Sunday, October 18, 2009

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
(213) 620-1071
317 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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15 Comments:

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I would have shared, too. That sounds like a lot of food.
But I've never like rice in burritos. Two carbs in one meal isn't my thing. And the contrasting textures bug me.

 
At 8:29 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - I didn't know you hadn't been to the Grand Central Market..... I love all the neon signs in the place.

 
At 2:27 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I HATE that stretch of the 5. I used to drive from San Diego to LA once in a while, when I lived down there, and I always had this feeling of dread start to come on right after Disney or so... I knew what I was headed into.

Glad it was worth the trip (or so it seems, by your upbeat post!).

 
At 4:32 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

I too haven't visited the Getty Villa and the Grand Central Market. Always think about going but always forget!

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Juliet,

I'm also not a fan of rice in burritos. Rice should be in bowls, not burritos! HAHA! But the ones in these burritos kind of blended, I hardly even noticed 'em!

Kirk,

Yup! I'm a Grand Central Market noob. Funny enough this isn't the first time I tried. The last time, either I couldn't find the place or it had just closed. I like that every vendor will validate your parking ticket regardless whether you've made the $10 minimum purchase!

Melissa,

That stretch is hell! Plain and simple. There are ways around, but I often forget until I'm already stuck! GRR!

EatTravelEat,

It's a fun trip! Well worth the experience, and there's a lot of history! The Angel's Flight elevator is right next to Grand Central Market too!

 
At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Das Ubergeek said...

I like Tumbras a Tomas, but I always have to get a shake from the place in the back and siete mares from the seafood counter. I always forget to ask for extra tortillas at Tumbras a Tomas, too, which helps the overfilling issue.

And next time, do what the savvy OC person does: take the 91 west to the 605 north and skip the La Mirada crawl (honestly, Garden Grove Blvd. is wider than that stretch of freeway).

 
At 7:30 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Das,

Yes, if I had half a brain I would always take that route (because I have on a few occasions), but there's the odd time that one forgets since it hasn't become a force of habit. And when I remember it's already too late, since I'm already in the middle lane of stopped traffic. And by the time I see an opportunity to exit, I'm already in Norwalk. This was one of those times. And all I could do was curse my stupidity! GRR!

The burritos were good though. I need to try the shake place you speak of. And the siete mares looked righteously good!

 
At 3:04 AM, Blogger FAT PANDA said...

Did they have horchata?

 
At 8:48 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

FAT PANDA,

Hmm...I don't quite remember if they had horchata. I don't think so. But I do remember they didn't have Jarritos, because I asked and they said no!

 
At 9:47 AM, Blogger craig said...

Love Grand Central. If you ever go back try Ana Maria's and Roast To Go. Best Beef Cheek Taco I have ever had.

 
At 11:00 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

MMM...chheeeeeks! Not just for pinching!

 
At 12:47 AM, Blogger i-Observer said...

Thanks for this entry! I will have to try it on my next photo walkabout trip! Incidentally, have you tried riding the Metrolink? You can drive to Fullerton Station then take the Metro to Union Station then catch the Dash for 25 cents for around downtown trips and they every 10 to 15 minutes. OCTA also has LA Express buses! That's what I do when I go on my photo trips... beats driving and paying crazy parking fees! Plus I can nap on the way home!!!

 
At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe I am going to tell you about this (I feel like I want to keep it hidden so it doesn't get overrun) - but having used your site and taken adavantage of all the info on there I finally felt guilty enough to disclose one of my favorite Mexican places - SUPER ANTOJITOS ON FAIRVIEW IN COSTA MESA - Awesome tacos and homemade soup combos - the spicy shrimp burrito is SPICEY AND DELICIOUS. Seriously - Your site is the BEST resource for actual real restaraunts in OC - having moved here from NYC I rely on this site for places to go in the OC that I know will be GOOD based upon all the ones I have tried that you have recommended!! You kick A@*!!!!

 
At 5:15 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

i-Observer,

I have, in fact, taken the Metrolink from Tustin to L.A. And I even wrote about it. Check it out!

Anon,

Wow! Thanks for tip and more importantly, thanks for the kind words. Always great to hear that someone finds this little blog-o-mine useful! I have seen Antojitos from the road but never stopped in. I've wanted to, but never did. I'll have to check it out, because you just said the magic words: shrimp burrito!

 
At 8:15 AM, Blogger Exile Kiss said...

Hi elmomonster,

I feel your pain on the drive along the 5 freeway (both ways). Two alternate routes you might consider, depending on the traffic and where you need to go would be 405 N -> 110 N, or 57 N -> 60 W.

They may be slightly longer (in terms of miles), but depending on how bad the 5 is, it can be much better. :)

I've only tried a couple of stalls at Grand Central Market, and not Tacos Tumbras a Tomas. If you find yourself back in L.A., you might want to try Metro Balderas if you like Carnitas Tacos. :)

 

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