Smorgasburg LA Opens With Raindrop Cake & A Killer Pastrami Sandwich

Smorgasburg LA—”a market for food, design, vintage, and events”—officially kicked off at ROW DTLA this weekend with dozens of food vendors, including the best pastrami we’ve ever had.

If you decided to stay in the air conditioning versus heading out to what is essentially an outdoor foodcourt on black pavement yesterday, we certainly wouldn’t blame you. But when the temps go down, you’re going to want to hit up Smorgasburg LA, which will take place every Sunday at ROW DTLA in the Arts District.

ROW is being positioned as Los Angeles’ Meatpacking District. Developed by NYC’s Atlas Capital and Los Angeles’ Runyon Group, it consists of 30 acres and six separate buildings located at the edge of the Arts District—and it also has a parking garage that fits 5,000 cars. You might be interested in knowing that Runyon Group also worked on Platform in Culver City, which boasts tenants like Cannibal, Blue Bottle and Aesop. While much of what will be ROW is either under construction, yet to launch or still occupied by American Apparel (whose lease ends in 2018), it’s already home to a few corporate offices, Cafe Dulce and now Smorgasburg. Smorgasburg was founded in Brooklyn by Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler in 2011 as an off-shoot of Brooklyn Flea. Los Angeles’ Smorgasburg brings over 80 food vendors, plus vintage clothing, hand-made jewelry, plants, furniture and other artisan items. It takes place every Sunday on the site of the Alameda Produce Market which, during the week, apparently supplies 1% of our nation’s food. 

We stopped by for a preview this weekend to sample as much as our bellies could reasonably handle. We can confirm that while pretty much everything at Smorgasburg LA is good, there are a few standout choices.

Main Course 

We must begin with the pastrami from Ugly Drum, founded by Joseph Marcos and Erik Black. It’s deceptively simple: thick, tender slices of flavorful pastrami on rye bread with mustard. It’s not a clever mash-up or a new culinary invention, but frankly, this was our personal favorite menu item. It’s $16 for a whole and $9 for a half, but totally worth it. Ugly Drum will also hook you up with a very tasty papaya smoothie. 

If pastrami isn’t your thing, there’s plenty more. We also liked the tacos from Goa Taco. You can go for the pork belly or the veggie-friendly tofu, each held in a flaky, crepe-like shell. Both versions combine their savory main item with crunchy vegetables. 

We also liked the offerings at Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese, where the standout favorite was the mole grilled cheese. Another popular eat was the CuBAOno from Ichicoro, which is a Cuban sandwich in a pressed bao. 

Maury’s is a pop-up bagel shop, offering bagels and schmear, or bagels topped with veggies and fish. We liked the whitefish and cucumber, but we never pass up a good lox.

Primera Taza Coffee House in Boyle Heights does a lonches de lomo, a pork loin sandwich that comes smothered in three sauces—all secret recipes. They’re tangy and spicy, and that’s all we know.  

We also liked the beef birria burritos at Burritos La Palma, which come piping hot and greasy, and is best when dipped in their salsa verde

For non-meat-eaters, we’d suggest the aforementioned tofu taco or the vegetarian khao soifrom We have Noodles. They also have a vegan cold soba noodle salad.

And if you’re looking for breakfast, hit up Monsieur Egg. They’ve got a great croque madame and a French toast scramble with eggs, sausage, brioche French toast and maple syrup; or the Super Green scramble for the health-conscious, with eggs, arugula, spinach, kale, toasted fennel seeds and a hunk of baguette.

Other options include The Jolly Oyster, Sticky Rice, Pizzanista, Califas Taco, Ramen Burger, Lobsterdamus, Belly & Snout, Big Mozz and more.

Dessert

If you’re really in the mood for dessert, we’d suggest stopping by Rucker’s Pies. Nicole Ruckermakes a great honey-centric Bee Sting pie, but she won us over with the Chocolate Chess. It’s every gooey thing you love about a good brownie, but it’s a pie. She also offers savory pies if you’re looking for something heartier.

For novelty purposes, you can get a Raindrop Cake here. It is made with alkaline water and agar, a vegan gelatin. You can get it topped with matcha or black cane sugar sauce and roasted soybean flour (kinako). The raindrop itself, while pretty, tastes sort of like nothing at all, though it does have a pleasing texture. The delicious sauces are what make the dessert work, and it’s good if you’re looking for a treat that’s not too sweet.

You can also snag a frozen banana pop, dipped in chocolate and covered in crunchy toppings like sprinkles or nuts. It’s not as satisfying for the sweet tooth as some of the other dessert options, but it is a fun one, and it’s gluten- and dairy-free.

Good Gravy Bakes does biscuits covered in jam. They’re not particularly flaky and the jam is more than abundant, so you’ll have to sit down and take some utensils to it. The blueberry lavender jam here is a winner. Fun fact: Pastry chef Beth Kellerhals also makes Kogi truck’s sriracha chocolate bar.

On the healthier side, we loved Amazebowls’ açaí bowl. You can get it in half a coconut with all the toppings including fresh fruit, almond butter and crunchy granola.

Other options include McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, Donut Friend, Little Spoon Frozen Pudding, and Polomas Paletas.

Drinks

You can get Health-Ade kombucha, a bottle of Venice cold brew, or coffee from Stand. We were also big fans of Todo Verde. These aguas frescas are very tasty and have an interesting texture via the addition of chia seeds. You can get them in flavors like the Naranjada—orange, orange blossom, maple syrup, chia—and the Amorcito made with strawberry, rose, maple syrup and chia seeds. They also do smoothies.

PopdUp offers sodas in refreshing flavors like hibiscus agave and thyme and orange. On hot days, they’re most assuredly going to run out.

And if you’re looking to have a more adult beverage, stop by the Michelada truck.

For Your Pantry

Stock up on pantry staples including Little Branch granola (their olive oil blend is great), jerky from Three Jerks Jerky, pasta from Semolina and nuts from The Sprouted Nuts Company.

Things You Can’t Eat

Check out vintage clothing courtesy of Blossom Vintage, Coast to Coast Mobile Vintage and Mixed Business, or get something fun for your home via FEEDYOURDARLINGS, California Modern Woodworks, Big Daddy’s Antiques, RxCandles, The Nature Store or The Potion Shoppe, among many others. There’s even stuff for your furry friends at Trax Ties.