Tacos Tumbras a Tomas @ The Grand Central Market - Los Angeles
I don't go to L.A. proper more than I have to. It's because that section of Interstate 5 between La Mirada and Norwalk irks me to no end. An impermeable barrier that I like to call "The La Mirada Crawl", it is like a force field that keeps the populations of both counties separate and isolated within their own bubbles.
But a few weeks ago, brunch at The Bazaar came calling, so I had no choice but to spend what seemed like a decade inching along staring at brake lights all the way to La Cienega.
And this week, we did it again to go to the Grand Central Market and then afterward, The Getty Villa. Both represent two things O.C. does not have a lot of: markets that have been around since the turn of the century and grand museums built by long-dead oil tycoons.
I know what you're saying: what about The L.A. Farmers' Market and The Getty?
Been there, done those.
The Villa and the Grand Central Market, on the other hand, we haven't done. And when we arrived, we found both were smaller than the Travel Channel would have you believe. Within minutes at the Grand Central Market, we were already familiar with the lay of the land. There were produce vendors, but not as many as there were Chinese steam-tray joints and taco stands. There was one mariscos counter that served caldo de siete mares out of real bowls and lime wedges for squeezing.
More surprising than the size was the noticeable lack of tourists. Instead, the lunch crowd consisted of a hodgepodge of cultures from every socioeconomic strata. Diners included transients with oversized backpacks, downtown office workers in ties, neighborhood residents, and on this day, us: two hungry O.C. bumpkins.
What we were we to order? I shunned the usual info sources of Chowhound, Yelp, and L.A. Weekly for a foolproof method that has proven useful at hawker centers in Singapore and Hong Kong: find the stall with longest line and eat from there.
The longest queue was at Tacos Tumbras a Tomas -- a neon-lit, gaudy stall where a traffic jam of bodies crammed the narrow walkway between it and the next stall. If you needed to get through, you had better find another route. Or better yet, order your lunch here like everyone else.
At the front of the line, meats that had been roasted, boiled and simmered rested under heat lamps. Proteins were plucked out when someone ordered, then chopped by cleavers, and assembled into tortas, tacos, burritos, and combo plates in a flurry of ladles, tortilla, hot sauce, and chopped onions.
When our counterman constructed our burrito, the fillings had reached such an impossible height that for a second I questioned how he proposed to roll it up. Defying all physical laws, he did it, and without a trace of filling escaping.
Also, though the burrito was as heavy as a shotput -- as thick as it was long -- the densely packed mass of rice, beans, onions, cilantro, salsa, and the overly generous heap of shredded carnitas never became cloying.
What you see is the last quarter of it, after my lovely dining companion and I cut it in half to share. Inside: A nicely salty, but not over-seasoned, moist porky carnitas feast which fueled us for the freeway journey to Malibu.
Grand Central Market, Space A-5
317 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Fora Restaurant - Long Beach