L.A.'s most famous food marketplace turns 100 this year, and she's never looked better. Long a culinary destination—first for the produce stalls, florists and butcher-shop counters of the city's largest arcade, now for vegan ramen, local beer and some of the finest mole paste in L.A.—Downtown's Grand Central Market is one of the city's most iconic nexuses of food and culture, of origins and an ever-changing Los Angeles.
Today, pass through and you'll find some of the best plates to be had not only under a single roof, but in the area, period. There are food stalls that have existed there since the '50s and '60s, and some who've cropped up as recently as this summer. There are chefs experimenting, and those serving multigenerational family recipes.
It's this mixed bag of cultures, eras and cuisines that make GCM one of the city's most phenomenal landmarks. It's also what makes the new The Grand Central Market Cookbook such a treasure.
Nearly every current food vendor—and many chefs of GCM stalls past—contributed recipes and memories to this 85-recipe gem that combines civic history with kitchen know-how and beautiful photos not only of the dishes, but the vendors and the crowds.
"There are a lot of pictures of people in the book because it is such a lively and sociable place, so you may even find a photo of yourself in it," says GCM co-creative director Kevin West, who authored the cookbook with the market's owner, Adele Yellin.
Through the photography, history lessons and vendor voices, West and Yellin capture the market's energy and tuck these away between recipes from roughly 40 vendors. You can now settle in for a day of making Tacos Tumbras a Tomas' al pastor, a morning of Eggslut's coddled eggs with potato puree, an evening of Olio Wood-Fired Pizza's apple focaccia (top this last one with McConnell's Ice Cream because yeah, there are recipes for that, too).
"There was an immediate understanding. [The vendors] were like, 'Let's do it,'" West says. "Vendors wanted to contribute recipes that were representative of their stall, and in some instances those are dishes that are off the menu. In some instances they're dishes that are family recipes, and in some, they're inspired by things from the stall." Valeria's, for instance, is one of the market's older surviving stalls and doesn't offer prepared foods. (They do, however, sell a fabulous rainbow of mole pastes, dried peppers and bulk spices.) Accordingly, the team lent recipes for pozole and salsas that utilize the dried chiles and other spices sold at their back-center stall.
There are recipes for Wexler's Deli's lox latkes and dill pickles, for Madcapra's spiked beet-sumac soda and herb-tahini dip, for Press Brothers Juicery's vitality smoothie and for Ramen Hood's cold smoky ramen. Recipes are grouped into categories of breakfast, carbs, happy hour, meat-and-fish, tacos, vegetables and sweets, but don't worry—there are two glossaries in the back, one by vendor name and another by dish name.
West can't choose a single favorite recipe, but he does have a favorite section: the entire chapter devoted to tacos. "It's almost like a book within a book, with recipes for tacos that are more traditional as well as some that are more new-wave, and a whole section of salsas," he says. "If I could point to a section that's full of home recipes and good for scale, that one's good for gatherings. Part of the whole vibe of Grand Central Market is that it's social. It's an experience to share, so the idea for the food as well is for home cooking, a lot of the recipes are trying to also be good for a group of people to share."
Fittingly, and to get you started, here's Knead & Co.'s hearty recipe for spaghetti with Sunday gravy. It's enough to feed an army—or just a hungry table full of food lovers.
Spaghetti with Sunday Gravy, from Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market
Gravy is chef Bruce Kalman's version of a classic Italian-style red sauce, and he modifies that with Sunday because it’s the kind of big dish—big flavors, big portions—that will satisfy everyone at a large family gathering. Bruce’s sauce combines various cuts of flavorful meat simmered for hours with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh herbs, and pungent aromatics. Even in carb-phobic Los Angeles, it’s a bestseller.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 fresh oregano sprig
3 fresh basil sprigs, tied in bundle
½ pound pork shoulder
½ pound beef chuck
½ pound beef shank, cut into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried red chile flakes
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small yellow onion, diced
¾ cup dry red wine
2 28-ounce cans whole San Marzano tomatoes
3 pounds spaghetti, prepared according to package instructions, for serving
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the oregano and basil, and fry until crisp, about 1 minute per side. Transfer the herbs to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, reserving the oil in the pot.
Season the meats generously with salt and black pepper. Increase the heat under the Dutch oven to high. Working in batches, add the meat and cook until deeply browned, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to a tray. Add the chile flakes, garlic, and onion to the pot, and season with salt and black pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, 6 to 8 minutes, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Return the reserved herbs and meat to the pot. Add the tomatoes and their juices. Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven to cook for 2 hours, or until the meat is tender. Remove the pot from the oven, uncover, and let cool at room temperature for about an hour.
Remove the herbs and discard. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and chop finely, then return it to the sauce and stir to combine. Place 3 cups of sauce in the bottom of a very large serving bowl. Add the prepared spaghetti, and toss to coat. Add more sauce, if needed. To serve family-style, ladle more sauce over and top with grated Parmesan.
Reprinted from THE GRAND CENTRAL MARKET COOKBOOK by Adele Yellin and Kevin West. Copyright (c) 2017 by Grand Central Market. Photographs copyright (c) 2017 by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.