In one corner of a packed parking lot, southern-style savory meats rotating over a low flame sent delicious smoky steam billowing above the heads of guests. In another, vegan donuts were being carefully arranged in displays, their sugary decorations glistening.
We had stepped into a true foodie’s dream: Smorgasburg LA.
The feeding grounds had barely opened, but lines were already forming. We quickly snagged a table and began hunting for carnage, trusting our noses to lead us to the most promising vendors because, let’s face it, there was no way we were going to hit every station, but boy were we going to try.
The early bird:
Smorgasburg LA opens at 10 a.m., and we found that it’s best to get there early, even if your stomach isn’t quite ready to fill up on heavy meats or hearty veggies.
But don’t make our mistake.
Stand Coffee, though incredibly cute, offers one of the most confusing coffee experiences of all time (we’re looking at you, Almond Palmer). In summer 2016, Stand Coffee’s Almond Palmer was trending, hitting copycat recipe sites and infiltrating New York-based cafes, but we can see why this trend didn’t survive past that summer.
The Almond Palmer mixes cold brew coffee, vanilla syrup, almond milk and lemonade, but we didn’t know that last bit when we ordered it. Upon first sip, almondy lemonade overwhelmed our senses, sending shock waves of disgust up and down our spines. The aftertaste, however, made us think we had just gulped down some well-brewed coffee, and that’s where it got us. We kept sipping, traveling through each stage of grief, just to get to that aftertaste.
In retrospect, we should have forgotten about the Almond Palmer and went straight for their cold brew (sans lemonade).
Parking is free for two hours, so prepare to indulge in every second. There’s no time to rest. In between heavy meals, it helps to whet your appetite by finding the right snacks to nibble on. We recommend hitting Lobsterdamus and Mama Musubi as soon as you get in because lines form fast.
Lobsterdamus offers one of the most elegant basket of fries that have ever graced mankind, topped with lobster, parmesan cheese and black truffle mayo. It was big enough to split and still satisfy the both of us.
Mama Musubi is exactly what it sounds like and delivers seaweed packed with anime-worthy fistfulls of rice. We tried the spam, spicy tuna and unagi musubi, but if we could only go back for one, we’d choose the unagi musubi over the rest. While there’s not much that can go wrong with spam, it was thinly sliced and yet lost in the rectangular sea of fluffy rice, and the spicy tuna was nothing to write home about.
Snacking and breakfast aren’t for everyone. All they do is get in the way of the best part of dining: the main course.
Smorgasburg’s smorgasbord of options can make it hard to decide what to eat, especially because they have all types of food. Whether it was Vietnamese, Mexican, American or Middle Eastern, they had something for everyone.
Bolo takes traditional Hong Kong pineapple buns, aka bolo buns, and uses them as buns for a fried chicken sandwich. Bolo’s Fried Chicken Sando pairs sweet with savory, and was everything we could’ve hoped for. From the huge, juicy fried chicken breast, to the zesty coleslaw that cut through the greasiness, to the unexpected but welcomed bell peppers; we miss this sandwich like a child misses their mom at day care. We’re still dreaming of that spicy garlic mayo sauce.
Not everything we bought was worth finishing, one example being MidEast Tacos. Their sizzling steak and tempting falafel drew us in, but it wasn’t enough to keep us. The falafel was oddly crunchy but mushy on the inside. It was slightly sour and didn’t pair well with the corn tortilla or the toppings of a traditional taco. Maybe we’re just uncultured because we’ve never had falafel, or maybe it was just weird and shouldn’t be made into a taco.
Not everything at Smorgasburg is savory. They also offer artisanal ice cream, freshly made churros sweetened with toppings like Oreos and whipped cream, and aesthetically pleasing açaí bowls served in coconuts.
Chichidango takes soft and chewy Japanese mochi and combines it with refreshing Hawaiian shaved ice. There were two main combinations: strawberry passion fruit and coconut pineapple. We chose the first option and had no regrets. The mounds of ice were decorated with fresh strawberries, tart passion fruit, popping boba and mochi on a bed of ice cream. The serving was big enough to split, and we indulged in every mouth-watering bite.
If ice cream or shaved ice isn’t enticing enough, or if you just don’t have a big sweet tooth, we recommend trying Ensaymada Project, which is basically Filipino brioche. The delicately sweet and pillowy bread works as both a sugary breakfast or light dessert. Our favorites include Oreo, mango and salted dulce de leche.
In between the meals, we tried to help our food settle by walking around to non-food vendors, which included booths with handmade goods, Los Angeles based clothing items, repurposed books, and sometimes vinyls, which can be found at the record fair that takes place every third Sunday of the month.
As we left the buzzing parking lot, bellies filled to capacity, we bemoaned the fact that we had to pay for parking. We missed the two hour free parking time limit by 12 minutes and paid about $75 combined, but the food comas that followed proved to be worth it.