLOOM. This was such a lovely view considering I was smack dab in the middle of this megalopolis of high rises and sky scrapers.
Even at 2PM on a weekday, the 100 year old Grand Central Market was buzzing with people popping in to grab a bite. Many of the hungry stood in lines at such places as Eggslut, Sarita’s Pupusería and Wexler’s Deli but there was one place I was gunning for and it was Sari Sari Store, the Filipino food booth.
I was with my 16 year old daughter, who was also a familiar face at the Grand Central Market. The two of us hungry gals walked into the market and immediately split. She headed straight for Ana Maria for her favorite Mexican plate and almost instinctively just knew she would need to come meet me at the counter at Sari Sari Store to chow down.
I came up the stairs to find a LONG line of curious eaters, unfamiliar with but excited for their venture in to the realm of Filipino Food. There is not a lot in the way of traditional food at Sari Sari Store but the flavor profiles are most definitely there and the presentation and format of the food is a perfect showcase in this environment. The line probably took longer than most but I’m almost certain this is due to the general unfamiliarity for most guests which translates into LOTS OF QUESTIONS.
Clearly the line at Ana Maria was not so long because my daughter arrived with food in hand while I still stood in line. She bellied up to the bar and took two seats next to the register as she waited for me to make my way forward. I ordered a pork adobo bowl which was scrumptious! The pork belly was chopped into the perfect bite-sized pieces and were moist, crunchy morsels of goodness in a bowl of rice which was tossed in the adobo sauce topped with a fried egg. (oh yeah!) This is important to note because usually one just gets a ladle full of sauce and that’s the end of it. This rice was completely incorporated with the adobo sauce and it was heaven.
The reason for this perfection is because Filipina Chef Margarita Manzke, chef/co-owner of Sari Sari Store, has included the perfect balance of acid and salt in their adobo sauce so it doesn’t overpower the rice or the pork belly. The base ingredients to the sauce/marinade is vinegar and soy sauce. Where you will note differences from household to household is the preferences for these two simple ingredients. The number of vinegars in a Filipino grocery store is staggering as is the soy sauce choices. Coconut vinegars, palm vinegars, unfiltered vs. filtered plain apple cider, lemon or calamansi juice? The renditions are endless but this one is a great place to start if you are exploring this misunderstood cuisine.
If you are in San Diego, and you would like to experience Filipino food culture, be sure to keep up with our pop up event, “Tara Na!” which is hosted by yours truly and local Filipino chef, Craig Esteban. You can find details posted on our FB page when we schedule the events. Next Up… November.
A+ CUSTOMER SERVICE
As I waited for my food to arrive, seated next to the register I listened to the repetitive common questions and suggestions made by one particularly amazing staff member. The line took me 20 minutes to get through at this counter-service stall and I waited 20 more minutes watching the rush of people continue. The gal at the helm of this onslaught of people was Lauren. I have truly never witnessed such a talent for being consistently genuine with each customer that stepped into her 4 feet of personal space. Every guest was greeted with a boisterous hello (not a fake one though), a smile and enthusiasm for the delivery of the food descriptions and suggestions.
Lauren never skipped a beat, never had a disappointing look or unwelcome tone in her voice, and she hurdled through that line more efficiently than anything I’ve seen in all my years of food and beverage. Bravo Sari Sari Store.
If you have a little spare time, walk across the street and take a ride on the newly opened Angels Flight tram that takes passengers up the steep incline that leads directly into what was the historic Bunker Hill neighborhood. In the old days, the neighborhood was filled with prominent residents that lived in the old Victorian mansions, all of which have since been replaced with metal and glass sun blockers.