Please, not one more lunch of PB&J. Ugh, not another dinner of plain pasta with butter. Stuck in a food rut? Got picky eaters? You’re not alone. So what would you think if we gave you a solution for the dinner doldrums that not only spiced up your meals (literally), but gave you a fabulous family outing, while exploring a new part of the city and a new culture from another part of the world? Sounds like an impossible achievement, but it’s actually quite simple: go around the world in eight markets. We’ve searched Los Angeles and found 8 markets around the city that focus on food from one part of the world or another, and will help turn your kids into intrepid explorers with adventurous palates…or will, at the very least, give you a wonderful afternoon and some new foods for your pantry. Bon Voyage and Bon Appétit!
Stamp your passport with: Mexico & Latin America
Take a half-day trip that will make you feel like you’ve flown to Central America – The Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles is minutes away, yet a world away. Produce, fish, meats, poultry as well as herbs and spices, sweets and nuts, juices and drinks – and of course the cooked food stalls (don’t leave without trying the pupusas at Sarita’s which are the stuff of legend) are waiting for kids to discover as they wander around and take in new sights and scents. For this trip there’s no need to tote sippy cups or Sigg bottles – thirsty kids guzzle the agua frescas and horchatas.
Kids give kudos to: Angels’ Flight is right across the street, and for 50¢, you can take kids on a ride on the shortest rail car in the world. In fact, the day can boast two rail trips, since one of the best ways to explore the market with kids is to take the Metro (the red line) to the Market – then you don’t have to worry about driving and parking downtown.
Visit it now because: The Market is undergoing a huge upgrade! For the first time in 100 years, Grand Central Market is renovating and expanding. Much of what we loved about it remains intact, but now we can also snack at hip spots like Valerie at GCM and Bulgarini Gelato.
Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway, Los Angeles (Downtown)
Open 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Stamp your passport with: India
While an all day excursion to Artesia’s Pioneer Blvd. will really immerse you in Indian culture with markets, restaurants, shops, bakeries and more, sometimes you need a quick fix. Our favorite is a visit to one of the India Sweets and Spices shops. The one on Los Feliz Blvd. is the biggest Indian market in Southern California and you’ll find spices, rices, dals, naans and lentils as well as clothes, cookware, jewelry and more. It’s an easy place to shop with kids, as it’s right off the freeway, has a parking lot of its own, and has a café attached. The café is cafeteria style, so there’s no wait for hungry little ones – you can snack on mango lassis and samosas instantly. Then, full and happy, browse the aisles (the friendly staff is happy to point out kid-tested snacks) for goodies like chutney, naan and garam masala to make an easy Indian feast for dinner.
Kids give kudos to: The sweets, where it’s easiest to get them to expand their palate (and vocabulary) with some sweet Jalebi (how can you not love something that’s deep fried and drenched in sugar syrup?).
India Sweets & Spices
3126 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles (Atwater Village)
Open 10:00 am – 9:30 pm
Stamp your passport with: Thailand
Right in the heart of Thai Town is a fun market called Silom. It’s a tad disorganized, so the best way to shop here with kids is to make a game of wandering the aisles, looking for who can find something exotic and who can find something familiar. Here you can stock up on all kinds of noodles and rice paper wrappers – new noodle types are easy to incorporate into recipes you already make for your family and add a little variety to a usual meal. And rice paper wrappers are a great way to make a new meal out of leftovers – just take a rice wrap, add leftover meats, veggies, rice or noodles, slather with peanut sauce, and roll: instant dinner or a fun new lunchbox surprise. Don’t miss the aisle with the exotic fruits; they usually carry a good selection of dragon fruit, lychees, and starfruit.
Kids give kudos to: While you’re in Thai Town have a delicious dinner out at kid favorite restaurant: Palm’s Thai. As soon as they see kids, the waitstaff confer on headsets and before you can finish saying “hi” to the giant fish in the enormous tank, your table is set with highchairs, kid-proof paper plates and plastic cups.
5321 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles (Thai Town)
Open 9:00 am – 9:00 pm
Stamp your passport with: Japan
Mochi ice cream, ready made bento boxes, rices and exotic meats everywhere you look – if your family already loves Japanese food, this is heaven. And once kids discover the snack aisles (plural!), you won’t be able to drag them out of Mitsuwa Marketplace. Stock up on seaweed, rice, rice vinegar and pickled ginger and you’re ready to make your own sushi at home. There’s also a good selection of tofu and Japanese sauces which makes it easy to whip up something new and healthy for dinner. While there are other good Japanese markets in town, this is the one with the easiest parking (but not on Sunday’s when the local Farmer’s Market makes parking tough), the widest aisles, and the best food court – all of which every Mom knows is worth a drive.
Kids give kudos to: Snacks, snacks, snacks! Such cool packaging makes it impossible not to try a little bit of everything, and kids are thrilled to find sweet crackers with Hello Kitty’s face, gummy treats and all flavors of Pocky turning up in snack bags in the weeks following a trip here.
3760 S Centinela Ave., Los Angeles (West L.A.)
Open 9:00 am – 9:00 pm
Stamp your passport with: Korea
Clear your calendar when you shop at The Galleria Market – it’s on the first floor of a mall in Korea Town and all three floors are perfect for wandering, browsing and shopping. Locals shop here on Saturday, so avoid it on that day and you won’t have any trouble finding parking on the first floor, conveniently located right next to the market. The market itself is large and clean and well organized, and you’ll find loads of things here that look familiar from trips to sushi and Korean BBQ restaurants – as well as plenty of things that aren’t. Definitely stock up on fried bean curd wrappers for making inari at home – stuff them with seasoned sushi rice (and any leftovers you like) and you’ve got an easy lunch box treat. And on your way back to the car, be sure to at least walk through Cake House – if you’re peckish for something sweet, kids love the custard-filled fish-shaped treats.
Kids give kudos to: Usually, parents try to feed kids before hitting a grocery store, to avoid the “hungry shopping” that leads to loads of unplanned extras hitting the cart. But in this case, come shopping on an empty stomach! The Galleria is famous for the sample ladies who encourage you to try everything. There are so many samples here on any given day that you can skip the ones that are perhaps a bit too adventurous for kids, and still get a wide range of tasty treats that are new to the whole family. After tasting and “discovering” a new food, kids love being the expert on it who brings it home and introduces it to family and friends.
3250 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles (Koreatown)
Stamp your passport with: Germany
Image a place where the beer always flows, the pretzels are always warm, the mustard has bite and they make the best brats this side of Berlin. In short, a place where it’s always Oktoberfest. Now you’re picturing Alpine Village in Torrance. There’s always German music playing, fresh sauerkraut and German potato salad from the deli and after you stock up on snackies, stay and wander around the little Alpine Village and pretend you took a trip to Bavaria. (Ok, you have to pretend pretty hard, but kids are extra good at that!)
Kids give kudos to: Dare we admit the kids go a bit crazy for the fun candies here – think many, many flavors of Haribo German gummi bears and delicious Kinder chocolates. But if you want to avoid the sweets, they also love the warm pretzels fresh from the bakery. So will you.
Alpine Village Market
833 Torrance Blvd., Torrance
Open Monday-Thursday from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm; Friday – Sunday from 9:00 am – 7:00 pm
Open 7:00 am – 12:00 am
Stamp your passport with: Israel
Glatt Mart is a kosher specialty marketplace on Pico, and is the easiest one to navigate with kids. (Shopping at some of the neighboring markets is more like playing shopping cart bumper cars with grandmas who view market shopping as a contact sport, which is really fun with big kids, and really frustrating with little guys.) Hummus devotees will swoon over the hummus (and the eggplant version called babaganoush), and you can find other wonderful items from all over the Middle East (Turkish Coffee for you, halvah and creamy yogurts for the kids). It’s also got a great to-go sushi selection and pizza fixings, as well as loads of traditional ingredients from that part of the world to cook at home.
Kids give kudos to: Imagine if Cheese Puff snacks (cheesy poofs, as Cartman calls them) came in peanut butter flavor. They do, and they’re every bit as addictive and beloved by kids as you would imagine. This snack from Israel is called Bamba, and Glatt Mart is one of the only places is town to stock the big bags of it. And you’ll want a big bag. Or two. Or more…
8708 W Pico Blvd., Los Angeles (Mid City)
Open 7:30 am – 8:30 pm Sunday through Friday (Closes early on Fridays)
Stamp your passport with: Greece
The first thing you need to know about Papa Cristos is that it’s part restaurant, part deli/grocery. So you could come around lunchtime, and start in the restaurant for a Gyro lunch (the best in town, though there are Greek pita pizzas for the less adventurous kiddos) before browsing the grocery side. But if you want a great family adventure, you could come on a Thursday and get your shopping done before partaking in the Thursday Night Big Fat Greek Family-Style Dinner, complete with live bouzouki player and belly dancing. They definitely put the family in family-style, encouraging kids to take part in all the plates of food that get passed around and even in dancing with the belly dancer. No matter when you come, you’ll definitely want to stock up on pita bread, taramosalata, olives and olive oils, cheeses (from feta to kasseri) and of course, many, many kinds of baklava. If you’re a wine lover, tuck a bottle of Greek wine in your bag too, to enjoy after the little ones are in bed. Opa!
Kids give kudos to: Papa Cristos! The little man with the big grin (who is actually Chrys Chrys, the second generation owner of the place) instantly loves all kids, and they love him. He is almost always there working, serving up the big plates of food, and kids are ready to try the new things that he recommends with such enthusiasm. (Another thing that parents really appreciate is the free valet parking in the back.)
2771 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 am – 8:00 pm; Sunday from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
There are so many fabulous ethnic markets around town. What are your favorites? Please let us know in the comments. And would you be willing to share your recipes, pretty please?
— Meghan Rose